Thursday, April 21, 2011

TCU-UNLV series #2 preview

This picture is fitting because the Rebels ARE leaving Las Vegas, and because...Easter is a drinking holiday?

The Frogs- and Kyle Winkler- will get a chance to avenge one of their most painful losses of the season this weekend as UNLV comes to town for a second three-game series between the two teams. TCU did win the series in Las Vegas, but you know they've got a bad taste in their mouths from UNLV's 5-4 win in the opener of that set on March 18th, when Brandon Bayardi took Wink deep on a 2-2 count in the bottom of the 9th for a walk-off win.

Any loss, and especially one on a walk-off home run, is painful. But one of the most frustrating parts of that particular L is that Winkler had actually outpitched UNLV ace Tanner Peters and the Frogs should've earned a sweep in a series that they otherwise dominated. It'll be Winkler v. Peters II tonight at Lupton, and it's hard to tell who's having a better year:

Winkler: 6-1, 1.42 ERA, 69 K's to 11 walks and an opponents' average of .189

Peters: 6-2, 1.40 ERA, 72 K's to 15 walks and an opponents' average of .192

Translation? There probably won't be a whole lot of runs scored this evening. That likely will not be the case on Friday and Saturday, though, because of the offensive prowess of both teams. TCU is now batting .306 as a team, and it'll be fun to see if Jason Coats can continue his offensive resurgence. Coats now has his average back up above .300 and has been on a tear the past few weeks. The Rebels are hitting .308 as a team, and are led by the afore-mentioned Bayardi, who leads UNLV with 10 home runs, 38 RBI and is one of four regulars hitting .326 or better.

Since these two teams played eachother, the Frogs have gone 14-4 while the Rebels have played .500 ball at 8-8, although they did beat Baylor in Waco on Tuesday. UNLV is now 25-14 overall with an RPI of #76, so winning all three against them would go a long way in helping the Frogs' prepare their postseason resume.

J Gray Day is Nigh Upon Us...

Watch. Drool. Repeat.

After a fabricated cash grab, plenty of misdirection and the highest volume of time spent by older men watching videos of an 18 year old on the internet, non-pornographic category, - although J Gray's 8 TD performance in the state title game may fall into the category of "torture porn" - in 24 hours the chase of the century will be all but over. Sure, verbal commitments are anything but binding, as we're well aware, but with all the painstaking efforts Gray has taken to keep his commitment under wraps, I have a feeling we can hold him to his word no matter what he says tomorrow. For those of you who are unaware, Gray long ago set tomorrow, April 22nd, at 9:10AM as the specific moment in time when he would determine who has the biggest recruiting balls between UT, TCU and aggy, although it sounds more and more like aggy is out of the picture at this point. Which is why they took to spreading the pay for play rumors in the first place, an absolutely iron clad recruiting tactic if there ever was one. And they wonder why they've been surpassed by even Texas Tech in their own conference in recent years. (PLEASE hire them away, SEC. The reality check would be epic.)

However, word is now that Gray will be contacting the coach of the school he chooses this afternoon, his decision will be announced at midnight tonight and the aforementioned 9:10AM time slot tomorrow morning will simply be a media Q&A session, likely dominated by either UT or TCU related types. If he decides to go to UT, we can only hope a scruffy and inebriated Stefan Stephenson or Jeremy Clark/Jeremiah Glenn wander into the fray to throw their shoes at him, ala George Bush in Iraq.

I think the most interesting thing about Gray's recruitment is the absolute secrecy with which it has been executed. With the advent of sites like Rivals and Scout, along with the zillions of program-specific blogs that have sprung up since the millennium and the overly obsessive male adults that frequent them, even the most tight lipped recruits have more or less had their hands tipped prior to decision time due to the sheer onslaught of folks following the story. This is especially true in a state like Texas where the highest profile recruits typically choose between OU, LSU or Texas as early as their junior years with the real recruiting battles not even beginning until they've taken their cuts of the pie.

