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Baseball: KU (12-9) at #15 Texas A&M (18-2)

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KU opens their 2007 Big-12 season this weekend with a three game series at Texas A&M.  The Aggies are probably the best team KU has yet faced this year.  Wins will be hard to come by in College Station, but wins have rarely been so needed by KU.  The Jayhawks are stumbling as they enter the meat of their schedule, having lost four of their last five games.

As far as Texas A&M fans were concerned, 2006 couldn't end quick enough.  A&M is a traditional baseball power but last year went horribly badly for the Aggies.  A&M finished with a record of 25-30 (6-20-1 Big-12).  Factor in KU's recent success vs. Texas A&M (they have won seven of the last twelve matches) and KU fans have some fairly meaningless reasons to hope for a series win.  The fact of the matter is that in 2007 Texas A&M has completely turned their fortunes around and are once more one of the most impressive teams in the nation while KU is 0-8 vs. teams who have any hope of making the post-season tournament.

Likely Pitching Match-Ups.
Friday 6:30PM - Nick Czyz (2-2, 2.60 ERA) vs. David Newmann (3-0, 2.01 ERA)
Saturday 6:30PM - Zach Ashwood (2-2, 6.51 ERA) vs. Kyle Theabeau (2-0, 4.30 ERA)
Sunday 1:00PM - Andy Marks (3-2, 4.68 ERA) vs. Yet to be determined.

Texas A&M leads overall series 34-13.  KLWN AM-1320 most likely will broadcast this series live unless the games conflict with KU basketball.  Also, apparently the games can be watched or listened to live free of charge via Texas A&M's website.  If I understand the procedure correctly you just have to register here, but I don't know too much about this system.
Complete Kansas stats here
Complete Texas A&M stats here

Texas A&M in a nutshell
Last year Texas A&M had a very strong pitching staff with a team ERA of 3.56, but struggled to score runs.  In 56 games they hit .252 and only 24 homeruns.  This worked out to a production of only 4.4 runs per game.  One year later and only five of the seventeen position players who accumulated over five at bats on the year are still with the club.  The 2007 version of the Aggies is ripping the cover off the ball.  Their team batting line is .326 / .413 / .460 and they have upped their run production to 7.5 per game.  Worth mentioning also is that A&M is stealing 3.1 bases per game so far this season.  How did they turn the roster over so quickly and so effectively?  I have no idea.  Perhaps someone more in the know about A&M baseball can chime in and explain.

The Aggie pitching staff was excellent last year finishing the year with a staff ERA of 3.56, an amazingly low figure for the NCAA.  Even though the turnover on the pitching staff is every bit as great as among the position players (gone are eight of 14 pitchers from last year) A&M enters this weekend with an ERA of 2.75.  Again, how does a team have one of the best pitching staffs in the NCAA one year, loose more than half their pitchers, and have even a better staff the next year?  How does this happen and how can KU get with this program?

Looking over Texas A&M's amazing turn-around I suspected that they had racked up these numbers and their 18-2 record vs. inferior competition.  This has not been the case at all.   Already on the year A&M has defeated Houston, Rice, Oregon State and Florida three times.  Their only two losses came at the hands of defending national champions Oregon State and #12 ranked Arizona State.

So, in a nutshell, this is not going to be an easy series to KU to win.  Coach Price has shaken up his pitching rotation heading into this key weekend by flipping Nick Czyz and Zach Ashwood.  Czyz has established himself as the ace of the starting rotation and offers the Jayhawks their best chance to get the series off to a positive start on Friday evening.  He will be matched up with David Newmann.  Newmann has been lights out in his first five starts.  He has an ERA of 2.01, in 31.1 innings he has given up only 18 hits, while building a 10/35 BB/K ratio.  The Saturday starter is a bit less impressive, but solid none-the-less.  Kyle Thebeau has a 4.30 ERA, 29.1 innings, 26 hits, 13/33 BB/K.  If Kyle Nicholson gets the start on Sunday he might give the Jayhawks one last nightmare before they get out of Texas.  While splitting time between the bullpen and the rotation Murphy has built an ERA of 1.02.   35.1 innings, 25 hits, 5/30 BB/K.  Jason Meyer, the other possible Sunday starter is no easy alternative.  3.38 ERA, 21.1 innings, 17 hits, 13/19 BB/K. This will not be a weekend in which the Jayhawks can count on scoring a lot of runs.

Olsen Field will be loud and full this weekend.  The Aggies regularly bring in between three and four thousand fans for home games.  It's going to take an extraordinary effort and some luck for KU to win this weekend.  Lets send some good vibes their way inbetween cheering for the basketball team.  A couple of wins on the hardwood and a couple of wins on the diamond will make this a great weekend for Kansas fans.