In preparation for the Hoos’ NCAA Regional in Fort Worth, we got together with our friends over at Frogs O’ War, the SB Nation site for the TCU Horned Frogs to talk a little baseball. Melissa Triebwasser was kind enough to give us the low down on the hosts and #6 National Seed TCU. And when you’re done, head over to Frogs O’ War and check out our responses to her questions. Finally make sure to give Melissa a follow at @TheCoachMelissa and follow along all weekend.
Streaking the Lawn - They say when a team gets improperly seeded in the NCAA Tournament, the team who is higher seeded also gets penalized. What was the reaction to Virginia being tabbed as the two seed in a Regional hosted by a National Seed?
Frogs O’ War - The predictions for TCU were all over the map, but towards the end it looked like Arizona was going to get slotted in at two, much to the chagrin of Frog fans. So, the initial reaction to not seeing the Wildcats was of relief, followed by the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over not only getting stuck with UVA, but a 40 win Dallas Baptist team that we have had to deal with twice and a sneaky hot Oklahoma State on the other side. If you look at Regionals and pairings, there's an easy argument to be made that whoever makes it out of the Fort Worth Regional/Supers has taken the toughest path to Omaha and should be well prepared to compete for a Natty.
STL - The Horned Frogs have been to Omaha four times in the last seven years, including the last three years in a row. What has been their undoing (besides running into UVA in 2014) and do you think this is the team that can break through and win it all?
FOW - It's not like the Frogs have played poorly the last two years in Omaha, they have just run into buzzsaws once they get there. In 2015, TCU was rolling with a no hitter against Vanderbilt when Kaylee Hartung interviewed Coach Schloss about it DURING THE GAME, only to see Vandy hit a home run one minute later on their way to a 1-0 win. TCU couldn't quite get out of the losers bracket and lost to Vandy one game short of the championship series. After that season, the Frogs lost basically the entirety of their pitching staff to the draft, but found new leaders in Brian Howard and Mitchell Traver, as well as a few stud freshmen in pitcher Jared Janczak and all-world slugger Luken Baker... only to run into a Coastal Carolina team that had a ton of magic around them on their way to an insane National Championship and were led by the kid from Rookie of the Year at pitcher. Primed for a big run this year, TCU was the consensus preseason #1 team and looked the part early, only to have injuries and youth in the bullpen slow them down. For the Frogs to make a run to Omaha this year, the bullpen (which is literally all freshmen and sophomores) is going to need to grow up in a big way and the veteran bats need to get it together - senior Elliott Barzilli was flirting with .400 most of last season but struggled to get above the Mendoza line this year until a strong Big 12 Tournament and sophomore Josh Watson went from leading the team in home runs a year ago to not having a single long ball in 2016. Playing at home throughout the first two rounds, if the Frogs make it through them, was crucial for a team that is so much better at Lupton than on the road (23-4 vs 13-10), and the fact that the top four starters for TCU all had near or at their best performances of the year last week in the conference tourney certainly helps. To get back to Omaha and win it all, the Frogs need quality starts, some help in the order for Evan Skoug, and a lot of Lupton Magic. It can happen - they have the talent - but it's the least likely team since that 2014 group to make it, in my opinion.
STL - It was just announced that Luken Baker has undergone season ending surgery. What's the impact of his loss?
FOW - HUGE. MASSIVE. PAINFUL. You can't overstate what having a bat like Luken Baker in the middle of the order does for the entire lineup. Not only does Baker possess incredible power, but he uses all parts of the field and has an unnatural eye at the plate as well as a great feel for the big moments. Luken Bombs led TCU to Omaha last season and he blasted them all the way to the final series, as he got hot for the postseason. Where it has hurt the most though is how it impacts the rest of the order; even though Baker didn't have quite the same lofty average or home run total of his freshman year, his presence helped Evan Skoug, Cam Warner, and Austen Wade see a lot more pitches over the plate and that made the top of the order so much better. When Skoug was hitting ahead of Baker, it was really hard to pitch around him. When Skoug was behind, he was getting a ton of RBIs. Skoug got red hot right after Baker went down, but cooled way off in the Big 12 Tourney where he was 2/19 with eight strikeouts and newly inserted cleanup hitter Cam Warner was 3/21 with four Ks. Not ideal. No one is going to make up for Baker being done, but if Skoug and Warner can get hot for the duration, and Barzilli and/or Watson just play to their expectation, the TCU offense will be ok.
STL - Speaking of injuries. It looks like TCU avoided a scare with ace Jared Janczak. What is his outlook for the regional?
FOW - JJ came back on a pitch count for the Cal series, and had a normal work day in game two of the Big 12 tournament. Since his return, all he has done is pitch 8.0 innings of three hit ball with one walk, 12 total Ks, and just one walk. By all accounts, he is healthy and off the leash, and should be free to pitch whatever he needs to, likely in the second game. Should that be against UVA, as we expect, I don't foresee any health issues keeping him from being able to pitch like he has all season. Now, the bats of the Hoos could be an issue... but he's definitely the guy I want on the mound Saturday evening.
