Aggies host Rutgers in weekend series

After playing 14 games in just over two weeks, the Aggies are just one week away from Big 12 Conference play. Their final non-conference tune up begins today at Olsen Field against Rutgers. Aggie Websider's Lanny Hayes takes an in-depth look at the match up.

The NCAAs new standardized start date for college baseball was projected to have far reaching impact upon the sport, most specifically providing an element of fairness to all participating institutions given the weather disparity between the north and south. That uniform start date has created a much more condensed college schedule and, in turn, led to some interesting scheduling realities.

Texas A&M will end the weekend having played 14 games in just over two weeks, a stretch that's much more familiar to the big leagues than the aluminum bat. More importantly in the grand scheme is that the Aggies' third weekend series, a mere 14 days into the season, is a tune-up for next week's conference opener against Texas Tech.

The Aggies welcome one of those northern teams, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, to Olsen Field for an interesting match up of 2007 Regional teams. A&M enters the game at 9-2, with all eleven games coming at home, while Rutgers is 2-4 with just a single home game under their belt. The two squads have never met on the diamond, and Rutgers is making their first appearance to the state of Texas since the 1999 Lubbock Regional.

The 2007 Rutgers squad was the co-Big East regular season champion as well as the tournament champion, advancing to the Charlottesville regional where they lost two hard fought games to eventual CWS champion Oregon State. Gone from that squad, though, are six offensive starters and a sizeable portion of the pitching staff.

The Scarlet Knights arrive at Olsen Field with a team batting average of .252 and averaging five runs per contest. The offensive statistics indicate that the Aggies will be facing a free-swinging club that's had limited results for its' aggressive nature. The Scarlet Knights have struck out in 62 of their 210 at bats (29.52%), compared to just 22 walks. Such a style would typically indicate good power numbers, but just 13 of the team's 53 hits have gone for extra bases. Team speed also seems to be a fairly strong suit, as they've grounded into just three double plays while swiping eight bags in 12 attempts. Six sacrifice bunts in six contests also shows a penchant towards small-ball.

Just one hitter, Tom Edwards (.435-0-7) is batting above .300 on the year. Not only does he account for more than 25% of the entire team's RBIs and almost 20% of the hits, he's the only batter with more walks (six) than strikeouts (walks). His six walks are 27% of the team's total. Jon Gossard (.296-0-5) and Jaren Matthews (.292-2-4) are tied for the team lead in extra base hits with three each.

The Rutgers pitching staff brings a 4.85 ERA into the weekend, allowing opponents to bat just .279 and handing out half as many free passes (21) as strikeouts (42). Friday night starter Steve Holt (0-0, 1.29 ERA, 3 K, 3 BB in 7.0 IP, .222 BAA) will be pitching in just his second contest in the last two years, as he's returning from Tommy John surgery. Casey Gaynor (1-1, 2.93 ERA, 17 K, 5 BB in 15.1 IP, .236 BAA), a fellow Tom's River native, will toe the rubber on Saturday while Matt Giannini (0-2, 7.20 ERA, 7 K, 5 BB in 10.0 IP, .282 BAA) will throw on Sunday.

In stark contrast to A&M's spread out pitching attack, most all of Rutgers' innings pitched have come from their starters (40 of 52 IP), and possibly for good reason, as the ERA (6.00) and batting average against (.300) inflate against the bottom of the staff.

Getting to that bullpen will be a major focus for Matt Deggs' offensive attack, which is being led by Senior Dane Carter (.465-3-13, .953 SLG, 1.463 OPS). Six of A&M's projected starters are batting above .300 on the year, including Brodie Greene (.321-1-6) who seems to have won the battle in right field. Brian Ruggiano (.351-1-8) and Jose Duran (.341-1-8) have similar statlines and have held the middle of the Aggie order together during the early season struggles of Blake Stouffer (.188-0-9) and Luke Anders. Stouffer has found ways to be productive (9 RBI, 5 runs despite just 8 total bases) during his early season slump, while Anders (.333-1-9) may have broken his own slump with a great Wednesday versus Nicholls State.

The Aggie weekend rotation will certainly have an air of youth about it, as two true freshmen and a sophomore are expected to toe the rubber. Barret Loux (0-0, 5.14 ERA, 11 K, 4 BB in 7.0 IP, .241 BAA) will open the series on Friday night, while fellow freshman Brooks Raley (1-0, 3.68 ERA, 7 K, 3 BB in 7.1 IP, .172 BAA) goes up on Saturday night. Scott Migl (1-0, 2.31 ERA, 9 K, 4 BB in 11.2 IP) will start Sunday's contest on the hill.

Should the Rutgers bats get past the starters, they'll be facing a bullpen that's started the '08 campaign with great performances. All told, the A&M bullpen has put together an impressive 1.67 ERA on the year, surrendering just eight runs in 43 innings pitched. While there will be many arms to go to, including last week's Friday night starter Kirkland Rivers, any late game jams will bring all eyes on closer Travis Starling. The righty has just six innings pitched on the year, but has thrown very much like a grizzled professional closer, striking out 10 and walking none and allowing just a .136 average.

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