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Texas vs TCU Preview

A massive weekend awaits in Austin as Texas and TCU square off in a series that may have lost some of its preseason luster. However, make no mistake, these rivals are going to come to play this weekend as both look to right the ship on their seasons and make a push for the postseason in the back half of their Big 12 schedules. 

Texas comes in sitting at 4th in the Big 12 standings with a 9-6 conference record and are 22-16 overall. The Longhorns were able to get a much needed conference series victory last weekend in Houston but were throttled by UTRGV 17-9 on Tuesday night. The Longhorns have been inconsistent on the mound this season with a team ERA of 5.12, good enough for 7th in the league, but have struggled to find guys they can count on in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. Preseason ace LeBarron Johnson Jr has struggled the last few weeks to the point where he was moved from his Friday night role to getting the nod on for Sunday’s finale against Houston.  Johnson’s struggles continued, throwing 2.2 IP with 3 ER 5 H and 4 BB.

David Pierce turned to sophomore pitcher Max Grubbs in lieu of Johnson last Friday. Grubbs went 5 innings but gave up 5 ER and was charged with the loss. Junior lefty Ace Whitehead earned the start on Saturday after being inserted into the starting rotation four weeks ago. Whitehead has been solid in that role, giving up three runs or less in all but one outing,  sporting 3.86 ERA on the year. Neither the Longhorns nor the Horned Frogs have released their projected starters for this weekend’s tilt, though one can expect to see Grubbs, Whitehead and TBA for the Longhorns.

Texas, despite some inconsistency on the mound, has been guided by their potent offense which starts with Sophomore First Baseman Jared Thomas.  Thomas is tied with teammate Jalin Flores for 3rd in the Big 12 with a 1.160 OPS, 11 HR, and 30 RBI. Flores is another big bat in this lineup, who on top of being tied for 3rd in the league in OPS leads the Big 12 in HR with 14. Max Belyeu joins them in providing the majority of the power in this lineup. The Longhorn lineup is not only powerful but is deep with six guys batting over .300 and will be a challenge for a solid TCU pitching staff to handle.

TCU, on the other hand, sits at 12th in the Big 12 standings with a 7-11 conference record. They are led by their pitching staff, which ranks 5th in the league with a 4.94 staff ERA and 2nd in the league with a 5.13 ERA in conference play. Their staff is led by Wichita State transfer and 2-way star Payton Tolle. Tolle is 3-3 on the year with a 3.91 ERA and a really impressive .197 BAA. He has been awesome on the mound for the Horned Frogs this season having gone at least 4 innings and not given up more than 4 runs in an outing. Tolle threw a complete game shutout of Oklahoma State earlier in the year. TCU, however, has struggled to find a consistent starter outside of Tolle. Sophomore Kole Klecker started the year in the starting rotation but struggled and was moved into the bullpen two weeks ago, but did record his first save last weekend and could be a reliable option at the backend of games this weekend for Kirk Saarloos and company.

 Last weekend against Texas Tech, Saarloos rolled out Louis Rodriguez on Saturday and Mason Bixby on Sunday.  Rodriguez is a sophomore righty with a 3-1 record and 3.18 ERA on the season, while Bixby is a freshman right handed pitcher who has appeared in just 5 games this season, 2 of those being starts and has a 3.21 ERA on the year. It’s expected Kirk Saarloos will roll with the same guys this weekend against that talented Texas lineup. As always with this Horned Frog staff, keep an eye out for Saarloos to hand the ball to Ben Abeldt. Abeldt leads the team in appearances with 15 and his ERA sits at 1.64, carrying over his strong 2023 season to the 2024 campaign.  

Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, their offensive struggles have loomed too large this season. The Frogs are dead last in the league in batting average in conference play, sitting at .221 as a team. Logan Maxwell leads the team in average at .350 and only 2 other players, Sam Myers and Chase Brunson, have an average over .300. Kurtis Byrne leads the team in HR with just 5, this is not a team that is going to out slug you. TCU has to be more creative on offense, by stealing bases and manufacturing runs if they want to keep pace with the dangerous Longhorn lineup. 

I expect this to be a fun series, and it’s fun to watch teams who match up well together. TCU has a very good pitching staff and while good pitching usually beats good hitting, give me the Longhorns to over power this TCU pitching staff en route to a 2-1 series victory.  Texas remains tough to beat at the Disch, with a 15-10 home record on the season.  Conversely, TCU is just 3-9 away from home this season.  

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