We're All Still Alive...
9:25 P.M. MONDAY, MAY 25, 2009
"Is there something wrong, she said
Well of course there is;
You're still alive, she said
Oh, and do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so...if so...who answers...who answers?"
As many of you will recognize, the above lyrics are from "Alive" by Pearl Jam. Yes, shocking that The Pen would work Pearl Jam into a blog post. Shocking. But the lines - although with an entirely different meaning in the song - seem apropos today.
The Bears are still alive. A lot has been written and said today about whether the Bears deserve to be. That is the question. Who answers? The Pen does.
Some of this will be re-hash from last night's blog, but apparently the word of Baylor's strong candidacy did not spread quickly or far enough. For the record, The Pen cannot disagree with the argument that Oklahoma State was a head-scratcher.
Missouri State probably was more deserving than Oklahoma State; but given the Big 12's strength this year and the fact that the selection committee was chaired by Big 12 Deputy Commissioner Tim Weiser, Oklahoma State's inclusion over Missouri State came as no surprise. That's why last night The Pen said, "it would not be surprising to see the Big 12 get eight teams" (see third paragraph below). And Western Kentucky getting in over Notre Dame was the right choice; although, The Pen was surprised to see it happen for the reasons laid out last night in favor of Notre Dame's inclusion (see eighth paragraph from the end below).
So, The Pen got 62 of 64 teams correct. In both wrong cases, we went with the wrong team to get snubbed by the NCAA. The Pen can live with that percentage.
Now let's return to the original question: Does Baylor deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament? The Pen has defused the argument for other teams over the Bears all day. Why not continue here for those of you that were not involved in The Pen's all-day-long e-mail and text message exchanges?
Find a team more deserving, and The Pen will shoot holes in your candidate. Really, though, The Pen would love to find such a team. To prove the point, let's go through some potential candidates:
URI probably should have gotten into the tournament over Oklahoma State. No disagreement there. But only because OSU did not make the Big 12 Championship. And should URI have made the field over Baylor? Hardly.
Baylor was 2-0 against 200-plus RPI teams; URI was 18-3. Take away the wins: Baylor is 27-24, while URI is 21-22. URI has to play who they have to play for geographic reasons; sure, whatever (more on this later). But 21-22 against even halfway legitimate competition is not the same as 27-24. One person made the argument to The Pen that Baylor's three losses at Nebraska in the regular season's final week were horrible. Agree. Totally agree. But what is more deplorable? Losing three games on the road in the Big 12 against a 104 RPI team or three losses against 200-plus RPI teams? No argument.
The Rhode Island argument brings to light the "regionalization of college baseball" argument. Bluntly, that argument makes The Pen want to puke. Baseball is the only sport where this ever is discussed. And it's flat-out hogwash. The bottom line is that people in some parts of the country don't care about college baseball. Bottom line. URI in the NCAA Tournament means virtually nil to people in Rhode Island who are not directly associated with the program or the athletic department. If that were not the case, URI would have averaged more than 153 people per home game this season.
Northern schools whine a lot, but when they continue to pull stunts like Ohio State did this season they get no sympathy from The Pen. Not familiar with what the Buckeyes did? Well, Ohio State spent a month in Florida and played 21 games. Only three were against teams from the South; two against North Florida (RPI 123) and the last game of the tour at Miami. Why spend a month in Florida and not play a better schedule while there. Makes no sense.
The "Northern programs can't compete" argument holds no water. Northern schools don't compete. When Northern schools do compete (i.e. put money into the program, play legitimate schedules, improve facilities, hire solid coaches and give them a full deck of cards), they are rewarded for such. See Oregon State. See Nebraska. See Louisville. See Kansas. See Kansas State. See Virginia. The Pen worked with the Virginia program in the 1999 season. Having come from the Deep South, The Pen was shocked at how little support the program received. No surprise, the Wahoos were rarely competitive. About four years after The Pen's departure from lovely Charlottesville, UVa began to make a serious commitment to the program. What do you know? Virginia suddenly competes on a national level. Shocking.
Enough of that. Rhodies? Yeah, maybe you got a raw deal. But not because of Baylor.
The "other" Bears had a decent resume: 34-20, 68 RPI, won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title. But just how good was Missouri State? Well, the Bears were 8-6 against 200-plus RPI teams. 8-6. 8-6. They had almost as many losses against 200-plus teams as they had against Top 50 teams (MSU was 6-7). Of Missouri State's 34 wins, 12 were against Top 100 teams (35.3 percent). Of Baylor's 29 wins, 20 were against Top 100 teams (69.0 percent). And the difference of five total wins is not enough to over-shadow what has just been pointed out.
Missouri State? Yeah, maybe you got a raw deal. But not because of Baylor.