But Gray has been different - he said he wasn't going to announce his decision to anyone prior to April 22, and by god he hasn't. Word is his parents do not even know where he will be playing college ball next year, a decision that has surely kept Momma Gray up late at night. It's rare that a recruit as highly touted as Johnathan Gray - the first 5 Star recruit Rivals named for the 2012 class - keeps things this close to the vest without even hinting at playing the field. Even rarer, for them to not hold out for signing day or even after as we've seen happen recently with prima donnas like Terrelle Pryor. Gray narrowed his list to three schools early in the process and didn't waver. For folks who long for the days of recruits simply announcing their decision without teasing half a dozen schools and putting on a big show, Gray is about as close as you are going to get.

So the big question is, who is the genuine favorite in the race? History would suggest that Gray is simply giving respect to the hometown team by flirting with TCU for this long and is stringing us along until he stabs his Horns right through our hearts. This seems to be the thought processing of message board with "connections" to "people who knows things." But I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss our chances. For one, for a guy who has no intention of debating his decision, he sure has spent a lot of time on our campus hasn't he? I never got confirmation if he attended the Spring Game or not, but he came to multiple practices and has spoken highly of TCU throughout the entire process. Furthermore, his parents apparently absolutely love TCU - I think proximity plays a KEY role here - and thoughts are if it were up to mom and dad, he'd be in our win column on Rivals yesterday. Responsibly though, his parents are bucking the current trend of parents running the entire recruiting show in order to make the best decision for their pockets and not their child and are letting him commit on his own. No matter what happens, you can't say the Gray's haven't done this the right way.

I genuinely have no idea where he is going to pick. Everyone is trying to pick their own angle - I even saw someone suggest that since he has more current UT player friends on Facebook than TCU that is where he is going - so you can really spin it how you will. The pessimist in me says he's going to be in Austin as 18 year olds find 110,000 fair weather fans and 6th street pretty hard to resist. Just think back to when you were 18, because if you were picking your college based on 6th street or the Aardvark, you'd never give TCU a second glance. Not that Gray is doing so, but you see my point.

But at the same time, if he was just going to sign with Mack Brown, why drag it out? It's not like anyone would blame him for that decision since Mack almost always gets his man anyway. I think he is genuinely torn. And who wouldn't be? When showcasing your talents for the pros is at least a peripheral motivation for any top tier college athlete, you'd be foolish to rush your decision when one of your pursuers just signed the #1 player at your own position the year before and completely overhauled their offensive staff to boot.

The bright lights and highest of the high profile of UT would speak to any recruit, but deep down Gray has to have some sort of questions about the current trajectory of the program. I'm not suggesting UT is about to turn into Baylor or anything, but I think they have a year or two of growing pains to endure before they hit their stride once again, something that would plague any program hiring new offensive and defensive coordinators in the same off season. You have to think he looks at TCU and sees a program on the up and up having come off a major Bowl win, making the jump to a better conference and with a stable staff situation at the highest levels. Ever since Gary Patterson set foot on campus, TCU has been on a steady rise. After the events of last year, a National Championship is seriously in the picture and any recruit should understand that they have just as good of a chance at getting one of those big, knock you out rings in Fort Worth as anywhere, if not better. I'm not sure if we're the true front runner at this point, but I truly think we are just as in the picture as UT.

In the end, Gray will make the decision that is best for him, which is what he needs to do. No matter how much we stamp our feet that he'd be better off in Fort Worth, -he would, of course, but that's not for us to say - we can't make the decision for him. People say that signing Gray would "transform" our program or "take us to an entirely new tier," but aren't we kind of, you know, already there? Ten years ago did you think you'd see the day when TCU would go toe to toe with the University of Texas for potentially the top overall recruit in the country? It's pretty incredible to think about and, even if it doesn't work out, has to have opened eyes and doors around the state that would have been closed to us a couple of years ago. It's been a lot of fun to follow. I just hope the ending is as satisfying as the beginning.

TCU Pitching Staff Speculation

Deliver some good news for a change, mmk Jimmy?

Well, after the potentially devastating news about Matt Purke's shoulder troubles and his visit to the dreaded Dr. James Andrews today (has that guy EVER delivered good news?), clearly the TCU pitching staff has some adjustments to make. I've mentioned in previous posts that the lack of depth in the rotation is a serious concern, and obviously this make things much, much more troubling for a staff that outside of 4 or 5 guys has been woefully inconsistent this season. So I'll do my best to speculate what I think could potentially happen with 5 games in the next 6 days, including a HUGE mid-week rematch against the Sooners. I'm far from an expert on the issue, but I'll give my guess as to how we handle these next few games and potentially the long run without ace Matt Purke in his Saturday spot.

