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Baseball season is in full swing, and Tim Tadlock's Red Raiders will host three more weekend homestands against Big 12 foes Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas.
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THE SKINNY ON THE POKES
The Cowboys were obviously riding high coming into the year after a stellar postseason that saw them make it all the way to the College World Series semifinals in Omaha behind the best postseason pitching staff in all of college baseball.
Things haven't been quite the same in 2017 for Josh Holliday's squad, however, and that starts with things on the mound. OSU just hasn't been as good from the dish in 2017, and while some of that certainly has to do with the departure of All-American ace starter Thomas Hatch, the rest of the key pieces from the pitching staff returned.
Weekend starter Jensen Elliot has been shelved with injury since mid-March, and reliever Trey Cobb is just now rounding back into form after missing time, and freshman Parker Scott has been on the bench due to injury as well. Those are all key injuries that have certainly held the Cowboys back. Saturday starter Tyler Buffett, who had a 2.81 ERA a year ago, just hasn't been quite as good on the mound for the Pokes this year.
The injuries and inconsistencies have created a bit of a musical chairs scenario in weekend starting rotation, as Buffett has been the only pitcher to start every weekend series in 2017.
At the plate, the Cowboys have plenty of firepower, particularly from their left handed hitters such as Colin Simpson and Garrett Binge, and righty Garrett McCain, who leads the Big 12 in batting average. However, the Cowboys strike out a ton. In fact, they've K'd out more than any other team in the conference, striking out 319 times so far this season, 25 more times than anyone else in fact.
SYNOPSIS: While talented both at the plate and on the mound, pitching injuries, letdowns, and inconsistency at the plate have held Oklahoma State back as a middle of the pack team so far in Big 12 play.
STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
FRIDAY: LHP Erikson Lanning (2-0, 2.81 ERA) vs. RHP Joe Lienhard (2-0, 3.48 ERA)
With Davis Martin still out, Lanning returns to the weekend rotation for the first time since early in the season when he earned the fourth start in the weekend series' in Starkville and versus Cal in Lubbock. The sophomore was battling Ryan Shetter for the third spot in the rotation at the time, but Shetter won the battle.
Lanning has since been looking solid and been taking steps forward in the last few weeks, commanding his array of pitches better and better lately.
As for Lienhard, he's who Oklahoma State seems to have settled in on as the Friday night starter for now. He's been a bit up and down overall, his best start of the season coming in a 6.1 inning 1 hit shutdown against New Mexico with his worst start coming last weekend against Kansas, giving up 10 hits and 6 earned runs while walking 3 in just 5 innings of work.
SATURDAY: LHP Steven Gingery (7-0, 1.48 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Buffett (5-2, 4.12 ERA)
Buffett has been the one mainstay workhorse on the mound for the Cowboys throughout the weekend so far this season. He's pitched a team high 54.2 innings, and he has a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio, ringing up 50 batters while walking only 12. However, Buffett will give up hits, as opposing batters have knocked the ball to get on base 53 times so far.
Gingery, despite giving up 4 runs on a windy Friday in Manhattan last week, is still arguably the best pitcher in the Big 12 and one of the best in all of college baseball. He's been fooling batters all year long with his off-speed, heavy changeup diet on the mound, and I think he could have a very good weekend against a strikeout heavy OSU team.
SUNDAY: RHP Ryan Shetter (2-0, 3.86 ERA) vs. TBA
As noted earlier, the weekend rotation has been, well, a rotation for the Cowboys this year. They haven't disclosed who might start on Sunday, and I don't know that there's a clear cut answer. Cole Hearran got a chance at the spot last weekend against Kansas after being very solid from the pen, but he went just three innings and gave up 6 hits and 3 runs in a losing effort against the Jayhawks.
For the Red Raiders, Ryan Shetter has tailed off a bit as of late, and he certainly didn't have the kind of outing he'd hope for against Kansas State last Sunday. Shetter has been up and down for most of the season, though he has flashed his talent when in command at times. His inconsistency has been his biggest issue.
EIther way, my guess is this is a Johnny Allstaff day for both teams.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OF Garrett McCain - McCain has been the best right handed hitter in the Big 12 this season, and as previously noted, leads the league in both batting average and on base percentage. He doesn't flash as much power as a few others in the lineup, but he's got some pop and certainly will slap some extra base knocks or homers on you if you aren't on your A game.
3B Garrett Benge - Benge was one of the key returners from the 2016 Omaha squad, and he's been on a tear at the plate. The lefty leads the team in RBIs with 39, and he's tied for the team lead in homers with 8. Add 8 doubles and 3 triples to that mix in addition to a team-leading 28 walks, and Benge is the guy in the lineup I have circled for not wanting to see in a key situation.
C Colin Simpson - Simpson is the other power lefty in the lineup for the Pokes. He also has 8 home runs on the year, has a team second-best 29 RBIs, and is batting .315. Simpson can swing it with the best of them, though he will strike out some, just like Benge and McCain.
RHP Jake Cowan - Cowan has been mostly stellar from the pen this season for OSU. He's struck out an impressive 30 batters in just 24 innings, walking just 12 and allowing only 5 runners to score. He's been nails and is far and away the best pitcher on staff at the moment with a 1.88 ERA.
The Red Raiders are scorching hot at the plate right now, batting a league-best .301 as a team. In fact, of the 10 players batting in the every-day lineup rotation, only 3 aren't currently batting above .300. Their names are Orlando Garcia, Michael Davis, and Tanner Gardner. So, that should tell you just how good this lineup is right now. They're crushing the ball.
This OSU team hasn't been consistent from the mound or at the plate. While McCain, Benge, and Simpson have all been mostly fantastic hitting-wise, the rest of the team is striking out, way, way too much, particularly the bottom half of the lineup.
That being said, there are days when the Cowboys will score only 2 or 3 runs, and then the next day they'll go for 10 plus out of nowhere. It's a matter of inconsistency, and again, it's seemingly fueled by the strikeout numbers.
PREDICTION: Tech sweeps Oklahoma State at home in an offense-heavy weekend. Gingery will hold down the fort on Saturday, and it will be up to Lanning, Shetter, and the relievers to be on.