By Alexander Haynes
The Texas State Bobcats baseball team is in functional recovery after a 1-3 start to the season that has been pedantically unstable. The weekend series against Oklahoma State, on the most positive aspect, might have been delineated to the struggles of a young season. However, after a 6-8 loss against Rice University on Tuesday evening, the Bobcats narrative and essence might be established in the upcoming series against the McNeese State Cowboys. In the game against Rice, Zachary Leigh pitched his way to a 5-1 lead, but seven relief pitches allowed seven runs. Hence, a holistic approach to finishing nine innings against the Cowboys will establish principled, opportunistic play, or chaotic and frustrating plate attacks.
The Cowboys Roster
The McNeese Cowboys last season were a foundationally intriguing team who took advantage of a sluggish Southland conference to finish 37-20. At the same time, their Park Factor was .782 with a strikeout to walk ratio of 1.59, implicating they were a power or bust team who played better on the road. Sixty homeruns (tied best in the Southland Conference) and a run differential of 131 (second best in the Southland) would confirm these notions. Their pitching was not pronouncedly exquisite, but quietly got the job done by hosting a team 4.19 ERA and giving up a Southland low of 28 homeruns.
2018, however, is a new story to be told. After senior pitcher Austin Sanders graduated and Rhett Deaton (78.2 innings in 2017) yet to pitch, the Cowboys have given up a collective of 37 runs and hold a collective 8.49 ERA in four games. No pitcher has gone more than five innings. Aidan Anderson holds the best strikeout to walk ratio at 8 – 2, but he has survived a poor four innings, giving up four runs on four hits. There are slowball limitations to the Cowboys roster which stand to take advantage of.
In the batter box, McNeese has been mediocre at best, tentatively outmatched and boring at worst. Scoring seven, two, 10 and one run in four matches has been too little, too late. Analytically, they chase balls and will be happier attempting to go deep and foul off pitches than take a walk; multiple times after seeing three straight balls they have golfed at the next pitch for a meandering ground out. In the first game against Wichita State, five of the final six outs were strike outs while swinging.
Their most productive hitter, Shane Selman, hosts a 1.231 slugging percentage with a .611 on base percentage through the first four games. With 14 homeruns last season, his three thus far have made him the source of power on the team. Unfortunately for McNeese, their athletic ability to create chaos on the base path has moved on. Without Robbie Podorsky stealing 39 bases again, their method has been delineated to relying on power.
Jacob Stracner, Jake Cochran, and Joe Provenzano are the other three units to watch. However, the only two players who hold a positive strike out to walk ratio are Provenzano (1:3) and Selman (3:4). Stracner holds the only other homerun on the season, implicating a team whom relies on the opposing fielding staff folding hard.
Afore mentioned, the onus of the series is upon the Bobcat’s bull pen to be deceptive and creative. The McNeese batters are not dynamic, and besides Selman, do not back up their propensity to chase pitches with tangible power. That being said, if the reliance is more on fastballs than creative chess play, the Cowboys could see their homerun numbers rise. With 44 percent success at stolen bases, the Cowboys are not going to be scampering around the baseline. All their production will be in pattering runs and identifying pitches.
While starters have yet to be announced on the weekend, Connor Reich and Zachary Leigh have been effective in their starts. Reich has yet to allow a walk while powering down batters with eight strikeouts. Leigh has posted four walks to three strikeouts but has stayed composed in those innings, allowing one run. Leigh’s typology of pitcher stands well to continue success against a team who telegraphs their swings.
The other pitcher of note is Nicholas Fraze, who appeared a bit prone to mental slyness on the mound. If Fraze starts, he needs to come out completely confident against a power team. Fraze’s five walks has left room for opponents on base opportunity, but much like Leigh, creativity can stand to improve. The evolution of a pitcher throughout the game is important, and Fraze must intertwine efficient pitches which force groundouts. Going for the strikeout every single time is a quaint idea, but if a team is in-tune, those persistent flames will quickly go yard. The more mental formidability and confidence from the starting pitchers, the more McNeese will simply be swinging and praying for contact opposed to finding their zone.
The Bobcats batting lineup has received harsh remarks for their inability to complete a well-rounded lineup (the top and bottom are sharply contrasted between a .380 and .222 average), however, have been effective enough to position themselves in winning patterns. As dull and cliché as it might sound, mental acuity and time may be the only factor holding the lineup back. Then again, after a 1-3 start, the turn around cannot wait much longer.
Jonathan Ortega and Derek Scheible are two of the batters who have been ho-hum after an exciting 2017. Ortega appears more controlled at the plate, turning three RBIs, but as the game gets late, three strikeouts and a propensity to chase balls has set in. Scheible, despite a power stance (and thus more strikes), has netted five hits, including a double and triple to flash his precision. The ability does exist, but they have yet to put the potential into the box.
Jacob Amlendarez and Dylan Paul are the two leading batters on the team, which comes as a pleasant suprise. Almendarez and Paul have been patient in approach, focusing in zone, and taking on an identity to their plate-approach. Neither will swing erratically as neither are true power hitters.
The McNeese pitchers being battled are not great at mitigating chaos or throwing for power. The underlying note of success will be finding a stable identity in individual batting approaches lasting more than five innings and chaos production. Steals are now a belabored point, but against a pitching staff such as McNeese, the Bobcats veteran standards should be able to confidently play chess and establish consistent, scoring sets.
The series will be played at Bobcat Stadium opening Friday at 6 p.m., followed by a Saturday showcase at 4 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 1 p.m.. Friday’s weather stands to be in the high 50s, while Saturday is forecasting thunderstorms, and Sunday being a dry 61 degrees.
Featured image by Madison Tyson.