For the most part, the TCU baseball team has continued to do in the Big 12 Conference what it was doing in the Mountain West that led to the most successful period in school history.
The Horned Frogs dominated the Conference USA and later the Mountain West upon head coach Jim Schlossnagle’s arrival in 2004, reaching a peak in 2012 with a run all the way to the College World Series.
But playing in the Big 12 was a different story. The Horned Frogs still had solid pitching and defense and were solid at creating opportunities offensively. The problem was scoring runs, averaging just 4.3 runs per game. That led to TCU finishing 29-28 in 2013 and missing the NCAA postseason for the first time under Schlossnagle.
It’s much the same story in 2014. The Horned Frogs have tremendous starting pitching on the weekend, a solid bullpen and good defense. Again, finishing off innings offensively continues to be a problem.
“We’ve just been very inconsistent as a team,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ve shown signs and I think we’re improved offensively from last year. We’ve had some bad luck and other times it’s been our fault. The good teams drive in runs and the average teams do not.”
Tuesday night’s non-conference loss at Oklahoma was a perfect example. The Horned Frogs (12-8) had opportunities for big innings, Schlossnagle said, but left the bases loaded three times, striking out once and flying out deep to the outfield in the other two.
The Horned Frogs are hitting .271 on the season, which puts them in the middle of the pack offensively in the Big 12. But, again, they are averaging just 4.2 runs per game and have left 184 runners on base in 20 games.
“For the most part it’s the same core of players,” Schlossnagle said. “We’re stealing some bases, we’re more aggressive on the bases, which I like. But the realty has been, again, that the guys who need to drive in runs are the same guys that drove in runs their freshman year and didn’t do it last year. We’re a little better at it this year but not to the point where we can overcome the score.”
The frustrating part for Schlossnagle and the Horned Frogs is that just a little improvement offensively would greatly bolster a pitching staff that ranks second in the Big 12 with a 2.41 ERA with three weekend starters all possessing ERAs under 2.00.
Leading that staff is junior left-hander Brandon Finnegan, who played his high school ball just down the road at Fort Worth Southwest and is a projected top round pick in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft in June. Finnegan, who was 0-8 last year with a 3.18 ERA, is 3-2 this year with a 1.72 ERA and pitched for Team USA this past summer.
“He’s matured on and off the field,” Schlossnagle said. “He was a typical, immature freshman guy with a great arm and not real feel for his secondary pitches and how to pitch. Every year he’s been here he’s gotten better both as a pitcher and even as a student.
“The jump he took this summer with the USA team, that’s when he got around other great pitchers ... and both saw what made them great and what he needed to get better at, but also made him realize he’s as good as any of those guys.”
Finnegan is not alone. Also back is junior right-hander Preston Morrison (2-2, 1.54 ERA), who led the Horned Frogs starters with seven wins last year. Schlossnagle has also gotten a boost from true freshman left-hander Tyler Alexander (3-1, 1.59 ERA) out of Southlake Carroll.
Now, if the offense could just join them.
Sophomore outfielder Boomer White again leads the Horned Frogs, hitting .388 with a home run and 13 RBIs. But he’s the only TCU hitter above .300, the next closest being Kevin Cron at .292 with a home run and 14 RBIs.
Cron’s effort is at least a step in the right direction for TCU after the 6-foot-5, 245-pound junior hit just .208 a year ago. Schlossnagle said he and former Canyon standout Derek O’Dell (.281, 11 RBIs) are showing signs of what the offense is capable.
“Kevin and Derek and Boomer White ... those three have to be the ones to drive in runs for us,” Schlossnagle said.
“Hopefully we can continue to get guys on base at a good clip and start getting some more timely hits.”
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