Auburn has the best argument. The Tigers 31-25 overall but missed the SEC Tournament. Their argument could be with Oklahoma State as both teams did not play last weekend, but even OSU was much better against Top 100 teams than Auburn. OSU was 23-19. Auburn was 19-23. The Tigers' 19 wins were the most of any team not in the field. Kentucky also was 19-23 vs. Top 100, but the Wildcats were 4-0 against 200-plus, dropping them to 23-26 vs. legitimate competition. Auburn, like Baylor, was 2-0 vs. 200-plus teams. ... The Tigers could make an argument for inclusion, but not over Baylor.
Hawai'i also might have an argument. Decent resume: 32-26 overall, 69 RPI, 15-10 vs. Top 100, only five games vs. 200-plus (though, 3-2 in those games). ... Hawai'i could make an argument for inclusion, but not over Baylor.
Who's left? ...
Stanford? The Cardinal was 30-25 with a 79 RPI and a 15-17 record vs. Top 100; but Stanford, like Hawai'i, was 3-2 vs. 200-plus teams. ...
The Citadel? The Cadets were 37-22 with a 76 RPI and a 15-12 record vs. Top 100; but The Citadel - located in South Carolina where baseball is rich - was 10-4 against 200-plus teams. ...
BYU? The Cougars were 30-24 with a 62 RPI. But BYU was 14-19 vs. Top 100 teams and 8-2 vs. 200-plus teams. Also, Baylor beat BYU. ...
Duke? The Blue Devils (eighth-place finisher in the ACC) were 35-24 with a 75 RPI, a 13-13 record vs. Top 50 and a 14-15 record vs. Top 100. But Duke was 14-1 vs. 200-plus teams. ...
Southeastern Louisiana? The Lions were 37-22 with a 54 RPI and a 12-13 record vs. Top 100 teams. But SLU was 0-5 vs. Top 50 teams and 11-1 vs. 200-plus teams. ...
Troy? OK, here's a team that has at least a strong argument. The Trojans were 33-23 with a 71 RPI. Troy was 4-8 vs. Top 50 and 12-14 vs. Top 100; furthermore, Troy was 1-0 vs. 200-plus teams. The Trojans have a legitimate resume; but with only 36.4 percent of their wins vs. Top 100 teams and only four wins more than Baylor in three more total games, the argument is not strong enough to put Troy in over the Bears. ...
Virginia Tech? 32-21 overall but 9-0 vs. 200-plus RPI. ...
Arizona? 29-25 overall with only four games vs. 200-plus (all wins), but 2-17 vs. Top 50 and 11-22 vs. Top 100. Ouch. ...
Notre Dame? The Irish were 35-23 with a 55 RPI and an 11-10 record vs. Top 100 teams. But Notre Dame was 12-2 vs. 200-plus teams. Take away those wins and the Irish are 23-23. Not enough. ...
Western Carolina? WCU was 35-22 overall with a 56 RPI and 4-0 vs. 200-plus teams; so the 31-22 mark is pretty comparable. But Western Carolina was 11-19 vs. Top 100; so only 35.5 percent of their wins (two more than BU in the same number of games) were against Top 100 teams. Advantage Baylor. ...
Florida Gulf Coast? Same argument as Western Carolina. FGC was 36-18 overall and 4-2 vs. 200-plus, but they did not have enough quality wins (3-7 vs. Top 50 and 10-9 vs. Top 100, 27.7 percent). ...
Tulane? Very similar resume to these last two: 34-25 overall (4-0 vs. 200-plus); but 5-7 vs. Top 50, 10-14 vs. Top 100, 29.4 percent wins were against Top 100. ...
Ah ha! Dallas Baptist! Here is where we'll find a winner! The Patriots were 38-17 overall with a 36 RPI. And DBU destroyed the Bears at Baylor Ballpark. Yep! DBU should have made it in over Baylor! ... Eh, really? Dallas Baptist was 18-0 vs. 200-plus teams and only nine of the Patriots' wins (23.7 percent) were against Top 100 teams. Oh, well. We were so close. ...
UNC Wilmington? 31-23 overall (6-0 vs. 200-plus) but 4-12 vs. Top 50 and 9-16 vs. Top 100. ...
Illinois? Yes! We have another strong candidate! The Illini were 34-20 overall with a 65 RPI. AND the Illini won two of three at LSU. ... Ah, but Illinois was 13-1 vs. 200-plus teams with only eight wins vs. Top 100 teams. Oh, well. Dallas Baptist was closer. ...
San Diego? Well, the Toreros were 29-25 (one loss off Baylor's record) with a 48 RPI and a 26 strength of schedule. Not too shabby. But USD had only six wins vs. Top 50 teams and only eight wins vs. Top 100 teams. Not enough. ...
Eastern Illinois? The Panthers were 33-14 but 13-4 vs. 200-plus teams, 1-2 vs. Top 50 teams and only had seven wins vs. Top 100 teams (21.2 percent of total wins). Not enough. ...
San Jose State? Well, the Spartans were the only 40-game winner not invited. Surely they have a case. Right? ... Eh, well. 0-2 vs. Top 50, 3-6 vs. Top 100 and 10-0 vs. 200-plus. Not nearly enough. ...
So, there we have it. Find a better candidate. Find a team that did more against legitimate competition over the course of the year than Baylor. It cannot be done.
