By Jeffrey Swindoll
Baylor baseball hits the road to Austin to face in-state Big 12 Conference rival No. 8 Texas Longhorns for a three-game weekend series. The Bears (15-13, 4-4) fell short at West Virginia last weekend, coming away from the series with two losses and no wins against the Mountaineers. Baylor is coming off back-to-back wins over Incarnate Word this week, but the task will be challenging against a Texas team that is statistically hitting and pitching at a high rate.
In many ways, Texas parallels Baylor’s ball club with pitching and defense. However, Baylor has struggled on offense recently and Texas has not shown any sign to be lacking in that area. The Longhorns (23-7, 3-3) have three players with a hitting average above .300, but the Bears do not have a single batter above that mark.
Texas also holds a significantly better record than the Bears this season, especially at home (14-4). The Bears are 1-7 on the road and their only away win came in the season opener at Arizona State.
“Every series is important,” junior outfielder Logan Brown said. The next game is most important though. You have to get comfortable playing on the road. We just haven’t gotten there yet. We’re getting there.”
The Bears’ fortunes on the road need to change if they want to stay on track for a run at the conference title. The conference season started well for the Bears by winning their first two conference series’ over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, but their woeful weekend at West Virginia put them on pace for a mid-conference finish. Texas is hot after a series win over Texas Tech and mid week win over Rice.
“At this point, a win’s a win,” senior catcher Nate Goodwin said. “We want to compete and play hard. We take it one day at a time. Everyone knows we’re going to play Texas.”
Baylor head coach Steve Smith and his players have not wavered on that philosophy for approaching the rest of the season one game at a time.
Smith expects a low-scoring game against the Longhorns because of the success that both pitching staffs have had so far this season. Strong pitching should make for slow games this weekend, but the ballpark plays into that as well, Smith added.
“Anytime you play Texas you expect a low-scoring series,” Smith said. “Particularly when you play at [Disch-Falk Field], they attract a lot of good arms and a lot of guys that can pitch. The ballpark favors the pitchers.”
The Longhorns’ starters also have a slight edge over Baylor’s pitchers in ERA, but not by much. Baylor has a bigger starting pitcher rotation, though. Therefore, the hits and runs are little more widespread for the Bears.
Between the four probable starting pitchers for Baylor expected to play this weekend, senior Dillon Newman, junior Austin Stone and freshman Daniel Castano collectively hold a 13-4 record.
Baylor has struggled with offense, but defense has kept the Bears in position for a win with how well they’ve managed and clean up the field this season.
One thing the Bears have done consistently well from game-to-game is play with defensive discipline. Baylor has ironed out the starting lineup, for except third base.
Junior Duncan Wendell and redshirt freshman Ben Carl have traded starts here and there, but Smith does not seem set on either one of them taking official starting job over the other just yet.
The three-game series starts at 7 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Disch-Falk Field in Austin.