All season long, we have spotlighted a key game on the schedule every Big 12 baseball weekend. This weekend, with the Big 12 heading into the homestretch, with the finish line in clear site and two teams in a dead heat with just two six conference games to go, we look in on the two teams fighting to be the last team left standing when the final out of the regular-season is duly recorded.
We start by previewing the series this weekend in Manhattan, Kan., between visiting Oklahoma State (35-13, 13-5), deadlocked with TCU for a share of the Big 12 lead, and last year’s regular-season’s champion, Kansas State.
Ordinarily, in a series between two teams at opposite ends of the league standings, it would seem to be a no-brainer to chalk up at least a couple of wins if not a series sweep to the team with the nine-game advantage in both wins and losses. Statistically, Oklahoma State should be a huge favorite in its road series at K-State this weekend, but the funny thing about baseball is, it is highly unpredictable and full of surprises from game to game.
Oklahoma State may be the heavy favorite and the team with the most to lose, but Kansas State is playing at home and the defending league champions still have a lot of pride and aren’t going to go down without a fight.
The Cowboys are ranked seventh in the country by the college baseball writers (No. 9 in the USA Today poll) have won six consecutive games. They also have won six consecutive weekend series, five of those against Big 12 opponents.
Kansas State is a better hitting team than Oklahoma State, looking at the entire season, but the roles are heavily reversed when it comes to pitching performance, and that is the biggest reason why the two teams are where they are in the conference standings. in Big 12 games only, OSU’s staff ERA is more than three runs less per game than K-State’s. To further underscore Kansas State’s poor pitching performance this season, in Big 12 play, Wildcat pitchers are yielding almost twice as many runs as the team has scored on offense.
Four Oklahoma State pitchers rank among the top 10 in the conference in ERA; K-State has no pitcher in that category.
K-State second baseman Ross Kivett, the Big 12 Player of the Year last season, is having another good season in 2014. Kivett is sixth in the Big 12 in hitting, with a .344 average through all games, and tied for the lead in runs scored (45). Third baseman R.J. Santigate is eighth in the conference, with a .330 average.
Four Kansas State regulars are hitting above .300 for the season. Oklahoma State has only two starters in the category: right-fielder Zach Fish (.319) and catcher Gage Green (.317).
If the game is close late, that generally means advantage Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have been involved in 19 games this season in which the game was decided by two or less runs. OSU has been on the winning end of 15 of those, largely because of closer Brandon McCurry. McCurry is 5-0 this season with an ERA of 0.49. He has 14 saves in 27 appearances this season, sixth best in the country.
While the Cowboys are on a current six-game winning streak, Kansas State snapped a six-game losing streak with a 10-4 victory earlier this week over Wichita State.
Kansas State’s best chance for a win against the Cowboys may be on Friday night, when the Wildcats will go with right-handed starter Levi MaVorhis, who is 5-6 this season with a 3.66 ERA. He will be countered on the hill by Oklahoma State right-hander Jon Perrin (5-3, 1.98). The Saturday pitching matchup is expected to be Jake Matthys (2-3, 7.39) of Kansas State vs. Tyler Buffet (2-1, 2.25). Both are righties.
Oklahoma State leads big in the all-time series with Kansas State, 154-49, and the Cowboys won two of three last season when the two teams played in Stillwater.
My pick: Kansas State will squeeze out one of the games, but Oklahoma State will get two. Depending on how TCU does at home against Oklahoma, the two Cowboys wins in Manhattan should be enough to keep them at least in a tie for the conference lead heading into the final week of the regular season.