The lone argument that holds water against Baylor is what the Bears did down the stretch. Baylor was 4-14 in its last 18 games. That's no good. The Bears lost their last 10 conference games. That's really not good.
But wait a second. Wait a second. Wait just a second!!! ... Georgia lost 10 of its last 11 conference games. Arkansas lost its last eight conference games. Those teams both are No. 2 seeds in their regionals, and NO ONE is crying about that. Sure, Georgia and Arkansas had better overall records than Baylor and they weren't swept at the last-place team in their league. That's why they are No. 2 seeds and Baylor is a No. 3 seed.
The Pen has spoken. Agree with The Pen, don't. Who cares. At the end of the day, Baylor is in the NCAA Tournament whether the people in New England or North Dakota or Bora Bora like it one bit. Play ball!
The Pen gets to go back to Louisiana for a weekend. Crawfish! REAL Cajun food! Red beans and rice! Gumbo! Jambalaya! REAL etouffe! Blackened catfish! The Pen is stoked!!!
The Bears are still alive. However, after several meals in the best food region in the nation, The Pen may not be for long.
"If the World Was Perfect, It Wouldn't Be"
10:30 P.M. SUNDAY, MAY 24, 2009
The header is courtesy of Yogi Berra. He said a lot of things. Of course, Berra claims he "never said most of the things" he said. Another great Berra-ism is this: "If you ask me anything I don't know, I'm not going to answer."
Well, The Pen doesn't know the answer to whether or not the Bears will receive an NCAA Tournament bid tomorrow, but we're going to take a stab at it nonetheless. After hours and hours of poring over various numbers and resume points of about 90 Division I teams, The Pen has come to this final analysis:
It will be shocking if Baylor is not one of the 64 teams announced in Monday morning's selection show. Then, The Pen will realize this the NCAA about which we're talking and realize it's not that shocking after all. That being said, it's hard to find too many teams with better resumes than Baylor's. Furthermore, it would not be surprising to see the Big 12 get eight teams; at least, The Pen thinks there's a better chance of the Big 12 getting eight than six.
Before we dive into an explanation, let's look at a few things. Baylor is 29-24 this season with an RPI of 29 and the nation's sixth-best strength of schedule (RPI and SOS used in this blog are through Saturday's games). That's the ground work. Let's go from there.
Obviously, 64 teams comprise the NCAA Tournament field. There are 30 automatic bids given out to conference champions (tournament winners for the leagues that have postseason tournaments). That leaves 34 at large spots. This year, there are 10 teams that already have been named host sites that are not automatic qualifiers. That means there are 24 spots for the taking.
*Virginia (ACC), *LSU (SEC), *Texas (Big 12), *Louisville (Big East), Georgia Southern (Southern), *UC Irvine (Big West), Georgia State (Colonial), Utah (Mountain West), *Rice (CUSA), Middle Tennessee (Sun Belt), *Arizona State (Pac-10), Sam Houston State (Southland), Indiana (Big Ten), Gonzaga (West Coast), Wichita State (Missouri Valley), Jacksonville (Atlantic Sun), Tennessee Tech (Ohio Valley), Xavier (Atlantic 10), Kent State (Mid-American), Army (Patriot), Binghamton (America East), Coastal Carolina (Big South), Monmouth (Northeast), Marist (MAAC), Dartmouth (Ivy), Wright State (Horizon), Bethune-Cookman (MEAC), Southern (SWAC) ... *-host site
HOST SITES - AT LARGE TEAMS
Florida, Cal State Fullerton, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, TCU, East Carolina
There are 14 other teams The Pen feels are locks for automatic bids:
Arkansas (34-22, RPI 13)
South Carolina (38-21, RPI 24)
Georgia (37-22, RPI 19)
Texas A&M (36-22, RPI 15)
Miami-FL (34-20, RPI 11)
Kansas State (41-16-1, RPI 25)
Alabama (37-19, RPI 36)
Vanderbilt (34-25, RPI 33, reached SEC final)
Minnesota (38-16, RPI 22)
Missouri (34-25, RPI 30, reached Big 12 final)
Elon (40-16, RPI 20, Southern Conference regular-season champion)
Texas State (41-15, RPI 28, Southland Conference regular-season champion)
Boston College (33-24, RPI 31)
Ohio State (40-16, RPI 35, Big Ten regular-season champion)
That leaves 10 spots up for grabs. Oregon State (35-17, RPI 45) gets in after winning two of three at Stanford over the weekend to finish third in the Pac-10. That also likely keeps Stanford (30-25, RPI 76) out of the field. Washington State (31-23, RPI 48) swept Washington over the weekend and finished two games behind Arizona State in the Pac-10 standings. UCLA tied Oregon State for third in the Pac-10, but the Bruins are below .500. Southern California finished sixth in the Pac-10 but ended up 28-28 overall after being blanked Sunday at California.
The Pac-10 is fourth in RPI, largely on the strength of Arizona State; however, it would be hard to imagine the fourth-best RPI league gets less than three teams in the field. So, we'll add Oregon State and Washington State to the field of 64. That leaves eight spots up for grabs.
