As cheesy and testosterone-driven of a movie as “Road House” was, Patrick Swayze’s character did utter one line that aptly applies to the Texas Tech baseball team.
Remember after his first night working at the Double Deuce, the owner was pleased that no one in the seedy bar had died that night. Up stepped Swayze.
“It’ll get worse before it gets better,” said Dalton.
Tech baseball fans probably thought it wouldn’t get any worse after dropping a series to a West Virginia team picked last in the Big 12 because they had the same finish in an inferior conference last season. But it did, as a struggling TCU team came into Lubbock and took two of three, and came very close to sweeping the Red Raiders.
OK, that’s as bad as it can get, Tech fans probably thought. Oh, but wait, there’s more. The Red Raiders went to Manhattan, Kansas and were completely exposed by the top hitting offense in the Big 12 in Kansas State. The Wildcats outscored Tech 33-9 in sweeping the three-game series, which included a 27-4 run differential in the last two games, the finale ending by run-rule on an eighth-inning home run.
So, now, Tech sits tied with Texas and TCU for last place in the Big 12 at 4-8 and 17-7 overall, losers of eight of their last nine games overall and seven of nine in conference play. That one-game advantage the Red Raiders had after beating Texas two of three in Austin has now turned completely around, and the sweep now puts Tech down a run in the quest to finish no worse than .500 in conference play.
The good news is, with the exception of league-leader Oklahoma, none of the rest of Tech’s Big 12 weekends will likely be any worse since three of the final four are at Rip Griffin Park.
The bad news is, with the way Tech is playing, it may not get any better, either.
First-year head coach Tim Tadlock was asked recently whether the slump his team is in was not so much a slump but what his team actually is, and if the play at the beginning of the season was just a hot streak. His answer was that if they hear it or read it enough, the players might become that slump but that the coaching staff wasn’t going to let that happen.
He may not have a choice right now. The Red Raider offense statistically ranks ninth in the league with a .247 batting average, just .003 points ahead of TCU. And after being hammered by Kansas State all weekend, the Tech pitching staff dropped from middle of the Big 12 pack two weeks ago to dead last, watching its ERA balloon to an unimpressive 4.37.
Tadlock as maintained that the offense just has several players struggling at the plate at the same time. But isn’t that a sign that too many players are having trouble adjusting to the increased talent level that is Big 12 pitching and not just a “slump?”
Make no mistake. The Red Raiders this year are built around pitching and defense, and for the better part of the season — the last two weeks not withstanding — they’ve done a pretty good job at both, especially considering ace right-hander Trey Masek has been on the shelf for three weeks with tendinitis in his arm/elbow.
Tech is built that way because that’s the way the this era of the college game dictates that you have to play thanks to the dummied-down BBCOR bats. The days of bashing your way to victory in college baseball are pretty much over, despite what KSU did this weekend.
A team has to have some pop, however, and right now the Red Raiders have none. They have just two home runs in conference play, Jarrard Poteete’s solo shot in the 1-0 win over UT in the conference opener and Jake Barrios’ blast in the second game of the WVU series. That’s it.
And this is no longer about balls just not finding holes. Opposing pitchers make good pitches to get Tech hitters to roll over on balls or send lazy flies to the outfield, while Tech pitchers give up two-run doubles.
Watching the Kansas State broadcast Sunday, one commentator mentioned a Tech player who is in the lineup “for his defense,” which is a nice way of saying he’s not a very good hitter. Who was he talking about? Does it matter?
If it were all the young players struggling at the plate, that would be one thing. But it’s the veterans, too, the guys who have been through this journey before. Aside from Barrios, who is hitting .409 (9 for 22) with two doubles, two triples and eight RBIs in his last six games, this offense is pretty punchless, leading the league with 251 strikeouts. That’s an average of 7.4 per game.
It got worse last week because the pitching faltered. Friday starter Dominic Moreno came back from his rib injury and threw well for five-plus innings. But the Red Raiders surrendered 30 runs over the final 26 innings, with a nine-spot surrendered by the normally solid Jonny Drozd on Saturday and a six-run inning tagged on starter Corey Taylor and reliever Andre Wheeler on Sunday.
In a way, though, you can hardly blame the pitching staff. It’s carried the team all through conference, so you had to figure there would be a letdown sometime. But that letdown came with a thud this weekend.
Now, the question becomes, what are the Red Raiders going to do about it?
They’ve got the weekend off from Big 12 competition but have a Sunday game against Lubbock Christian on Sunday, and right now that game is far from a given. Masek threw some simulated bullpens this weekend and could be back for the Kansas series (April 19-21).
At this point, though, home field advantage and the return of an ace may not be enough.
Someone, several someones, are going to have to stand up and say this is as worse as it can get if Tech is going to salvage something from this season.
That’s the only way it will get better.