Big 12 baseball returns to Olsen Field this weekend, as the 22nd ranked Aggies host a familiar foe, the Texas Tech Red Raiders. This is the opening conference series for both teams, and comes in just the fourth weekend of the season for both teams.
Not only does this series represent a fast start out of the conference gate for both the Aggies (13-3) and Red Raiders (8-6), but both sides are looking to work on some history in this rivalry.
The series between these two clubs has been largely home-and-home since the Big 12's inception, but the advantage in College Station runs much deeper. Texas Tech has never won a series at Olsen Field, a streak of 30 years that A&M would love to see continue.
Tech came close to ending the streak in 1995 and their last trip in 2006, but both times were literally met by Olsen Magic. A&M rallied to score five runs in the bottom of the 10th of 1995's final game, capped by Jeff Bailey's walk-off grand slam, to secure a 2-2 series split.
The two teams split the first two games in 2006 and Tech led the final game 4-2 through 8.5 innings, but the Aggies scraped across three runs without the benefit of a hit (or, for that matter, a ball batted farther than 90 feet) to earn in an inexplicable series win.
An A&M series win in 2008 would be more explicable on paper, but Tech has the ingredients to be a solid Big 12 team despite an inability to translate that talent into a high winning percentage thus far.
Offensively, Tech enters the weekend hitting .303 while slugging an also-impressive .467. They're scoring 7.79 runs per contest and reaching base at a .407 clip. Many fans tend to point at early season numbers from Tech's offensive and temper them with a "Dan Law" factor, a perspective on the offensive trend of Tech's home field, but that couldn't be farther from the case in 2008.
Due to several external scheduling factors, the Red Raiders have played just two of their 14 contests in Lubbock, amassing their offensive stats almost entirely away from home.
Tech's offense is built around Roger Kieschnick, a very good hitter that leads Tech in many categories. A starter in all 14 games, Kieschnick is batting .417 with seven HR and 24 RBI – all numbers that lead the team. His seven doubles, two triples, and .950 slugging percentage also lead the team. Three other starters, Jason Seefield (.380-2-14), Willie Rueda (.333-0-1, 8/8 SB), and Chris Hall (.327-0-9) all bring averages north of .300 to Olsen Field.
If A&M wants to exploit a potentially major weakness of Tech's, it's the pitching staff.
The Red Raiders bring a 4.91 team ERA to the field, and just three hurlers (with more than two appearances) have ERAs under 3.00. The three starters that Larry Hays will send to the mound this weekend combine for a 5.44 ERA with just one, Chad Bettis, sporting an ERA below 5.50. Tech's bullpen seems to lack depth (just four non-starters have hurled more than 6 innings), but has a solid comparatively solid 4.10 ERA (amongst the same group). In a tight situation at the end of any contest, Hays will likely lean on Zach Stewart (2 SV, 0.84 ERA, 15 K, 4 BB in 10.2 IP, .222 BAA) to get the job done.
Like A&M, Tech has had some defensive woes early in the season. Their .960 fielding percentage is a point lower than the Aggies' thus far, and Aggie fans can attest to that frustration, but Tech has found a way to minimize those mistakes (15.38% of runs are unearned, compared to 26.32% for the Aggies). Tech's opponents have attempted just eight steals against them, but have been successful 50% of the time.
For the Ags, the youth movement will again be in full effect on the mound, as Childress sends true freshmen Brooks Raley (2-0, 1.80 ERA, 17 K, 5 BB in 15.0 IP, .157 BAA) and Barret Loux (0-0, 4.85 ERA, 17 K, 6 BB in 13.0 IP, .220 BAA) to the hill in the first two contests, followed by sophomore Scott Migl (1-0, 3.68 ERA, 15 K, 7 BB in 14.2 IP, .200 BAA) on Sunday.
A&M will bring six bullpen pitchers into the weekend with more than six innings pitched, led by middle relievers Kyle Thebeau (1-2, 0.57 ERA, 16 K, 8 BB in 15.2 IP, .236 BAA) and Carson Middleton (3-0, 0.55 ERA, 16 K, 3 BB in 16.1 IP, .175 BAA) , along with closer Travis Starling. Starling (11 K, 0 BB in 7.1 IP, .148 BAA) has accumulated 4 saves to put him on an early pace to capture A&M's single season record for saves.
Getting to that mark requires A&M to keep winning, which in turn requires that the Aggie offense get to a suspect Tech pitching staff. A&M enters the weekend batting .322 and slugging .504, numbers that have helped create A&M's 7.25 runs per game. Aggies are reaching base 41.8% of the time that they step into the batters box.
The Aggie line-up will be led by Dane Carter, who's had a phenomenal start to the '08 campaign. His numbers read like a video game; .492 average, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 18 Runs, .825 SLG, .542 OBP and 6 steals. Each of those numbers lead the team in the respective category, except for RBI (18 by Jose Duran) and steals (tied with Duran, Blake Stouffer, and Ben Feltner).
Duran (.381-2-18, 16 R), a JUCO transfer, has come up huge for A&M both at shortstop and now in the clean-up spot. The Ags have also seen a more characteristic performance from Stouffer since opening weekend, who is now batting .333 after his 0-for-13 start to the year.
A&M fans will also want to keep an eye on the injury bug as two top hitters, Kyle Colligan (.325-1-6) and Luke Anders (.390-2-14) have missed time recently due to injury. Colligan has been fighting a thigh injury for almost two weeks, while Anders may have re-aggravated a 2007 wrist injury during Tuesday's batting practice.
A&M hosts Texas Tech in Big 12 opener
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