Now, let's look simply at RPI for a minute. Take away the above 56 teams. The only top 30 RPI teams not included in that list? Oklahoma State (27) and Baylor (29). Hold that tought.
The Pen crunched several numbers Sunday, including the big ones: record vs. Top 50 (RPI), record vs. Top 100, percentage of games vs. Top 50, percentage of games vs. Top 100, number of quality wins (win vs. Top 50 worth one, win vs. 51-100 worth one-half). After compiling all those numbers, we asked some deeper questions. e.g. What percentage of a teams total wins are against Top 50 teams. What percentage of a team's total wins are against Top 100 teams? What percentage of a teams total wins are quality wins? Here are some interesting facts:
- Baylor is 11-16 vs. Top 50 teams. The Bears rank 21st nationally in Top 50 wins, 12th among potential at large bids (does not include automatic qualifiers and host teams). Take away the 16 locks we listed above, and Baylor ranks fourth behind Kansas (15), Duke (13) and Auburn (12). Oklahoma State is right behind Baylor with 10 such wins. Put Kansas, Duke, Auburn and Oklahoma State on the list of competitors for those final eight spots.
- Baylor is 20-20 vs. Top 100 teams. The Bears rank 21st nationally in Top 100 wins, seventh among potential at large bids. Take away the 16 locks we listed above, and Baylor ranks second behind only Oklahoma State (21). Auburn (19), Kentucky (19) and Kansas (18) are right behind the Bears. Kentucky is 27-26 with four wins vs. teams RPI 200-plus, so we're not going to consider the Widlcats a serious threat.
- Baylor played 50.9 percent of its games vs. Top 50 teams; that ranks 13th nationally and ninth among potential at large teams. Take away the 16 locks we listed above, and Baylor ranks fourth behind Auburn (58.9), Kentucky (54.7) and Kansas (52.6), and well ahead of Duke (44.1), Oklahoma State (41.5).
- Baylor played 75.5 percent of its games vs. Top 100 teams; that is tied with Olahoma State for eighth nationally and fifth among potential at large teams. Take away the 16 locks we listed above, and Baylor and OSU rank second behind only Kentucky (79.2) and just ahead of Auburn (75.0). The next-highest potential at large teams that we've not already deemed to be locks are Kansas (64.9) and BYU (61.1). To put that in perspective, TCU leads the nation with 82.7 percent of its games vs. Top 100 teams. Kudos to the Horned Frogs for significantly improving their schedule from years past. The Mountain West getting better and the Frogs' series at Air Force being cancelled due to snow had a lot to do with that.
In all honesty, there are not many teams that have the same type resume as Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas other than Duke and Auburn. Duke finished eighth in the ACC, which is the top league in terms of RPI. The Blue Devils played only 49.2 percent of their games against Top 100 teams and were 14-1 against RPI 200-plus teams (take those games away and Duke is 21-23 ... take away Baylor's two such wins - Houston Baptist and Prairie View A&M - and the Bears are 27-24).
Kansas is a really interesting team. The Jayhawks are 35-22 overall and finished fifth in the Big 12 with a 15-12 mark. However, Kansas has a 52 RPI. The reason for the low RPI is that 14 of Kansas' wins were against 200-plus RPI teams. Take those away, and the Jayhawks are 21-22. If it comes down to Baylor and Kansas, the Bears were 2-1 at the Big 12 Championship while the Jayhawks were 0-3, and Baylor was 3-1 against Kansas, including a win Saturday. Still, how do you keep Kansas out of the NCAA Tournament after going 3-0 against Texas (which likely will be the No. 1 overall seed) and 2-1 against Oklahoma (more than likely the one seed at the Norman regional) when Baylor was 0-6 against those teams with five of the games at home?
All that being said, let's get back to those final eight spots. San Diego State is 40-21 with the most popular player in college baseball (phenom right-hander Stephen Strasburg). The Aztecs are only 3-6 vs. Top 50 teams, but they are are 17-16 vs. Top 100 teams. SDSU has a quality win percentage (wins vs. Top 50 plus half wins vs. 51-100 divided by total wins) of 25.0 percent; Baylor's quality win percentage is 69.0 percent, sixth-best nationally and third among potential at large teams behind only Arkansas (79.4) and Kentucky (70.4), and just ahead of Oklahoma State (67.7). Furthermore, San Diego State's quality win percentage ranks 37th nationally thanks to a 14-2 record vs. 200-plus RPI teams. Still, 40 wins coupled with geographic location and the Strasburg gets the Aztecs in the tournament.
That leaves seven spots. Notre Dame finished fifth in the Big East, but don't be surprised if the Irish make the field as the Big East's second team behind champion Louisville despite a 56 RPI. Second-place finisher South Florida (74 RPI) is 1-10 vs. Top 50 teams and 7-18 vs. Top 100 teams. Notre Dame is 5-6 vs. Top 50, 11-10 vs. Top 100 and reached the final game of the Big East Tournament. Plus, it's Notre Dame.
