With as much , in my opinion deserved, grief as our football program gets over its scheduling, it is really refreshing to look at Baylor Baseball's schedule every year. Baylor Baseball continues to schedule difficult series with quality baseball brands from across the country. It helps prepare the team for conference play, and it also helps with recruiting. 2015 is no different. In fact, this year's schedule features 8 out of conference opponents who made regional appearances in 2014. In fact, there are 8 teams that won their conference season or conference tournament. Unlike in football, there really is a lot of parity across Division 1 baseball. Remember, Sam Houston State took TCU 22 innings in the Fort Worth regional, second longest playoff game in NCAA history, before fighting back to face them again for a trip to the Super Regional.
In terms of our conference slate, in 2014, the Big XII sent 5 teams to the Regionals in Kansas, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, and Texas Tech with OSU and TCU playing host. Of those, only Kansas failed to HOST Super Regionals... The Big XII ultimately represented a full quarter of the final 16, and three of the final eight teams in the CWS. Texas, who finished 5th in the Big XII last year, ended up 3rd in the final polls, TCU, Texas Tech, and OSU all finished the year in the top 10. Not only was the league good last year, it was deep.
2015 How it begins...
Fortunately for the Bears, we start off with a 9 game home stand. First up, Cal State Poly who won their conference and was a Regional host. Then, Dallas Baptist, another tournament team, comes to town for a midweek game before Kent State's visit to Waco. Finally, Northwestern State comes to town for two midweek games before hitting the road for a pretty brutal stretch of games. At Cal State Fullerton, then the Houston College Classic where we face Hawaii, LSU (SEC Champs), and Texas A&M. Then we have a game on the road with DBU before...
Big XII play begins
The Bears will open up Big XII play on the road for a weekend series against CWS participant TCU. The next conference foe will be WVU, who should provide a bit of a reprieve. But, let us not forget they even finished in front of the Bears last season. After the next series with Oklahoma, who finished behind us but figure to improve, we take a break from conference weekend action and play Texas State in a split series before finishing out the season with the rest of our league schedule. Of course, there will be mid week games sprinkled in with Houston, Incarnate Word, UTA, Lamar, and UTSA.
As Dante reminded us as he took us through last year's Inferno, we struggled to find offensive production last year. With a team batting average of .232 (ranked 288 of 296 in Division 1) and a -50 run differential, it becomes quite easy to identify some issues. However, what is not quite as obvious from the box scores are the defensive struggles. The Bear's pitching staff finished the season ranked about 122 in Division 1 with a team 3.88 ERA. A good rule of thumb to remember (I will probably find myself repeating myself on this point a lot on this blog) is we want our ERA below our GPA. Unless we have the smartest staff in the country, we are not where we want to be just yet. By way of comparison, TCU and UT finished under 2.25 and at number one and number 4 respectively. Another major issue is fielding, where we finished with a .960 fielding percentage, good for 238th overall, and also a major reason why we gave up 61 unearned runs last year. While it is readily apparent that starting off down a run every game, essentially, is not great, compounding that with poor offensive production is a recipe for a long year.
So, what about 2015? We touched on the fact early in the summer, that Coach Smith made the decision to redshirt some players who could have contributed last year when in years past, he would not have. In 2012, the Bears caught lightening in a bottle and had an epic season. That group of upperclassmen made huge strides from their 2011 season. The Bears are hoping that with the coming of another year of work, guys who can step in and contribute as Redshirt Freshman, and the addition of the 2015 newcomers they can make similar strides. We need to see significant improvement at the plate to compete in what will surely be another very strong year for the Big XII in baseball. Personally, I am consciously optimistic that we will see marked improvement in results because we cannot expect to have to deal with weekend rotation injuries like we did last year. However, if we continue to struggle to score and field the baseball, it may be another long, tough year for Baylor Baseball fans.