In the Big 12 baseball preview on Thursday, I wrote about the importance of the weekend series between Kansas State and West Virginia, At this stage of the college season, most every game has some importance attached to it. Such is the case this weekend, with three other games on the conference schedule, all of which have implications on the league standings.
TCU, sitting in second-place in the standings and winners of their previous five games, including a three-game sweep of previous league leader Texas last weekend, is out of the conference this weekend with three games at home against Cal State-Northridge. The Horned Frogs’ 10-5 record in league play will not be affected this weekend, but they will have a vested interest in the three games going on in Austin over the weekend between first-place Oklahoma State and Texas.
Oklahoma State (29-12, 11-4) holds a one-game lead over TCU and two games over the Longhorns. The series with Texas has huge championship implications for the Cowboys, who will only have six conference games remaining after this weekend with Kansas State and Oklahoma, both with losing records in the conference going into this weekend’s games.
The Oklahoma State-Texas series features two nationally ranked teams. Texas is ranked No. 10 this week in three of the four major college baseball polls, after being ranked as high as fourth the week earlier. The Cowboys checked in at No. 9 in the latest National College Baseball Writers poll. That is Oklahoma State’s highest ranking since 2005.
Neither Oklahoma State nor Texas is hitting that well as a team this season. The Cowboys have a combined batting average of .267, and Texas is hitting just .262, second-lowest average in the conference, despite a .342 average by senior outfielder Mark Payton, who owned the Big 12′s highest average overall a year ago (.393). Payton also leads the league in walks (34) and on-base percentage (.471).
What the Longhorns have lacked in hitting this season, they’ve made up for with outstanding pitching. The Texas pitching staff leads the conference with an ERA of 2.15, and opponents are batting only .223 off of Longhorn pitching. The Longhorns have three solid weekend starters in right-hander Parker French (4-3, 2.27 ERA), southpaw Dillon Peters (5-3, 2.20) and right-hander Nathan Thornhill (6-1 and a league-best 0.97 ERA).
Oklahoma State’s pitching staff gives up a run more in ERA, but the Cowboys’ bullpen is excellent, led by ace reliever Vince Wheeland, with the second-best ERA among Big 12 hurlers at 1.11 and the league’s second-best closer in Brendan McCurry, who has 11 saves.
Kansas and Baylor are engaged in another pivotal series this weekend. Only a half game separates the two teams in the standings. Baylor owns an overwhelming advantage in the all-time series between the two schools, 45-13, and 40 of those wins are under current Baylor head coach Steve Smith.
The Bears are 24-3 against the Jayhawks in Waco, where the series is being played this season, but Kansas took all three games in Lawrence a year ago. Baylor also owns the second best home record in the Big 12 this season, winning 17 of their 21 games played at Baylor Ballpark.
The series this weekend between Oklahoma and Texas Tech also has some importance – and for the Sooners, urgency - attached to it. The Sooners (25-17, 5-7), although just a game and a half back of the Red Raiders in the standings, have had a difficult go of things in the month of April. OU is just 2-6 in the month against Big 12 teams and 5-8 overall. In their past two weekend series – both at home, with Texas and West Virginia – the Sooners, under new head coach Pete Hughes, have gone 1-5.
Fourth-place Texas Tech (32-13, 8-7), ranked No. 21 this week in has lost its last two games, but prior the that the Red Raiders had won eight in a row. Tech is looking for its third straight Big 12 series win.
As if Oklahoma needed any extra hurdles to overcome this weekend, the Red Raiders are a Big 12-best 25-4 at home this season. This is only the Sooners second away series in Big 12 play this year. They took two of three at Kansas at the end of March.
My weekend Big 12 picks:
Texas will take two of three from Oklahoma State.
Baylor will sweep Kansas, taking all three games in Waco.
Texas Tech will win two of three at home vs. Oklahoma.
West Virginia will win two of three over Kansas State.
TCU will win two of the three games with Cal State-Northridge.