That leaves six spots. There was one other number The Pen ran Sunday. Consider the following formula: total winning percentage + winning percentage vs. Top 50 + percentage of total games vs. Top 50 + winning percentage vs. Top 100 + percentage of total games vs. Top 100). LSU, Florida and Texas were the three best teams in that formula and all three should be national seeds. In fact, there are only three teams in the top 25 of that formula that we don't already have in the field: Kansas (22nd), Oklahoma State (24th) and Baylor (25th).
What it all comes down to is this: There is a very strong chance the Big 12 gets eight teams. Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas all deserve to get an at large bid. The team that has the most against it is Oklahoma State; the Cowboys did not make the Big 12 Championship, and - although some people will scoff at this notion - the fact that Oklahoma State pitcher Andrew Oliver filed a lawsuit against the NCAA possibly could cause the NCAA to look the other way.
The ACC, SEC and Big 12 are far and away the three best conferences. Don't be surprised if the ACC and the Big 12 each get eight and the SEC gets nine. The Pen thinks it is possible that we see two teams - Oklahoma State and Auburn - make the NCAA Tournament after not making their conference tournaments. Here is why:
In terms of RPI, the gap between the top three conferences (SEC .5720, ACC .5710, Big 12 .5679) and the fourth conference (Pac-10 .5339) is larger than the gap between the fourth conference (Pac-10) and the 16th conference (Atlantic Sun .5082). In terms of out-of-league winnning percentage, the gap between the top three conferences (ACC .7603, SEC .7375, Big 12 .7154) and the fourth conference (WAC .6165) is greater than the gap between the fourth conference (WAC) and the 15th conference (West Coast .5290).
There is one final plus for Baylor and the Big 12. There are five non-Big 12 host sites in the West (six if you include LSU). Obviously, we know where Texas and Oklahoma are going because they are hosting. There just aren't that many teams with solid resumes in the West this season outside of the Big 12.
The Pen may have all this wrong, and we're looking at this with as much of an unbiased and objective eye as possible. On paper, it wouldn't even surprise The Pen if the Bears are a two seed, but that's not going to happen. If Baylor doesn't get in and Dallas Baptist, Duke or Illinois does, then the NCAA is saying play a really weak schedule (all those teams played at least 14 games against 200-plus RPI teams) and build a gaudy record.
The Pen's gut and The Pen's head says the Bears are in. We'll find out Monday at 11:30 a.m. CDT on ESPN.
1:30 P.M. FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2009
It has rained periodically in Lincoln today. But it has rarely been very hard, and it is supposed to be out of the area by mid-afternoon. Most of the nasty stuff is to the south. So, we should play tonight.
Yesterday was not as smooth. Try a three-hour delay at DFW. Fun times. Actually, it was not that bad.
Enough rambling. Let's look at the Huskers.
NEBRASKA (22-28-1, 5-19)
Head Coach: Mike Anderson; seventh season at Nebraska
Last Five: 1-4 Last 10: 3-7 Last Game: lost to Cal State Bakersfield (5/10)
Game 1 Starter: Sophomore RHP Mike Nesseth (4-4, 5.15 ERA, 19 G, 7 GS, 1 CG, 2 Sv, 57.2 IP, 55 H, 36 R, 31 ER, 31 BB, 65 K, 5 HR, .249 OBA) ... 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in 10 Big 12 appearances (three starts); 23.1 innings with 23 strikeouts against 18 walks in league play ... Allowed six runs on eight hits and three walks with seven strikeouts over 7.1 innings vs. Cal State Bakersfield in last start (5/8); earned victory in a 9-6 Nebraska victory ... Three starts in Big 12 play were against Texas Tech (3/14), Kansas (4/26) and Missouri (5/2) ... Held Texas Tech to five runs on seven hits and five walks with three strikeouts over 6.0 innings; did not factor in decision, a 16-8 Huskers' loss ... Allowed five runs on four hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 2.2 innings against Kansas ... Worked only 3.0 innings against Missouri and allowed three runs - two earned - on two hits and five walks with two strikeouts ... Suffered loss against Kansas and Missouri ... Earned victory in relief in the series opener at Baylor last season ... Entered game with two outs in bottom of the ninth and runners at first and second, retired Raynor Campbell and gave way to Zach Herr after Huskers scored two runs in top of 10th ... Also pitched final 1.1 innings of series finale; allowed an Aaron Miller leadoff home run in the eighth as Baylor won 8-3 ... Faced Bears a third time at the Big 12 Championship ... Allowed three runs - one earned - on three hits and no walks with three strikeouts over 2.0 relief innings in Baylor's 10-4 vicotry.
