Kansas Jayhawks (19-16) vs. Texas Tech (17-16)
Kansas hosts the Texas Tech Red Raiders this weekend. Last year Tech finished in tenth place in the Big-12, one notch below Kansas. Despite the disappointing caimpaign there was a lot of talk about the Raiders coming into 2008. Dan Spencer, the 2007 collegiate pitching coach of the year at national champion Oregon State, was hired as the Pitching/Associate head coach at TTU. Tech luring him away from the Pacific Northwest was widely seen as a coup. Larry Hays remains in charge of the Red Raiders (over 22 years he has won 806 games) but Spencer clearly was brought on board to transition into the job. The pre-season buzz surrounding Tech defined them as a team which had bottomed out and was now taking aggressive steps to rebuild. So far in 2008 TTU has been a surprisingly scrappy team. The Red Raiders own impressive victories over Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M and even won their conference series vs. Missouri two games to one. They enter Lawrence ranked #53 in the RPI and, for what it is worth, most Big-12 watchers at Rivals.com expect Tech to take a road series in Lawrence. Back in January Tech's visit to Hoglund looked like a break in the Jayhawks tough schedule, a chance for KU to emerge as a mid-pack factor in the conference race. Now this weekend is looking more like a last stand for the Hawks to prevent their season from flat-lining in April.
Friday's game was moved up to 4PM due to the likelihood of a late arriving foul weather.
Friday 4:00PM: Nick Czyz (1-3, 6.54 ERA) vs. Nate Karns (1-5, 9.40 ERA)
Saturday Noon: Andres Esquibel (2-2, 3.95) vs. A.J. Ramos (1-3, 5.58 ERA)
Sunday 1PM: Paul Smyth (1-3, 2.70 ERA) vs. Chad Bettis (3-2, 5.23 ERA)
Yes, Paul Smyth is penciled in as the Sunday starter. I found this surprising and have no idea how this move will shake up the rest of the pitching staff. I suspect Bollman will move into the closer role. Smyth has had control problems as of late but if Coach Price is focused on giving the team its best chance to win I can't argue with elevating Smyth over Freeman, Marciel, Walz and Hall at this point. Smyth has always been a bulldog out of the pen, frequently shouldering outings of 50+ pitches. I don't expect he will require much stretching out for the starting gig.
Media: This is the best media weekend of the season for the Jayhawks. KLWN AM-1320 will broadcast all three games live, although some may be interrupted. A live video and audio feed for all the games will be available through this site. Finally, the Saturday game will be broadcast by FSN-Midwest.
I'll leave most of the individual player evaluations to bkmhoxx. Taking TTU as a whole, they are a pretty good offensive ball club. On the year they are hitting .282/.389/.431 and scoring 6.8 runs per game. These numbers match up very well with KU's own production (.285/.382/.433 and 7.1 runs/gm). One of the key weapons in the Raiders arsenal is their running game. TTU has stolen 57 of 68 bases this year. I expect to see Joe Southers behind the plate in at least two of the three games as KU attempts to keep this part of the Raider attack under control. The two teams are also evenly matched in terms of pitching and defense. KU is surrendering 6.0 runs per game, TTU 5.8. Like Kansas Tech has struggled to find effective starting pitching. Karns, their Friday starter, must feel like a punching bag by now. In 29.2 innings he has given up 32 runs on 32 hits and 27 walks. A.J. Ramos, the Saturday starter, pitched well in 2007 (8-5, 4.70 ERA) and is still striking out a lot of batters in 2008 (50 in 40.1 innings) but looks to be struggling with control mightily. In his 40.1 innings he has walked 29 and hit 10 batters, as well as uncorking seven wild pitches. A freshman will start for Tech on Sunday vs. Smyth. The TTU pitcher, Bettis, looks to be a "pitch to contact" guy who is muddling through well enough to keep his team in the game. Bottom line, there should be a lot of runs scored this weekend. Hopefully Texas Tech will run out of bullets first.
I would be remiss in not mentioning Roger Kieschnick in this preview. Kieschnick (#33) is one of the best college players in the nation. Last year the Raider outfielder hit .302/.373/.621 with 13 homeruns and 36 RBIs. He was picked as a 2nd team pre-season All-American by Baseball America. Kieschnick is living up to the hype. He brings to Lawrence a .308/.430/.677 line and leads the Big-12 with 11 homeruns in only 130 at bats.
A few other KU Baseball notes
The Northern Colorado series, which had been scheduled for last Tuesday and Wednesday, was canceled due to wet conditions. There are no plans to make up the games. I believe this gives KU three free dates, but I would be a bit surprised if they can find any NCAA opponents able to make the trip to Lawrence at this late date. Perhaps South Dakota State, Western Illinois, Creighton or Wichita State might be convinced? All have open dates of their own. I'll keep my fingers crossed.
Boyd's World released its first "RPI Needs List" of 2008. This list roughly calculates what record each team needs to achieve in order to lower its RPI down to 45 or lower. The assumption being that teams with RPIs over 45 have very little chance of receiving serious consideration for NCAA at-large bids. For those curious, KU stands on the edge of the abyss. According to the calculations KU must win 20 of its final 22 NCAA games in order to sneak in under 45. TTU needs to build a 14-8 record, so you know they will have this situation in mind this weekend.
One other note worth mentioning. KU opponent North Dakota State no-hit Creighton on April 8th. Great!, you might think. The Bison LOST THE GAME 2-0!!!.