Memorial Day and baseball. Is there anything more American? Also, I think this statue looks a bit like Max Muncy. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Before we get into Baylor's NCAA Regional match-ups, I'd like to take a moment to mention what a miserable season the Longhorn baseball team had. Please don't confuse this with gloating - I do that in private - but the end of their season was an unmitigated disaster. The Big XII only had four teams make the post-season this year, including Missouri who managed to win the Tournament despite a poor season overall. OU, which was dead in the water until they beat the Bears five times in the last three weeks, somehow managed to weasel their way in over UT for an at-large bid. And yes, that last sentence was incredibly hard to type. It would have been nice to have played at least one of those five games in Waco, but that's just sour grapes on my part. Extremely sour grapes. Bitter, bitter grapes. But I'm over it... Not really.
Anyhoo, the Bears host Texas-Arlington, Oral Roberts, and Dallas Baptist in the Waco Regional, with the winner taking on the victor of Rice's Houston Regional. The action begins this Friday with Baylor taking on Oral Roberts and UTA facing Dallas Baptist. Read on for a break down of the three teams.
Oral Roberts is the number four seed in the Regional for a reason. They didn't have a terribly productive season. They come in with an impressive 37-23 overall record, but a poor Strength of Schedule that has led to an RPI of 104. If you dissect that pretty record a little bit more, you'll find that ORU has a 3-14 record against teams in the RPI Top 100. That record includes a three game sweep at the hands of the Bears, which kicked off Baylor's magical season in style. ORU scores 5.8 Runs/Game and only gives up 3.3 Runs/Game, and they have a couple impressive power hitters in Jared Schlehuber and Jose Trevino. They also have some pitching talent in starters Drew Bowen and Alex Gonzalez. However, these figures and players are largely meaningless when taken in the context of their weak competition. So why are they here? They won the Summit League for the 15th consecutive season, beating North Dakota State. That's an impressive tradition of winning, but they are not a team to be feared now like they have been in the past.
UT-Arlington is the three-seed in the Regional, and yet another familiar foe for the Bears. UTA went 35-23 this season but only scored 5.6 Runs/Game against 4.5 Runs/Game given up. That is not a good run differential. They come in with an RPI of 61 and a 10-13 record against RPI Top 100 teams. Baylor played UTA in two mid-week contests during the season and each team came out with a victory. Working in the Bears' favor, however, is the fact that UTA never saw Blank or Turley. As far as individual performances go, Preston Beck is a talented offensive player, but their pitching is lacking from the bottom to the top. Lance Day has a decent ERA at 2.98, but his peripherals are highly suspect - too many walks and homers, not enough strikeouts. Much like ORU, UT-Arlington won their conference, the Southland, but wouldn't have even sniffed an at-large bid if they hadn't. This is not a team to be feared.
On the other hand, Dallas Baptist may just be a team to fear. Barring any huge upsets, they are Baylor's primary competition for a trip to play in the Super Regional. DBU got into the tournament with an at-large bid. They were 39-17 on the season with an RPI of 27 and a 13-13 record against Top 100 RPI teams. They score 6.9 Runs/Game and give up 4.3. If there is a weakness in their resume, it's that they were only 3-4 against Big XII teams, and they never came up against Baylor or A&M. Their strength is their offense, where their best four hitters all have 8+ homeruns and .338+ averages. That's a little intimidating. On the plus side, their run prevention is only solid, not spectacular. Their starters all have ERAs in the mid-to-high threes, but they do have a pretty strong ‘pen.
Overall, this is a pretty good Regional for the Bears, and one that they should win. Home field advantage will be huge, so if you are anywhere near Waco, you must go cheer on your Baylor Bears, and while you're at it, throw in a cheer for UTA to stun DBU and put them on their heels early!