Kansas hosts top ranked Texas this weekend at Hoglund Park. All games will be played under the sun – Friday at 3PM, and Saturday and Sunday at 1PM. For those outside the Lawrence area KU will provide audio and video via Jayhawk All-Access on kuathletics.com.
Friday: Kansas 5 - Texas 4 (Shaeffer Hall, W 2-1, Paul Smyth Sv 4)
Saturday 1PM: T. J. Walz (2-0, 2.79) vs. Brandon Workman (3-1, 0.63)
Sunday 1PM: Lee Ridenhour (3-1, 1.61) vs. Cole Green (2-0, 1.65)
This is the first conference series for the Jayhawks. For KU what happens this weekend might be more important than the entirety of last month. Kansas does not realistically have much of a chance to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament so they have to set their sights on the Big-12 tournament. In order to qualify for the conference tournament they need to finish in the top eight. A top-8 finish probably will require 10 conference wins. Kansas only has 14 home Big-12 games this year. They need to maximize their opportunities starting this weekend.
Want to know what the bad guys are saying? Link to the Texas series preview at Burnt Orange Nation here. 40AS really isn't a bad guy. He will probably move to Kansas someday.
Texas comes into town the number one rated team in the nation, but they probably lost that status on Wednesday when they dropped a game at Rice 6-3. That game was marred by controversy. Longhorns fans are still steaming about an inexplicable call which went to the home team.
Recent events aside, Texas is obviously a good baseball team. But are they really as good as advertised? I’m not sure. Let me explain.
The Texas offense has not been good. They are averaging only 4.6 runs per game. I am far from sold on Kansas’ offense this year and the Jayhawks are scoring 6.4 runs a game. Kansas' scoring advantage is not built on games vs. weaker opponents. In fact Kansas has played a much more demanding schedule than has Texas so far. The Jayhawks have played the 76th toughest schedule so far while Texas has played the 148th. So, does Texas have an offense? That is a real question.
The most powerful bats in the Longhorn line-up are #39 David Hernandez (.345/.383/.345), #36 Tant Shepherd (.306/.417/.469), #3 Cameron Rupp (.294/.356/.353), #2 Travis Tucker (.293/.369/.448), #13 Brandon Belt (.283/.444/.509), #14 Russ Moldenhauer (.235/.350/.353) and #9 Michael Torres (.250/.325/.278). Between these seven players there are only three homeruns and 45 RBIs. Moldenhauer and Torres are off to very slow starts. Last year each hit over .350 with power. Texas is trying to augment their scoring with small ball tactics (an area of the game at which they normally excel) with limited success. As a team they are 14 for 21 in stolen bases and are laying down bunts at twice the rate of Kansas.
Kansas promoted Lee Ridenhour into the Sunday starter slot. With the Jayhawks sending three effective starting pitchers to the mound this weekend Texas should have a lot of trouble scoring. Hopefully the KU bullpen will show up well. If so, KU might be able to shut down the Longhorns much of the weekend.
The strength of Texas’ team is its excellent pitching staff. Texas is surrendering only 2.2 runs a game this year. But are they really this good? Chance Ruffin, their Friday starter, is very impressive. Ruffin did not endear himself to me last year when he threw at John Allman and Preston Land back to back before being ejected. He joked about the ejection in a newspaper story later that week and then served a four game suspension. Texas fans might interpret this incident differently. Ruffin finished the year with a 8-3 record and a 1.96 ERA, so he is plenty good. The other two Texas sophomore starters have less impressive histories.
Brandon Workman has been amazing in 2009. He has a 0.63 ERA and has only given up 10 hits in 28.2 innings while striking out 29 batters. Last year he was pretty average. His ERA was 5.06, he gave up more than a hit an inning, and struggled with control, walking 20 in 53.1 innings. Cole Green has a similar story. Green has been great in ’09 (1.65 ERA, 27.1 Innings, 17 hits, 5/18 BB/K) but struggled through ’08 (5.28 ERA, 58 Innings, 67 hits, 24/44 BB/K). We are probably going to see the ’09 variety of Workman and Green this weekend, after all they were both freshman last year, but clearly they are not as awesome as their numbers from last month indicate.
As far as the Texas defense goes, Hernandez has struggled at shortstop but the rest of the team looks excellent. Texas pitchers hand out less than three free passes per game (36 walks and 12 hit batters). Kansas is not likely to score many cheap runs.
In summary, Texas is obviously a good baseball team, but the Jayhawks can take them down. Kansas has home field working to their advantage this weekend. The Hawks are 7-0 at home, and Texas is 3-2 on the road. The Longhorns are stuck in offensive low gear. Their pitching staff is full of talent and flush with recent success, but they are also young and carry a history of control problems. Outside of their closer Austin Wood the Texas bullpen has been seldom used this year. I am sure there are some good arms in the UT pen but no one, not even Auggie Garrido, knows for sure yet how well those guys will pitch in high leverage situations. Texas will be the heavy favorite, but I like Kansas’ chances of taking a game or two this weekend.
The weather on Friday should be nice, 60ish and overcast but no rain. There is a chance of storms on Saturday and Sunday. Texas baseball has a large following and I am sure there will be a few hundred fans at Hoglund wearing burnt orange. Come on out and cheer on the Hawks. These should be good games.