Kansas Jayhawks (26-22, 5-13) vs. Oklahoma (29-17-1, 6-11-1)
Final Score Game One: Kansas 17 - Oklahoma 15
Final Score Game Two: Kansas 13 - Oklahoma 10
Final Score Game Three: Kansas 9 - Oklahoma 4
Kansas hosts Oklahoma this weekend at Hoglund Park. This will be a very important series for both teams. Oklahoma enters the weekend in 7th place in the Big-12, but they only lead Kansas and Texas Tech by one and a half games. Only the top eight teams make the conference tournament. The post-season will very much be on the minds of both teams this weekend. The Sooners have a tougher remaining schedule than Kansas. They still must play in-state rival Oklahoma State. They cannot be counting on picking up more than one win vs. the Cowboys. I am sure the Sooners know that if they lose in Lawrence the Jayhawks will likely pass them in the standings before the season wraps. On the Kansas side this home series gives them an excellent opportunity to hurt one of the three teams with whom they are competing for the two remaining tournament invitations. This series has all the makings for a terrific weekend of college baseball.
Friday 6PM: Nick Czyz (2-5, 5.72 ERA) vs. Andrew Doyle (6-3, 3.84 ERA)
Saturday 2PM: Andres Esquibel (3-4, 4.68) vs. Jeremy Erben (1-1, 4.47)
Sunday 1PM: T.J. Walz (3-0, 4.17) vs. Ryan Duke (5-3, 3.06)
Media: KLWN AM-1320 will broadcast all three games live. For those outside the Lawrence area steaming audio and video will be available through this site.
Oklahoma started the year very hot. They entered conference play with a 17-5 record. For me at least this made them one of the two surprise Big-12 teams. I kept waiting for their pitching staff to implode and for them to fall to a level closer my expectations. Despite their struggles in conference play this implosion never really happened. The Sooners have stumbled here and there, including one very embarrassing loss at home to Southern Nazarene, an NAIA opponent, but they have continued to play tough and score occasional upsets. Two recent examples: after losing the first two games vs. Missouri two weekends ago the Sooners stormed back on Sunday to rout the Tigers 22-4. In their first mid-week game since the loss to Southern Nazarene the Sooners pulled off an enormous upset by toppling Wichita State 12-11. OU needs to be taken seriously. The Hawks cannot expect to win this weekend if they are not playing at their highest level.
By the numbers, Oklahoma is hitting .314/.385/.469 and scoring 7.1 runs per game. This gives them an offensive edge over KU. The Sooners starting lineup does not give opponents easy innings. Eight of their nine regulars are dangerous. Only Matt Harughty has an OPS under .800. Oklahoma has a nice balance of power (42 home runs and a .469 team slugging average), speed (60/83 stolen bases) and patience (.385 team on base percentage).
The OU pitching staff also sports impressive numbers. Oklahoma surrenders just a bit over five runs a game, which is a bit better than the NCAA average. Two of the three starters KU will face this weekend (Duke and Doyle) have ERAs under four. The success of the staff does not come through power pitching, instead they hold opponents to a low batting average (.272) and minimize extra base hits (2.3 per game). One area of weakness is that the Sooners have not established an effective closer this year. Jake McCarter leads the team with 23 relief appearances and 9 saves. McCarter has an ERA of 6.60 and has given up nine homeruns in thirty innings.
Oklahoma's defense is below average. Their overall fielding percentage is .964. One other potential factor in this series, the great plains of Kansas. If the game time wind is anything like it has been over the last day KU might be able to exploit the OU "pitch to contact" staff approach. Any fly ball on a gusty day is dangerous. All three KU starters can adjust well to these conditions. Czyz has an excellent flyball/groundball ratio (0.6). This, combined with his high strikeout ratio (9.61 K/9), makes him an ideal pitcher for windy conditions. Esquibel has managed to keep his FB/GB ratio on the positive side as well (0.8), while Walz put together a brilliant start two weeks ago in Lincoln on a windy day.
Be sure to check out bkmhoxx' preview of Oklahoma prospects here in the comments section. Print out a copy and bring it to the game. OU has a few players with real shots at making the bigs.
I am looking forward to seeing some nice crowds at Hoglund this weekend. I should be able to make all three games. Eight of KU's ten remaining games are at home. Soak up as much baseball as you can over these next few weeks. When the season is over all our lives will be that much poorer.