Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Searching for the Winning Formula

The baseball season is a very long road. Many teams end up playing over 60 games. So it is with that notion that Texas fans shouldn't be too worried from the poor showing in the Houston College Classic this past weekend. Augie Garrido has a massive freshman class coupled with several transfers and it is only a matter of time until he finds the right pieces.

Texas lost 5-4 to an unranked Tennessee Volunteers team, followed by a 10-4 beatdown loss handed to them by the non-conference rival #15 Rice Owls, and then escaped with a 8-7 (10 inn.) win against an equally mediocre Houston Cougars squad. All in all, it wasn't the showing you were hoping from, from a contender.

But looking at this year's squad, there is plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Sophomore transfer, 1B Brandon Belt has played as advertised hitting .405/1 HR/10 RBI early in the season. The big surprise is definitely freshman catcher Cameron Rupp, who has forced his way into the starting lineup, hitting .458/0/10 early in the season. His play has caused him to split time with junior Preston Clark, with one playing catcher and the other at DH. Also freshman Kevin Keyes (.429/0/1) has played well in his chances in LF. Other freshman have done well with their chances and could continue to get more opportunities, like Tant Shepherd, who was 4-5 and 2 doubles against the Islanders last night. These young players will be crucial to filling out the lineup.

Augie Garrido is also using this early season to sort through all his pitching options. While it seems Austin Wood, Cole Green, and Kenn Kasparek are his starters for now, freshman Brandon Workman and Chance Ruffin, and Sophomore Riley Boening have all gotten a weekday start. In all Augie has used 14 pitchers in 9 games this season. Out of the pen, Marcus Tackett (So; 5.1 IP/0.00 ERA), Stayton Thomas (Fr; 4.1/0.00), Casey Whitmer (So; 5.1/1.42), Workman (8.0/2.25), and Ruffin (5.2/0.00) have been the most impressive.

Also, Texas has been getting less than expected early on from some bats that were expected to carry the team this season. Jordan Danks (Jr; .257/1/6), Kyle Russell (Jr; .300/1/7), Preston Clark (Jr; .318/0/6), and Russell Moldenhauer (So; .273/0/7) have all started slowly, which shouldn't be the case for most of the season.

The two issues that should worry Augie the most are the top of the lineup and the starting pitching. Travis Tucker (Jr; .214/0/5) and transfer Michael Torres (Jr; .194/0/8) have struggled. Augie ball relies on the top of the lineup getting on base and making things happen. Despite the low average, Tucker does have an .489 on-base percentage and 7 stolen bases, but you would like to see a better average from both players. There are enough bats in this lineup that can drive runs in, if Texas can find consistent hitters at the top of the lineup.

The other issue is definitely the starting pitching. Texas has plenty of quality arms, but top of the line pitchers win come the postseason. Neither Austin Wood (Jr; 1-1/3.00), Cole Green (Fr; 0-0/4.22), and Kenn Kasparek (Jr; 1-1/5.40) have been overly impressive so far this season. Texas will face quality hitters in conference play and the postseason and Texas will need to find a #1 and #2 that is consistent and good. There are plenty of arms in the pen, but Augie will have his hands full trying to find the right roles for all the pitchers in his staff. There is a good chance that these three starters will not be the starters come season end.

Texas should continue to be inconsistent early in the season, but I would give them at least halfway through conference play before the inconsistent play should really signal any alarms. This team has the makings of a team that could gel late in the season and make their run at the right time. It wouldn't be the first time.

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