Kansas High Five

The Aggies may be off to a slow start, but that will go a long ways towards changing with a solid series against conference opponent Kansas. Websider's resident baseball guru takes a look at what should happen this weekend.

Digging Out vs #1 – After losing five straight games last week, A&M has won two and a row and are looking to continue digging out of their 15-9 record. While unranked in the polls, the Kansas Jayhawks come to town leading the Big 12 at a perfect 3-0 after sweeping then #1 Texas. A series win would not only help restore confidence into the Aggie club, but A&M needs to pile the victories up to get themselves into regional hosting contention again. Results from around the country mean the nine losses to this point are not fatal, but the wins still need to stack up much faster.

Nine Hitters – The Aggies' offensive struggles are becoming well documented, and the inconsistency is forcing Rob Childress and Matt Deggs to try literally every player and every combination. As we get into the third conference weekend, and soon into April, the team desperately needs nine players to settle into starting roles. Six Aggie batters have settled into the starting line-up, but the next three hitters, the batting order, and the exact positioning is still in constant flux. Settling into a stable lineup is crucial for this club to get on track and back into a serious run for positive postseason seeding.

Starting Out Well – A&M's starting pitchers, by and large, have done their job this season. Brooks Raley has been outstanding week in and week out, Alex Wilson has had a single bad outing around five other great ones, and Barret Loux, while struggling to the standards that he set for himself in 2008, is one of the best Sunday starters in the country. Opposing batters are hitting just .206 against the Aggie starters, who also have a 3.93:1 K to BB ratio. Based on season results, a random opposing batter is six times more likely to strikeout than have an extra-base-hit against those three starters, and about half as likely to reach base by a walk or HBP (36) as they are to get a hit (38).

Watching the Back-End - The bullpen hasn't been as fortunate, and while Aggie fans savored over having 10-12 quality arms there, the group seeing weekend action will find itself trimmed as Wednesday games have ended. Hurlers like Kyle Thebeau and Clayton Ehlert have ugly ERAs relative to their ability to perform, while six relievers that will see league action still have ERAs under 3.40. Still, a single candidate has yet to emerge to be that totally reliable "go to" arm in a pinch. Travis Starling is slated to return from a nagging injury this weekend, and the position will be his to lose, but don't be surprised if Nick Fleece, Ross Hales, or Hank Robertson get the chance to be "that guy." ERAs are fun stats, but not always the best indicator for the bullpen; watch their performance with inherited runners and OBP as very telling stats for Aggie success this weekend.

About the Jayhawks – Kansas enters the weekend at 15-7 and winners of five straight games. The Jayhawks will rely on pitching first, trying to keep scores down and win games late. Their 3.20 team ERA is the second best in the conference, and opponents are batting just .228 against them. Nine of their 24 games have been decided by a single run. The starting rotation is the strength of the Jayhawk staff, with the three starters combining for a 2.33 ERA. Just five hurlers in the pen have thrown at least six times, and only one has an ERA below 4.00. Kansas plays a very station-to-station offense, swiping bags and sacrifice bunting just 18 times this year. They've hit just six triples and 14 homers, but have doubled 42 times. Four starters are batting over .300 for the year.

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