Game 2 Starter: Freshman RHP Sean Yost (1-5, 7.19 ERA, 17 G, 7 GS, 0 CG, 46.1 IP, 49 H, 41 R, 37 ER, 25 BB, 42 K, 8 HR, .278 OBA) ... 0-3 with a 6.82 ERA in 10 Big 12 appearances (six starts); 30.1 innings with 16 walks, 29 strikeouts and a .261 opponents' batting average in league play ... Allowed six runs on five hits and six walks with one strikeout over 3.2 innings vs. Cal State Bakersfield in last start, an 8-7 Nebarska loss (5/10) ... Suffered the loss in that game ... Has not gone longer than 5.1 innings in any outing this season ... Lone win was vs. Cal State Northridge (3/7) and has lost five straight decisions since ... Also has losses against Northern Colorado (3/25), Oklahoma (3/30), Texas (4/10) and Texas A&M (4/17).
Game 3 Starter: Senior RHP Erik Bird (2-2, 5.43 ERA, 19 G, 6 GS, 1 CG, 56.1 IP, 68 H, 42 R, 34 ER, 19 BB, 35 K, .300 OBA) ... 0-1 with a 6.32 ERA in eight Big 12 appearances, all relief; 14 strikeouts against four walks over 15.2 innings in league action ... Makes first career Big 12 start Sunday after 29 career conference relief appearances ... Sunday's start will be the 78th appearance of his career; will move into tie for third place on Nebarska's career chart ... Is 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA since March 31 ... Tossed 2.0 scoreless innings in relief against Cal State Bakersfield in last outing (5/9) ... Turned in Nebraska's strongest pitching performance of the season to date vs. Creighton (4/21) ... Held Blue Jays to one run on six hits over 9.1 innings ... Wins vs. Iowa and New Mexico; losses vs. Arkansas and Missouri ... Faced Baylor once in 2006, allowed one hit and retired one batter ... Did not face Baylor in 2007 ... Worked 2.2 innings of relief in 2008 series finale; allowed one run on four hits and a walk with two strikeouts over 2.2 innings.
Players to Watch: 1B Tyler Farst (.326, 3 HR, 33 RBI) is eighth in the Big 12 with 14 doubles; he leads the team in hits, runs and doubles. Farst leads Nebraska with a .374 average in Big 12 play. He is the younger brother of former Baylor football offensive lineman Travis Farst, who was married in Waco last weekend. ... 2B Jeff Tezak (.310, 2 HR, 26 RBI) leads Nebraska with 29 walks. Both his homers were in the Oklahoma series opener. ... 3B Jake Mort (.260, 4 HR, 22 RBI) has been hit by a pitch 35 times in his career, fifth in school history. ... LF Nick Sullivan (.265, 6 HR, 22 RBI) is hitting .450 with four home runs and seven RBI over the last seven games. ... RF Adam Bailey (.315, 11 HR, 46) is one of the leading candidates for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors (non-freshmen). He is 10th in the Big 12 in homers and RBI.
Tidbits: Nebraska will finish the season below .500 for the first time since 1997. That was the second-longest such streak among Big 12 teams behind only Oklahoma State (1977). Texas (1998) now has the second-longest streak, followed by Missouri (2002), Oklahoma (2003) and Baylor (2004). ... Nebraska will miss the Big 12 Championship this season for the first time since 1997. ... Nebraska volunteer assistant Nate Thompson is the younger brother of Baylor assistant coach Mitch Thompson.
Baylor is 4-8 in its final regular-season series during the Big 12 era, losing seven of the last eight. The only series win during that time was a sweep of Kansas State in 2007. Baylor has not won a final regular-season series on the road since sweeping at Kansas State in 2000. The Bears have lost five such series since then: Texas Tech in 2002 (0-3), Nebraska in 2003 (1-2), Texas Tech in 2004 (0-3), Kansas State in 2006 (0-3) and Texas Tech in 2008 (1-2). ... C Gregg Glime has thrown out 21 would-be base stealers this season. That total ranks third among Big 12 catchers. DJ Belfonte leads Nebraska with seven stolen bases, but he has not been caught this season. ... Six Huskers hail from the Lone Star State: freshman infielder Boomer Collins (Waxahachie), freshman infielder Kale Kiser (Plano West), freshman catcher Cory Burleson (Midland Christian), Farst (Cedar Park), sophomore pitcher Michael Mariot (Southlake-Carroll) and freshman pitcher Taylor Massey (Weatherford). Mariot was a high school teammate of Baylor junior outfielder Kenton Gedwed.
'I have been known on occasion to howl at the moon...'
4:45 P.M. MONDAY, MAY 11, 2009
Well, for those of you that recognize that movie quote, here's The Pen's explanation for the week of silence: Thumper's mother said it best. We'll just leave it at that.
After a week-long break, it's time to take a new look at things. Prior to the Texas series, The Pen made the claim that the 2009 season would be defined by how the team responded to the Oklahoma sweep. To quote Vincent Vega: "That's a bold statement." Perhaps, but there at least is some truth in that sentiment. Nonetheless, we're willing to step back and realize this fact: the season still can be defined. Follow...
Texas wrapped up the Big 12 title over the weekend. The Horns win the conference with only 17 league wins (The Pen wishes to remind everyone at this point that he said in early March that it would take only 17 wins to claim the Big 12 title this season). In the first 12 seasons of the league's existence, the champion won at least 19 games each season and at least 20 games seven times.
