I’m not exactly sure what to make of Texas A&M baseball this year. The Ags started out the season ranked 24th in the nation, but so far they’ve only been able to piece together a record of 9 and 5, playing mostly unranked teams of the “warm-up” variety (Illinois-Chicago, Pepperdine, Stephen F. Austin, and Northwestern State).
During last weekend’s Astros' College Classic, the Maroon and White put a hurting on #13 Rice, topping the Owls 8 to 3 in a Saturday game at Minute Maid Park. However, they followed up that win with a 14 to 2 drubbing at the hands of top-ranked North Carolina. That kind of up-and-down play leaves me and the rest of the 12th Man wondering what Aggie team is going to show up when SEC play kicks off.
It’s obvious that A&M is going to have to play small-ball to get things done this year. The line-up has mustered only 2 home runs all season, and freshman Jonathan Moroney leads the team in doubles with a grand total of three. Base stealing and sacrifice bunts may not be the sexiest way to win ball games, but that’s what A&M is going to have to do if they want to make a postseason run. However, for all of that to work, the starting pitching has got to be lights out.
A hurler in college, Coach Rob Childress has always been a pitcher’s coach. He spent two years as the pitching guru for Northwestern State, followed by seven years at the University of Nebraska. Since becoming the head man in Aggieland back in 2006, Childress’ staffs have continuously been some of the best in the country, ranking first or second in the conference every year in earned run average. But with great success comes a lot of major league teams knocking at the door, and the MLB Draft has left its mark on the 2013 Aggies, especially with the early departure of ace Michael Wacha.
College coaches constantly have to combat the draft and find underclassmen to replace stars that have left. For this year’s starting rotation, Rafael Pineda and Kyle Martin will have to be those guys. Pineda, who had a break-out sophomore season in 2012, has fallen short of expectations so far this year. He failed to record a single out in last weekend’s start against North Carolina, allowing three runs on four walks and a wild pitch. Martin, arguably the Aggies’ most durable reliever the past two seasons, has yet to win a game in 2013, posting a 5.09 ERA in 3 starts. Not the kind of numbers you want to see from the only senior on your staff.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some bright spots. Sophomore Daniel Mengden, a 6’1” right-hander (tall for me, short for a right-handed pitcher), leads the staff with 3 wins and 20.2 innings pitched, all while batting third in the Aggie lineup. Freshman Grayson Long has been solid as well, leading all starters with a 1.65 era and compiling a 2-0 record in 4 games.
To say this year’s team has a lot to live up to would be an understatement. The Aggies have won at least 40 games in 5 of the past 6 years, making six consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament and a trip to the College World Series in 2011. Not too shabby. But if they are finally going to make that big postseason run, they will have to count on veteran starters to get them there. Aggie pitching hasn’t shown us a whole lot this season, but I believe if there’s one person that can turn them around, it’s the “Pitcher Whisperer,” Rob Childress.
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