March 20, 2016 - Texas (7) Michael Cantu, catcher, steps out of the way as Tulane (15) Matt Rowland, touches home plate after Texas pitcher (24) Chase Shugart walked (2) Stephen Alemais with the bases loaded during the 8th inning of NCAA baseball action held at the University of Texas UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 21, 2016. Tulane defeated Texas 5-3. RODOLFO GONZALEZ/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Baseball

TCU and Oklahoma State look a cut above field in Big 12 baseball

Both teams have rebuilt pitching rotations

Posted March 22nd, 2016

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Through non-conference play, it appears the Big 12 is not having one of its better years in baseball.

As a whole, the conference lags behind the ACC, SEC, Pac 12 and even Conference USA in RPI, and its nine members are a collective 15-24-1 against teams in the top 50 of the RPI.

TCU has been good, as has Oklahoma State. Texas has been disappointing, as has Oklahoma, which is trying to right wrongs with an active six-game winning streak.

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The two Kansas schools, plus Baylor, are again bottom-feeders.

Five teams will be playing their conference openers this weekend after four others got things started last weekend.

Here’s how things appear to be shaking out.

TCU pitcher Luken Baker throws against the University of Southern California during the first inning on Friday, March 11, 2016, at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. (Bob Haynes/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
TCU pitcher Luken Baker throws against the University of Southern California on March 11, 2016, at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth. (Bob Haynes/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)

CONTENDERS

No. 5 TCU (16-3, 3-0)

Preseason Big 12 poll: first

RPI: 10

This week: at Texas

The rebuild of the pitching rotation has gone about as well as one could’ve hoped for after the Horned Frogs lost three starters to the draft and another — Mitchell Traver — to a back injury. A big reason they’ve been able to keep it together is freshman Luken Baker, a pitcher/1B who is holding opponents to a .196 batting average while hitting .359 himself. Baker, of Conroe Oak Ridge, hit a grand slam Sunday in a 14-2 victory over West Virginia that completed a sweep. It’s not hyperbole to say TCU might have the league’s top newcomer (Baker), pitcher (Baker), hitter (Elliott Barzilli, .438, 5 HR) and coach (Jim Schlossnagle). With a series looming against the sub -500 Longhorns, TCU has a real chance to start 6-0 or 5-1 and be wire-to-wire winners in the Big 12.

No. 19 Oklahoma State (13-7, 0-0)

Preseason Big 12 poll: second

RPI: 14

This week: at Kansas State

OSU has played in more one-run games (10) than anyone in the conference, including Texas (seven). The Cowboys are 5-5; UT 1-6. Not unlike TCU, OSU has allayed concerns about its rotation, leaning on a couple of freshmen — Chris Andritsos and Jensen Elliott — who rank among the league’s top 10 in ERA. As a unit, Josh Holliday’s squad leads the league with a 2.41 ERA, but that alone won’t be enough to win a title if the offense doesn’t start swinging a hotter stick (.243, last in the Big 12).

MIDDLE GROUND

Texas Tech (12-7, 2-1)

Preseason Big 12 poll: fifth

RPI: 78

This week: vs Oklahoma

The Red Raiders might be a contender, but at this point, that much is unclear. More would be known had a scheduled four-game series against No. 15 Cal not been reduced to two games and a split. That’s the same Cal team that came to Austin this month and rocked Texas, handing the Horns their first ever four-game sweep. In taking two of three from Baylor last weekend, Tech collected league honors for top player (OF Tanner Gardner) and newcomer (RHP Davis Martin).

Oklahoma (11-9-1, 0-0)

Preseason Big 12 poll: fourth

RPI: 140

This week: at Texas Tech

Nationally ranked to start the season, the Sooners split four games with Northeastern and then were swept by Sam Houston State. Ouch. They’ve recovered, though, and own the Big 12’s longest active winning streak — six games — after heading out to California and beating Long Beach State, Fresno State and CSU Bakersfield (a four-game sweep). Beware of Sooners freshman reliever Austin Hansen, who is 4-0 and has yet to surrender a run in 12 2/3 innings of work.

West Virginia (10-7, 0-3)

Big 12 preseason poll: sixth

RPI: 20

This week: at Kansas

Pay little mind to the RPI. The Mountaineers aren’t good enough to sustain it, yet they probably aren’t as bad as they looked last week in a humbling three-game sweep against TCU, which outscored them 31-9. WVU has played just four home games — a recipe for a good PPI — but managed to hit on the road and sits second in the league with a .288 average.

March 20, 2016 - Texas (51) Jake McKenzie, second base, makes an error on a ground ball hit by Tulane (4) Jake Rogers, during the third inning of NCAA baseball action held at the University of Texas UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin, Texas, on Sunday, March 21, 2016. Tulane defeated Texas 5-3. RODOLFO GONZALEZ/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas second basebman Jake McKenzie makes an error on a ground ball hit by Tulane’s Jake Rogers during the third inning of NCAA baseball game this past Sunday. Tulane won 5-3. RODOLFO GONZALEZ/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas (8-12, 0-0)

Big 12 preseason poll: third

RPI: 110

This week: TCU

Disappointing start, but one that should’ve been more widely expected with just three seniors returning — one of them a bullpen catcher — after a poor season in 2015. The late-inning bullpen is in tatters, as is the offense and the defense, which has made as many mental errors as actual errors (30 in 20 games) . To think UT can patch up all of these holes is wishful thinking, but the good news is the Big 12 appears to be soft and UT might be able to sneak into a third-place finish. Reason for optimism: the weekend rotation is pretty good and might get better with Morgan Cooper getting bumped up from his Tuesday spot.

BETTER LUCK NEXT YEAR

Baylor (8-11, 1-2)

Big 12 preseason poll: ninth

RPI: 154

This week: Dallas Baptist

New coach Steve Rodriguez will have to recruit better pitchers. Baylor’s 5.27 ERA is second-to-last in the conference.

Kansas State (11-9, 0-0)

Big 12 preseason poll: tie for seventh

RPI: 193

This week: Oklahoma State

The Wildcats will have a shot once every series when Levi MaVorhis takes the mound. MaVorhis (3-0, 2.60) is the Big 12’s active leader with 16 wins and is averaging 11 strikeouts over nine innings.

Kansas (7-11, 0-0)

Big 12 preseason poll: tie for seventh

RPI: 205

This week: West Virginia

The Jayhawks are 0-8 against the RPI top 50 and are last in team pitching and team fielding. That’s why they’re last on this list.

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