The decisive factor for this weekends Texas Tech-TCU Big 12 Conference baseball series could be a simple one.
First one to five wins.
Both the Red Raiders (17-6, 1-2 in Big 12) and Horned Frogs (12-8, 0-0) are dominated by their pitching, Tech with a 2.90 ERA and TCU at 2.41. Both teams are hitting about the same, Tech at a .291 and TCU at .271.
But neither team has been lighting up the scoreboard against quality pitching lately. TCU averages just 4.2 runs per game while Texas Tech managed just eight runs in three games in its opening series against Baylor, and seven of those came in the series finale to help the Red Raiders avoid the sweep.
So whichever team can produce just a handful of runs, or at least produce them early, could have a distinct upper hand.
“Both teams going into the series are having trouble scoring runs,” Tech head coach Tim Tadlock said after his team’s 6-3 loss to Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday. “Both teams can pitch, so what we need to do is go in and take a lot of pride in playing the game the right way and executing.”
The way both teams have pitched this season, however, scoring runs might be easier said than done.
The Red Raiders used just six pitchers in three games against the Bears, and only one of them, Sunday starter Cameron Smith, currently holds and ERA above 3.00. Friday starter Dominic Moreno is 1-3 on the year with a 1.59 ERA, and in all three of his losses Tech has been shut out, two of them by 1-0 scores.
For TCU, all three weekend starters have ERAs of 1.72 or better, and all three rank in the top 10 in the Big 12. Friday starter Brandon Finnegan leads the Horned Frogs and is a projected top round draft pick.
“They’re a great team, great staff,” Tech first baseman Eric Gutierrez said. “But I have no doubt about our offense. I’m confident we’re going to hit.”
Hitting and scoring runs has been a struggle for the Horned Frogs this season. Like Tech, TCU has been shut out three times this season, and it has scored more than five runs just five times this season.
Head coach Jim Schlossnagle knows it will be hard to repeat the dominance the Horned Frogs have had over the Red Raiders as of late. TCU has won eight straight and 11 of the last 13 meetings against Tech at Lupton Stadium.
“Texas Tech’s pitching is much, much improved, so at least this weekend, who knows,” Schlossnagle said. “The fact that Tech pitches so well equals out any advantage that we used to have.”
Whichever team can find enough offense to go with its pitching will have the advantage. But the Red Raiders go into the weekend with not much to feel good about after giving away some at-bats in the loss to SFA.
The Red Raiders had five called strikeouts and had other occasion where being aggressive early in counts against the Lumberjacks bullpen resulted only in routine fly balls. Tech had just one hit over the final six innings on Wednesday.
It left Tadlock not feeling too good about his hitters going into the weekend.
“We hit some balls (in Tuesday’s 20-4 win over SFA) that found holes and (Wednesday) it was basically one of those deals where the breakdowns caused the not scoring. I don’t feel great about it, but it’s something that if we do what we need to do we’ll be OK.”
One thing Tadlock has praised all year with his team is whether it’s a game or practice, they come out to the ballpark every day focused and with intent. Gutierrez said having the right frame of mind is the key.
“We just have to stay within ourselves and just finish at-bats. Be aggressive,” Gutierrez said. “We just have to flush (the Baylor series) and not worry about it. It’s in the past and we can’t control that any more. We just have to go out and play.”
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