Just for fun, let's say Baylor sweeps Nebraska, Texas Tech sweeps Oklahoma State and Kansas wins at least one against Kansas State this weekend. If that happens, all eight teams qualifying for next week's Big 12 Championship will have a league record of at least .500. Also, first place and eighth place would be separated by four games. Last year, first and eighth were separated by 10.5 games. Regardless of what happens this weekend, the gap between first and eighth will be no more than seven games, the smallest margin in league history since 2002 when the the teams were separated by six games (that's the smallest margin to date).
Moral of the story is this: take care of your business. Texas swept at Nebraska. Kansas State swept at Nebraska. Missouri swept at Nebraska. The Huskers are better than what they've shown this season, but surely winning a series at Lincoln is not too tall of a task for Baylor to accomplish. Right? We'll see.
If the season ended today, Baylor would be the eighth seed in the Big 12 Championship, matched with top-seeded Texas, fourth-seeded Oklahoma and fifth-seeded Texas A&M in pool play. The Bears were 1-8 against those teams; the Bears were 8-4 against the other four teams (Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Texas Tech), winnning two of three games against each team.
But the season doesn't end today. While seven of eight teams have qualified for next week's event, Baylor and Oklahoma State still are on the outside looking in. Baylor's magic number is one - that means the Bears are in with a win or an Oklahoma State loss. And a lot of shuffling could occur this weekend. Take Kansas, for example. The Jayhawks can place anywhere from second (would be the third seed due to tiebreaker) to eighth. Baylor can finish no higher than sixth. Oklahoma hosts Texas A&M and Kansas faces Kansas State in a split series with the opener in Manhattan. Those two series would create the most movement in the standings.
All that to say this: The Pen feels pretty confident that if Baylor goes at least 3-1 this week and wins at least one game in OKC next week, and if Kansas wins at least three more games between this weekend's Kansas State series and next week's Big 12 Championship, the Big 12 will get seven bids to the NCAA Tournament. Maybe that's a tall order, but greater obstacles have been overcome. If Baylor or Kansas doesn't live up to that scenario, the sixth Big 12 bid likely will come down to those two teams. And regardless of the fact that Baylor won two of three at Lawrence, the team with the better down-the-stretch resume would get the nod.
Find it hard to believe that Baylor doesn't need to do more than go 4-3 over the next two weeks to earn an NCAA bid? Find it hard to believe that the Big 12 could get seven bids? Think back to 2006; the Big 12 got seven NCAA bids - the most in league history. That year, Missouri was 12-15 in league play and finished seventh, 7.5 games behind league-champion Texas; the Tigers had a good showing in OKC and earned the league's seventh bid. That year, only four teams in the Big 12 finished at or above .500 in league play. The league is much, much better this year than in 2006. ... Even last year: Oklahoma finished eighth in the regular season standings at 9-17-1 (9.5 games back) and qualified for the Big 12 Championship only by virtue of Kansas State's ninth-inning rally to defeat Kansas in the regular season's final game, eliminating the Jayhawks. The Sooners were 2-1 at OKC and earned a spot. ... Both Missouri in 2006 (44) and Oklahoma last year (43) had less-than-stellar RPI.
Baylor enters this week with an RPI of 22 and a strength of schedule of either second or fifth, depending on which version you use. The downside is this: SFA and Nebraska both rank outside the RPI top 100, so the Bears' strength of schedule will drop slightly after this week. But it should rebound with three games in OKC. Furthermore, three wins this week should solidify the RPI and four wins may even give it a slight bump.
Warren Nolan has a great website that breaks down the NCAA resumes of each team. See his 2009 Division I baseball Nitty Gritty report here. If Baylor were to sweep at Nebraska, the Bears would be .500 in conference and above .500 on the road. That would put Baylor in great shape. Even a 2-1 mark at Nebraska would put the Bears close enough to the .500 mark in both categories that neither should be too detrimental.
Just for fun, let's look at the Bears' 2009 resume with a 3-1 record this week (that includes only two wins at Nebraska) and a 1-2 record next week compared to the last three seasons...
2006: 35-24 (.593), 13-14 Big 12 (5th, 6.5 GB) ... 7-17 road ... 22-24 (.478) vs. Top 100 ... 32 RPI
2007: 34-25 (.576), 12-15 Big 12 (6th, 9.0 GB) ... 7-10 road ... 19-23 (.452) vs. Top 100 ... 28 RPI
2008: 32-26 (.551), 11-16 Big 12 (6th, 8.0 GB) ... 10-14 road ... 11-25 (.306) vs. Top 100 ... 45 RPI
2009: 30-23 (.566), 12-14 Big 12 (7th, 5.0 GB) ... 7-8 road ... 20-21 (.488) vs. Top 100 ... 20-25 RPI
What killed the Bears last season was so few wins against quality teams (11 vs. Top 100) and such a bad record vs. RPI Top 50 teams (9-23). That's just not the case this year; Baylor is in much better shape in both areas. A couple wins at OKC would only improve that and give the Bears an above-.500 record vs. Top 100 teams.