STL - At first glance, this regional looks like it will be dominated by high powered offenses. How does TCU stack up in comparison, and is the pitching as good as advertised to neutralize the bats?
FOW - TCU's offense scores a bunch of runs (6.8 runs per game), but hasn't been nearly as dominant as expected, even before Baker went down. TCU is striking out nearly eight times a game, which is more than 1.5 times more than a season ago, but still draws a bunch of walks and can put up big innings out of nowhere. This team is never out of a game, and thats a good thing, because the bullpen tends to go into full meltdown mode at least once a series. The key is generally the bottom of the order - if Barzilli, Ryan Merrill, and Nolan Brown get on base, they have a ton of speed and are really aggressive when it comes to stealing bases and things like going first to third on a base hit or taking an extra bag on a relay throw, so they put a ton of pressure on opposing pitchers and defenses with Wade and Skoug looming at the top of the order. Pitching is key, and the Frogs have the best staff in the regional, especially if they continue to pitch like they did last weekend. It's going to be tough to get two wins against Nick Lodolo, Jared Janczak, Brian Howard, and Mitchell Traver, but should one of those guys falter or not get much run support, an opponent has a good shot to get back in a game once Schlossnagle and Saarloos turn things over to the pen.
STL - The Hoos open up with Dallas Baptist. TCU played them twice this season and are obviously familiar with them due to their proximity and availability for mid-week games. Can you give us a quick scouting report on the Patriots?
FOW - Don't be fooled by the conference affiliation of the Pats - this team is really good. DBU has given TCU fits over the years, and despite the Frogs taking two of two this season, they are a force. Austin Listi is a future pro with 20 home runs, a .332 average and a .700 slugging percentage, and he's not the only big bat in the lineup. The Patriots have mashed 84 home runs this year, hit .304 as a team, and average 7.5 runs per game. They can flat out hit. They will strike out quite a bit and are vulnerable to swinging at bad pitches, but they are relentless at the plate and it's really hard to keep them off the scoreboard - shutout just twice this season. The starting pitching has been... not great... so game one could be a fun, high scoring affair.
STL - Virginia fans travel well. If any Hoos are in Fort Worth for the weekend, what do you recommend they check out besides the action on the field?
FOW - Fort Worth is an awesome town... akin to Charlottesville a bit in my opinion (which is one of my top five favorite college towns). There is a ton to do in Funky Town - the zoo is one of the best in the country, the Botanical Gardens is beautiful if the weather is nice, and the Stockyards will give you a true taste of Texas with daily cattle drives (yes, they are real cattle). As far as food, come for the Tex Mex and stay for the BBQ - Joe T Garcia's is a local favorite, Heim BBQ is the best in North Texas - don't @ me, just try the bacon burnt ends - and Woodshed is a close second in Fort Worth when you factor in the incredible atmosphere. Several local breweries have some excellent craft beer (Rahr and Collective Brewing are a stone's throw from Lupton) and don't miss the local distillery, Firestone and Robertson, who are doing excellent whisky and bourbon. Check out Magnolia Ave for great restaurants, bars, and atmosphere, or if you're the younger type, West Seventh has a cool vibe for the 20-something crowd. Downtown sports a very local-flavor restaurant with an excellent rooftop bar, Reata, as well as Sundance Plaza, which is awesome at night. Lastly, our new fancy pants part of town, Waterside, is open, and there's an excellent Italian restaurant Piattello, but the chef who also runs the restaurant with my favorite bar, Clay Pigeon. The baseball tailgating scene isn't anything like football, but we are a friendly type and would love to share a beverage or something off the grill with out friends from back east.
Fort Worth is awesome. Y'all will love it. But the weather might blow this weekend, so I apologize in advance.
STL - What's your prediction for the weekend? How does it play out? Will teams be lighting up scoreboards or do you think the team that pitches the best moves forward?
FOW - Hi, I am Melissa Triebwasser and I am a homer. This TCU team has yet to hit their stride, but historically, they always play well when the stakes are highest. I have a ton of faith in senior pitcher Brian Howard and sophomore sensation Jared Janczak, and believe Evan Skoug will hit well enough to help carry the TCU O. If the bullpen can throw strikes, TCU can win in three. I expect the Frogs to win going away Friday night with Traver expected to be on the mound, to take a close one off of UVA Saturday behind Janczak, and lose a high scoring affair to the Hoos Sunday behind Nick Lodolo, saving Brian Howard for a Monday W to send the Frogs to the Supers. Pitching will win the day, and if that is indeed the case, the home team has the advantage.
So there you have it. Direct from Fort Worth. Thanks again to Melissa. It’s shaping up to be a solid weekend of baseball. Stay with Streaking the Lawn as we bring you Regional coverage all weekend long.