Kansas will travel to Texas A&M this weekend for a key Big-12 series. Texas A&M was one of four teams expected to challenge for the conference crown in the pre-season. Outside of a five game losing streak last week the Aggies have lived up to their early hype. Their record stands at 15-9 overall and 3-3 in the Big-12. Kansas brings a 15-7, 3-0 record with them. A&M is ranked #15 in the most recent Baseball America poll.
Friday: Texas A&M 3 - Kansas 0 FINAL (Brooks Raley, 7 inn, 3 hits, 0 runs, 12 Ks)
Saturday: Texas A&M 7 - Kansas 6 FINAL
Sunday 12:05: Lee Ridenhour (3-1, 1.82) vs. Barret Loux (0-0, 5.04)
KU will provide a free webcast of all games with Tom Hedrick (and I assume Mike Cummings) calling the games. Just go to the baseball home page, click on schedule and link from there. Or, if you don’t mind listening to the bad guys call you can watch the games for free at aggieathletics.com. Full aTm stats found here.
A&M has a very solid team with few weak spots. Last year the Aggies went 46-19 and swept Kansas in Lawrence. Actually, Kansas has always had trouble with A&M. The Aggies own a 28-8 record vs. Kansas since the formation of the Big-12. Kansas has only won one of the twelve conference series. Kansas is very hot right now but they will certainly have their hands full this weekend.
Brooks Raley, the Aggies Friday night starting pitcher is a special athlete. The sophomore left hander is not only the team’s ace pitcher he is also one of their leading batters. Last year he went 7-2 on the mound with a 4.76 ERA. He has stepped it up in 2009, going 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA. He plays right field and DHs. Last year he did not get much accomplished at the plate but 2009 is a different story. His batting line so far is .395/.516/.566 with 12 extra base hits in 76 at bats. Wow.
Overall the Aggies have a lot of punch. Their team batting line is .281/.390/.462 and they score 6.8 runs a game. This gives them an advantage over Kansas (.289/.371/.419, 6.5 runs per game.) I had expected A&M to struggle at the plate this year after losing their top four bats but the new guys seem to have stepped right in and delivered. A&M has hit 30 home runs compared to KU’s 14, they have stolen 40 bases compared to KU’s 18.
The Aggies Saturday starter, Alex Wilson, looks more impressive then Raley. Wilson, a junior right hander, has a 21-10 record at A&M in less than two and a half seasons. To put that in perspective KU’s all time winningest pitcher, Kodiak Quick, ended his career with 21 wins. Wilson strikes out everyone. He has 49 Ks in 31.2 innings this year. He has only given up 20 hits and 8 walks. T.J. Walz has a tough draw this weekend. Things lighten up a bit for the Hawks on Sunday. Barret Loux is a sophomore right hander and he is not bad at all, but not in the same class as Raley and Wilson. Last year Loux went 6-2 with a 4.18 ERA. He has no record yet in 2009. His ERA is 5.04 in 25 innings of work. He has given up 22 hits and 12 walks, so he sees men on base often enough. His strength is his K-rate, 12.6 per nine innings. It looks like he has a light gas tank. He is averaging five innings a start.
A&M has a deep bullpen. They have used eight relief pitchers seven or more times each so far this season. Kyle Thebeau (18.2 innings, 4.82 ERA) already owns the all time appearance record at A&M. The senior has pitched in 90 games and counting. I guess a poor man’s Don Czyz. Las year he was excellent, 2.12 ERA in 76.1 innings, almost all out of the bullpen. Travis Starling a right handed junior, has been pitching well out of the A&M pen for three years, 50 total appearances. Last year Starling went 8-2 in 28 games with a 3.70 ERA. His numbers this year as team closer are very good, (2.84 ERA in seven games, three saves) but he has only thrown 6.1 frames. Shane Minks is another veteran bullpen arm. Last year he accumulated 33 innings and had a 3.27 ERA. 2009 has been less kind to him, 11.1 innings and a 5.56 ERA. The Aggies call on several other good arms. Do not expect Kansas to rampage in the late innings on this club.
That quick fright walk through the A&M bullpen seguies nicely into my next point. The Hawks cannot fall asleep on this team! Eleven of A&M’s wins have been come-from-behind victories. Last year when the Aggies were less than generous visitors to Hoglund two of the three days they rallied late to overcome KU leads. Particularly hateful is this memory. KU rallied from a second inning 6-0 hole to take a 8-6 lead. T.J Walz and Andres Esquibel gave way in middle relief to allow the Aggies to win the game 10-8 and complete the sweep. Looking at that box score made my stomach get all tight and sad again. This loss hurt so much more because of a similar meltdown the day before. KU lost an 8th inning 6-3 lead in that game when Brett Bollman and Paul Smyth gave up six runs in the last two innings.
So, what looks hopeful this weekend? There are a few things. For one, I like the Ridenhour – Loux match-up on Sunday. I hope KU gets into that Aggie bullpen on Friday and Saturday so Rob Childress has less fresh arms to use on Sunday. Here is another point of hope. Texas A&M beats themselves often enough. The Aggies have dropped games at home to Centenary, Utah and two to New Mexico. Those teams are not bad, but they certainly are not better than KU. Last week at Missouri A&M had a lot of trouble scoring. In three games they only scored 10 runs. One last bit of sunshine, the A&M defense looks sub-par on paper. Maybe I can wrap up this final optimistic paragraph with this observation. A&M is an immensely talented team that so far has found ways to let their opponents beat them. Kansas, on the other hand, has uneven talent on their roster, but they keep finding ways to win. Good things might happen this weekend.