So, the season is not yet defined. But it very likely will be this week. A lot has been said and written about this team. If the 2009 Bears wish to leave their mark, the time to get going is now. Otherwise, it's just howling at the moon.
1:15 P.M. FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2009
Happy May Day, folks! Not really sure what May Day is, but have a happy one nonetheless.
Baylor faces eighth-ranked Texas this weekend in a key series for both teams. The Bears and Longhorns both are coming off series in which they did not win a game; granted, UT did manage a tie in last week's finale vs. Kansas State.
It has been a trend in the Big 12 this season (with the exception of Nebraska) that a team that goes winless one weekend and wins its series the next weekend. Well, that obviously cannot happen here; someone has to lose the Baylor-Texas series (turning a blind-eye to the possibility of a weather-shortened, two-game series).
Remember, the series opener at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin will be televised nationally on ESPNU. First pitch is at 8:04 p.m. The reason for the late start is so that ESPNU can carry the Coastal Carolina-Liberty game at 5 p.m. CDT. Enjoy. The series then shifts to Baylor Ballpark for games Saturday (6:30 p.m.) and Sunday (1:30 p.m.).
Now, let's take a look at Texas...
No. 8 TEXAS (30-11-1, 12-8-1)
Head Coach: Augie Garrido, 13th season at Texas
Last Five: 1-3-1 Last 10: 6-3-1 Last Game: def. Texas State 12-2 (4/28)
Game 1 Starter: Sophomore RHP Chance Ruffin (6-2, 2.64 ERA, 15 G, 10 GS, 1 CG, 75.0 IP, 64 H, 30 R, 22 ER, 15 BB, 68 K, 5 HR, .225 OBA) ... 3-2 with a 2.81 ERA in eight Big 12 appearances (seven starts); 48.0 innings with 43 strikeouts against eight walks in league play ... Allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks with six strikeouts over 6.1 innings vs. Kansas State in last start (4/24); did not factor in the decision, a 4-2 UT loss ... Used 150 pitches in a complete-game victory in last year's series opener at Baylor Ballpark; surrendered one unearned run on seven hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts ... 2008 USA Baseball National Team Trials invitee; did not make squad ... Son of former Major Leaguer Bruce Ruffin.
Game 2 Starter: Sophomore RHP Cole Green (3-1, 2.66 ERA, 12 G, 12 GS, 1 CG, 61.0 IP, 55 H, 19 R, 18 ER, 15 BB, 37 K, 5 HR, .247 OBA) ... 1-0 with a 3.63 ERA and one complete game in seven Big 12 appearances, all starts; 34.2 innings with 11 walks, 20 strikeouts and a .291 opponents' batting average in league play ... Allowed two runs on seven hits and no walks with five strikeouts over 6.1 innings vs. Kansas State in last state; did not factor in the decision, a 5-4 UT loss in 12 innings ... Earned a 1.0-inning save in the series finale against Baylor last season; worked around a one-out Adam Hornung single, stranding Hornung at third with a strikeout of Raynor Campbell to end the game, a 2-0 Texas victory.
Game 3 Starter: TBA
Players to Watch: 1B Brandon Belt (.338, 5 HR, 20 RBI) leads Texas with 13 doubles; also has seven stolen bases. ... 3B Michael Torres (.303, 1 HR, 18 RBI) leads UT with nine stolen bases. ... RF Kevin Keyes (.312, 4 HR, 25 RBI) and C Cameron Rupp (.264, 4 HR, 26 RBI) lead the team in RBI. ... RHP Austin Wood (4-1, 1.90 ERA, 10 Sv) is tied for the Big 12 lead and is tied for fourth nationally in saves; he has 40 strikeouts against six walks in 47.1 innings over a league-high 26 appearances. ... Freshman RHP Austin Dicharry (5-1, 1.54 ERA) ranks third nationally in ERA. ... RHPs Taylor Jungmann (4-3, 1.75 ERA) and Brandon Workman (3-3, 3.57 ERA) are likely candidates to be Sunday's starter. ... Jungmann ranks sixth in ERA, while Wood is 11th, Ruffin is 47th and Green is 52nd.
Tidbits: Texas leads the nation with a 2.44 staff ERA. The Horns rank second nationally in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.54), fourth in fewest walks allowed per nine innings (2.43), fourth in fielding percentage (.980) and fourth in sacrifice bunts (52). ... SS Brandon Loy has 15 sacrifice bunts, third nationally. ... Texas has primarily used only six pitchers this season. Those six - Dicharry, Green, Jungmann, Ruffin, Wood and Workman - each have tallied at least 41.0 innings; no other UT pitcher has more than 13.0 innings on the season. ... No UT player has committed more than five errors.
Since Baylor and Texas began using the split-series format in 1993, the home team has won each game three times - 1993, 1994 and 2001. ... Baylor plays a team with 30 wins and 11 losses for the second consecutive weekend.