Seven weeks ago, Aggie baseball fans expected to be heading into this weekend well on the way toward their highest goals; a national seed, hosting a regional, and contending for one of the country's top records and a Big 12 championship.
There's still 22 more games to play, which is plenty of time to accomplish most of those goals, but there's no doubt that A&M has come across an unexpected crossroads. After last year's sweep and this year's coaches' projections, the Wildcats should've served as little more than a speed bump for the Aggies – and a focus on sweeping the weekend would be nearly expected.
A trip into reality takes the Aggies to 20-12 with an RPI that has dropped from 15 to 37 in just a week. Losing two of three to a lowly ranked Texas Tech team, followed by an embarrassing showing against a struggling Houston club, has put A&M against the wall. There's no shame in losing one of those contests; it is baseball after all, and the best team doesn't always win. However, the form is rightfully causing concern, as opposed to the function.
All hope is not lost; the Aggies sit tied for second place at 7-5 in league play and return home for seven consecutive home conference games after the weekend. The Rice Owls, who have owned A&M since late 2007 and are well on their way to yet another national seed, loom next Tuesday.
Could the entire season – or at least the flow of it – hinge upon these four games?
Kansas State has been a significant surprise in the Big 12, sitting at 5-4 thus far and coming off of a road sweep of Nebraska. To be fair, that wasn't your older brother's Nebraska squad…but it's also not your older brother's K-State squad. A series that looked just a few weeks ago to be very winnable – and maybe sweepable – now appears to be a dogfight.
A dogfight that A&M absolutely must win.
Let's play out the scenarios, starting at worst case. A&M hasn't proven that they can win consistently on the road this year, going just 2-5 with wins over just Tech and Missouri – teams that took the three game set and are struggling with their overall record. KSU, statistically, has the second best offense and pitching in the league – A&M falling behind at eighth and fourth, respectively. While a sweep is unlikely, from either club, KSU is more likely to sweep on paper than be swept. Good luck winning at Rice if you can't squeak a game out in Manhattan. An 0-4 record over the next five days would drop A&M to 20-16, 7-8 in league play, and even getting to the postseason starts becoming an uphill battle.
When you're at a crossroads, though, there's not a single assured path. What if A&M wakes up, suddenly, and has a best-case-scenario week? Sweeping KSU and Rice would move A&M to 24-12, 10-5 in league play. That record will be no worse than 2nd place for conference play, and the overall record is just another good weekend away from being back in serious regional hosting consideration.
The more likely scenario is one in the middle, but A&M simply cannot afford to go 1-3 in the next four contests. Going 2-2, with a win against Rice, gives the Aggies another high-quality win (and they do have a few of those), but an 8-7 mark in league play – with the meat to come from OSU/Texas/OU – doesn't make the situation bode well. A 2-2 mark with a loss to Rice helps the league mark – to a solid 9-6 that would also probably keep them in the top third – but the loss to Rice once again shows the committee – and fans – that this club can't close the deal down.
With all that's happened, and must happened, it's much too late for fans to get excited about performance of specific units if the wins aren't there. The offensive lineup has seemed stagnant, starting pitching had their worst group effort of the season, and the defense has certainly had finer moments than the last week – but improvement in these groups doesn't matter without the Ws. Anything under two wins in the next four puts A&M on the absolute wrong track heading into the stretch, while winning more than two could be just what the doctor order. Winning two, in either combination, would continue to epitomize the results of the first 32 games – sitting at the crossroads, with an opportunity to drive to greatness, but the car is stuck in neutral.
A&M begins the series with KSU tonight at 6:30 PM.
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