The Texas A&M baseball club entered unplanned territory this past week, dropping five consecutive contests to Baylor, New Mexico (2) and Missouri (2) before eeking out a win in Sunday's finale against the Tigers. The results of the week dropped A&M to 14-9, including a 3-3 conference mark, and fans should expect a substantial tumble in today's polls.
As stated when A&M was ranked #1 to start the year, the polls mean almost literally nothing, so don't lose your sleep here. Diagnosing the issues that led to the five game slide, however, could give you chills in the night.
It could be easier for Rob Childress and company if there were just a single issue to point at, but A&M found some pretty unique ways to drop these contests. Those who follow the game of baseball know that you must look at an individual game as just that, and then look to consecutive games for trends, and there are a few trends to be concerned about.
First, the killer instinct factor certainly wasn't on A&M's side this week. The exact figure isn't really relevant, but the Aggies were plain awful batting with runners in scoring position. This problem really acted up in the tenth inning in Waco, when A&M had runners in scoring position with one out and could get no one home...only to watch Baylor succeed in that situation just minutes later. The next two nights, against a New Mexico club that's now 22-3 and rips the cover off of the baseball, the Aggies stranded a total of 24 runners. The bats can get somewhat of a pass for struggling against Missouri ace Kyle Gibson, because that's what happens on Friday night in the Big 12, but the bats could do nothing on Saturday against Missouri's "throw a new guy every inning" strategy. The Ags played longball on Sunday for four of their six runs, but the game brought just two hits with runners in scoring position.
When your team isn't hitting very well in general, and the problem extends situationally, it becomes even more necessary to begin rolling the dice in all phases of the offensive game. Those who remember the 2007 club know that the team batting average was certainly higher than the 2009 team, thus far, but that Childress and Matt Deggs used speed and almost ridiculous aggression to open holes and move runners around the bases. That style was more evident on Sunday, as A&M swiped three bags in five attempts, and the lineup saw a speed infusion with Randall Thorpe seeing his first career action and blasting a three run homer than woke the Aggie dugout up in a big way. If A&M doesn't prove that their hitting over the last few weeks is a funk, and a slightly below average offense is what we have, then the style of play will have to compensate for the lack of pure hitting. That said, A&M certainly needs to reach base better than 38.6% of the time to get this offense going, but maybe not substantially.
As beleaguered as the Aggie hurlers looked against New Mexico's fine hitting attack, they really did a fair job against the Tigers. Outside of Alex Wilson's implosion on Saturday, an implosion that could have possibly been prevented by heady defense, The Aggie arms allowed just seven earned runs to the Tigers. Individually, Brooks Raley and Ross Hales were the brightest spots, while Estevan Uriegas and Shane Minks were efficient in their pen time as well. A&M allowed the Tigers to hit just .245, typically a good enough figure, but a series win wasn't to be had.
If there's any consolation to A&M's struggles this weekend, it's that baseball is a very long season, and the Big 12 conference is just a hodgepodge after the first full weekend of play. The Kansas Jayhawks swept top ranked Texas in Lawrence this weekend (that team comes to Olsen this Friday), and Nebraska scored an unlikely series win against Oklahoma State. Baylor failed in their bid to sweep Texas Tech at home on Sunday, and Oklahoma took 2/3 at Kansas State. The net result is a huge group of teams (A&M, Missouri, Baylor, Nebraska, Texas Tech) at 3-3 after two league series, with Texas sitting just a game back at 2-4. Oddly enough, that 2-4 start mimics how the 'Horns began their 2002 national title run.
All of the Aggie goals are still in front of them and achievable, though 9 losses in 23 games almost literally means A&M needs three or four conference sweeps to have a realistic shot at a national seed - just to keep the loss total down. The Aggie RPI should continue to be resilient and improve with their winning percentage, so long as they can win games. Fans should be pulling for this team must be to do everything necessary to secure a winnable home regional. Though struggling in the loss column, this club is much more talented top-to-bottom than the last two Aggie teams, and significantly better built to win a two-game series against anyone in the country.
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