Andrew Mitchell's performance last night couldn't have come at a better time and in a bigger game, but unfortunately by throwing nearly 90 pitches last night, I wouldn't expect to see him this weekend at all. He's a freshman and we do not want to overextend a young pitcher who should be the ace of this staff for the next couple seasons. Since the UNLV series is being played Thursday, Friday, Saturday (great timing, Easter), that kind of screws up the ability to move Steven Maxwell up a day in the rotation, since now it would become 2 days, so expect him to stay at the back end of the weekend rotation. The real question is who do we go to on Friday? I'd guess we go back to the dreaded Erik Miller, since he will be the freshest of the remaining arms we have, but Stefan Crichton could also fill that void, however, it appears that he is assuming the closer's role (for now).

*Weekend rotation just announced- Winkler Thursday, Miller Friday, Maxwell Saturday.

The Frogs will have Sunday off before a rematch against Dallas Baptist in Dallas, a team that already beat TCU this season and has been a thorn in their side for the past few years. Obviously, you'd like to have someone throwing here with experience and a track record of success, but really our options become very, very limited with the much more important game v. OU at Lupton Stadium the following night. Crichton started against them in the first outing and allowed 0 earned over 4.1 innings, and I think he's the likely candidate to start that game again unless he gets overextended out of the bullpen this weekend, which is a definite possibility with Miller going Friday. Also, don't rule out a return appearance from rarely used freshman Nick Frey, who had an impressive start against UT Pan American, but a not so impressive second outing in relief against OU. Another wildcard option is highly touted freshman Tony Rizzotti, who has only appeared in 4 games and his numbers are far from impressive, but beggars can't be choosers when we are in the situation we are in.

The Tuesday night contest against OU will be another start for Andrew Mitchell, who has become as reliable as anyone on our staff this season, although his 1 inning, 3 run relief appearance against OU a couple weeks ago was by far his worst outing of the season. Hopefully he turns it around this time and keeps the OU bats silent and we get the win. Assuming Purke is out for an extended period of time (which I do assume, since he's seeing James Andrews), Mitchell will eventually have to work his way into the weekend rotation because I don't think Erik Miller is a guy we can trust there right now. Maybe the "promotion" will actually help Miller, but that's wishful thinking. I don't know how we'll be able to transition Mitchell into the Saturday or Sunday starter, but I think it's inevitable and needs to be done to give this team it's best chance to win conference games and weekend series'.

Another guy who could become a key contributor and huge factor in saving some arms is reliever Trent Appleby. Appleby has been solid all year, and pretty much his whole career at TCU, so he is going to be expected to be able to work a few innings on several occasions when we are in tight spots. Let's hope he can continue to stymie hitters with his wacky sidearm delivery, heavy sinking fastball, and slow breaking slider. Other guys that will need to step their game up out of the bullpen and get outs for us at times will be Kyle Starratt, Teddy Nowell, and Tyler Duffie, 3 guys who pitched a little bit earlier in the season but have fallen to the back of the bullpen lately. Starratt has 1 start under his belt this year, so don't rule him out for a potential weekday start as well. Nowell, who has a 13.50 era in only 2.2 innings pitched this year, now becomes the only lefty we have on our pitching staff. Not. Good.

Hopefully as I'm writing this whole breakdown of our pitching staff, someone like Stefan Stevenson is breaking in with news that Purke has tendinitis and will be out for 2 weeks or so, but like I've mentioned several times, I'm very skeptical of the visit to Dr. James Andrews, and don't think that bodes well for Purke. Honestly I don't know how the rotation will shake out, but let's hope that the young arms continue to pitch as well as they have been and that someone emerges late in the season out of the bullpen to eat some quality innings.

Morning Dump

TCU begins busy stretch; hosts UNLV starting Thursday

Matt Purke's deal went bad, and now his shoulder hurts
USA Today

Wesley receives national notice

TCU product Dalton's draft stock climbs

Red hair a flag for Andy Dalton?
NBC Sports-Pro Football Talk

Ryan Rhoomes talks TCU commitment
Sport DFW

Nate Butler's commitment adds to TCU's size and athleticism
Sport DFW

Athletic Department:
Notes on a scorecard