In the Big 12 standings, Texas and Oklahoma State are trending in opposite directions.
Texas leads the pack at 10-2, riding a 14-game win streak, while Oklahoma State seems to have been a step or two behind throughout conference play, entering the weekend series at home at 6-6 in Big 12 play.
The Longhorns travel to Stillwater having not faced a conference opponent since they swept Kansas State in Austin two weeks ago. Texas has looked just as sharp in the meantime, taking down Nevada in a two-game series, and sweeping Abilene Christian last weekend before winning 5-1 over Texas State Tuesday.
Oklahoma State had the opposite weekend, experiencing a sweep in Fort Worth at the hands of TCU. However, two games of the series were decided by one run, and in game three, Oklahoma State led until the seventh inning before TCU scored seven runs in the eighth. It is safe to say the Cowboys offense, which was flashed at times against TCU in three high-scoring affairs has not cooled off heading into the weekend, as they tore into Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday and Wednesday, winning by scores of 28-0 and 12-2, respectively.
As with several Big 12 series this season, the bats will be critical. The pitching has been good for both teams, but each also boasts a lethal offense, with several consistent power hitters.
The Cowboys are led at the plate by Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who was nothing short of exceptional last weekend at TCU. The third baseman went 5-for-12 on the series with two home runs and six RBI, and extended his hitting streak to 16 consecutive games. That mark is now at 18 following Wednesday’s rout of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. In fact, in Wednesday’s win, he went 5-for-5 with two home runs as his batting average surged to .403.
Encarnacion-Strand’s ability to hit for power to all fields makes him a tough out for any opposing pitcher, but he is not the only strong spot in the Cowboys’ lineup. Max Hewitt and Nolan McLean have also challenged opponents, but in a different way, as both hit for average and consistently reach base. McLean has hit .270 on the season, but is second on the team in on-base percentage (.436) behind Encarnacion-Strand (.471) with a team-high 26 walks. Hewitt has a similar style and is hitting .277 on the year.
Texas has plenty of bats to counter. Center fielder Mike Antico has begun to flash the power we saw from him while at St. John’s, and is the Longhorns’ consistent leadoff hitter. Antico’s stats do not jump off the page; .244 batting average, five home runs, 31 RBI, especially when compared with several of his teammates, but it is what the stat line does not show that has made the difference for Texas lately.
Antico leads the team with 20 stolen bases, and finds his way into scoring position on sac flies, passed balls, wild pitches or straight up steals, putting himself in a position to be driven in by Texas’ long-ball hitters. His heads-up style of play has fit perfectly with Texas’ approach offensively, as the Horns rank sixth in the Big 12 in home runs, but second in runs scored.
That is not to say Texas does not have a few heavy hitters in the lineup, though. JUCO transfer Ivan Melendez, an El Paso native who had just one Div. I offer coming out of high school, has been on a tear as of late, hitting seven home runs in six straight games from April 3-11, and leads the Longhorns in RBI with 37.
Oklahoma State has scored at least six runs in each of its last nine games, and Texas, who is slightly better on the mound, averages just over seven runs a game, though the Longhorns reached that mark only twice in the last five games.
What has kept Texas in the win column for 14 straight contests has been its performance on the mound, both from the starters and the bullpen, as the Longhorns lead the league in team ERA at 2.82.
Friday night starter Ty Madden is the undoubted ace for the Longhorns, registering an ERA of 1.54 with 65 strikeouts. His fastball is his strongest weapon, having hit 98 miles per hour at points this season.
Reliever Cole Quintanilla has been key for Texas out of the bullpen, as he throws multiple innings late in games, and limits baserunners as well as anyone in the Big 12. He has allowed just 14 baserunners in 18.1 innings of work and posted a 3-0 record.
Tristan Stevens shifted from a bullpen role last year to a starting role this season, and has thrived on Saturdays. He throws strikes at a high volume and is aiming to go four straight starts without allowing a walk on Saturday against the Cowboys.
Kolby Kubichek has struggled at times, but has maintained his position as Texas’ game three starter and enters the series with a 2.54 ERA.
Oklahoma State has plenty of options to toe the rubber as well. Friday’s pitching contest will be pivotal, considering Madden is unlikely to allow multiple runs and typically goes long into games. Parker Scott is expected to start on Friday for Oklahoma State, though he has struggled throughout the season, throwing just four innings with four earned runs last Friday at TCU.
Scott is a southpaw, which could be an issue for Texas’ left-handed hitters, including Antico and left fielder Eric Kennedy, and often uses a great breaking ball on two-strike counts.
Saturday should also yield an interesting matchup on the mound, with Justin Campell set to toe the rubber for the Cowboys. Facing Stevens, this has the makings of the best pitching matchup of the series, considering the fact that Campbell has the lowest ERA of Oklahoma State’s starters (2.00) and has shown a knack for pitching late into games.
Riley's Prediction: It will be awfully hard for Texas to keep its winning streak alive in Stillwater, considering the power of Oklahoma State’s bats. But the Longhorns have proven themselves time and time again, both at home and on the road. While I like what the Cowboys’ bats have to offer, and believe they will raise Texas’ team ERA this weekend, I cannot see the Oklahoma State pitching staff holding off Texas’ offense. I will take the Longhorns winning the first two games of the series, and Oklahoma State stealing Sunday’s contest in a high-scoring affair.