Less than a week after its first Big 12 loss of the season to #6 Texas Tech, #13 TCU will return to Fort Worth, but the challenge ahead is not any easier, as #8 Oklahoma State comes in with something to prove.
The Cowboys, whose schedule has included numerous oddities including a tie with Grand Canyon due to travel curfew in March, and four cancellations, have posted a 21-7-1 record. Oklahoma State will be rested entering the weekend, as its midweek contest against Oral Roberts was erased due to rain. It has been two weeks since the Pokes last faced a conference opponent, as they defeated West Virginia in a series 2-1, before facing UNC Wilmington in a non-conference, three-game set last weekend.
TCU surprised many by handily defeating Texas Tech last Friday 7-3, but collapsed in the next two games, falling in extra innings in game two, and losing 17-7 in the series finale. The 2-1 series loss dropped the Horned Frogs just one place in the most recent rankings, and they have posted a solid 23-9 record on the season.
The Big 12 standings are topped by Texas heading into the weekend, with the Longhorns at 10-2. TCU and Oklahoma State are in the #2 and #3 spots at 7-2 and 6-3, respectively.
The pitching staffs will be critical to both team’s success throughout the series. Unlike the majority of Big 12 series that we’ve seen this season that feature high-scoring affairs, this series has the potential to produce low-scoring, pitching-dominated contests because of the talent on the mound.
TCU Friday night starter Russell Smith fared especially well against the potent Texas Tech bats last Friday, tossing a season-high seven innings, while allowing five hits, two earned runs, and striking out 12. A sensational lefty whose arsenal of pitches results in a high amount of swings and misses, Smith averages 1.3 strikeouts per inning.
He will need to be on his game Friday night, as Oklahoma State’s Parker Scott has looked just as prolific throughout his junior season. Entering Friday’s duel with a 6-1 record, the southpaw has a knack for stranding runners. Though he has allowed 36 hits in 45 innings of work, just eight runs have been charged to his stat line.
The Friday night duel featuring the two lefties is sure to set the tone for the remainder of the series, but the standout pitching does not end there.
Saturday’s contest will pit the Cowboys’ Justin Campbell against TCU’s Austin Krob. Similar to game one, both pitchers enter with an identical record this season of 4-0.
No doubt, Krob will be trying to shake off a tough outing in Lubbock that saw the sophomore allow four runs in just 3.2 innings of work. The bats made up for it, and he did not earn the decision, though TCU fell 6-5 in 10 innings. Besides last Saturday’s start, he has established himself as a consistent presence. He pounds the strike zone, with 53 strikeouts in 43.1 innings of work and a 2.91 ERA.
Campbell is a two-way player who does it all for Oklahoma State. His start on Saturday will not be the only time he is on the field, but may be the most critical. Depending on Friday’s result, Campbell will either be put in a position to notch the series win, or keep hopes of a series win alive for the Cowboys. He has already done that once this season in the West Virginia series, and helped Oklahoma State rebound after a 4-3 game one loss to win the next two.
TCU’s Johnny Ray is set to toe the rubber for the Horned Frogs in the series finale against Oklahoma State’s Justin Wrobleski.
Ray comes off a challenging outing against Texas Tech that saw him allow six runs in 2.1 innings of work, and enters the weekend with a 5.40 ERA.
Wrobleski, in his first season at the division one level after spending two years in the junior college ranks, has an ERA of 4.08, but has tallied 49 strikeouts in 39.2 innings.
As intriguing as the pitching matchups are, the bats cannot be overlooked. On paper, TCU has an advantage at the plate, ranked third in the Big 12 in team batting average with .293. Oklahoma State is ninth with an average of .253.
A large part of TCU’s success has been the power as the Horned Frogs have 39 home runs, fourth-best in the league.
Phillip Sikes has led the offensive charge, with an average of .330, though he had a rough weekend against Texas Tech, going 2-for-10.
Oklahoma State tends to rely less on the long ball and more on small ball. The Cowboys have stolen 23 bases this season compared to TCU’s 11, and drawn 134 walks next to the Horned Frog’s 116.
This clash of styles should factor into the result of the series, though Oklahoma State does have a power hitter to match Sikes.
Third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand has been nothing short of terrific this season, with a batting average of .365, 10 home runs, and 37 RBI. He will need to be consistent in order to give Oklahoma State a chance to counter TCU offensively.
Game one is set for 7:30 p.m. EST, game two for 3:00 p.m. EST, and game three will conclude the series with a 2:00 p.m. EST first pitch. All three games will be streamed live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
Riley's Prediction: TCU has a clear advantage offensively, though the two squads are evenly-matched on the mound. Solid starting pitching will be critical to both team’s success, and should set the tone for the remainder of the game. If Oklahoma State can score early, I see the Cowboys pulling out at least one win in Fort Worth. But beating TCU on its home turf is a tough task, and for that reason, I’m going to take the Horned Frogs winning the series 2-1.