History in reverse.
That is a key storyline entering this weekend’s critical Big 12 series as #14 Texas Tech (28-10, 8-7 Big 12) takes a road trip to Austin and faces #3 Texas (34-9, 12-3 Big 12).
The result of this series has the potential to boost one team’s RPI while lowering the other’s, considering how evenly matched the two opponents are, and the fact that both have remained in the top 20 in every set of rankings this season.
In 2018, Texas upset Texas Tech at home. It left a lasting impact on the Red Raiders, who did not lose another home series until last week at Baylor. The week before, Texas lost a series to West Virginia 2-1.
An opposite scenario is set up now, considering Texas Tech lost to Baylor 2-1 last weekend, and heads to Austin to face a Longhorn ballclub that has yet to lose a series at home since the final weekend of the 2019 season.
Texas has been dominant throughout this season, and looked the part of a top five team for the majority of the 2021 campaign, excluding the miserable 0-3 showing to open the year at the Globe Life Field Showdown. Since that opening weekend in February, the Longhorns have gone 34-6, and won eight of their last nine Big 12 contests.
The same could be said for Texas Tech, who has the same level of talent found at Texas, but not a similar record. The Red Raiders proved their worth as a top 10 team entering the Baylor series, defeating then-#12 TCU as well as West Virginia in back-to-back series. Yet, Texas Tech stumbled against the Bears of Baylor, struggling to keep up in two high-scoring affairs. The relief pitching lacked and the bats failed to connect late in the game.
Those are two areas that Texas Tech head coach Tim Tadlock must address entering this weekend’s showdown in Austin, as they will be critical in the Red Raiders’ chances to pull off the series win.
Tadlock has three consistent starters in Patrick Monteverde, Micah Dallas, and Mason Montgomery, who have demonstrated an ability to pitch late into games. Friday night starter Brandon Birdsell suffered a season-ending injury against TCU, pressing Monteverde into action. Monteverde had been Texas Tech’s Saturday starter, and has started a team-best 10 games with an ERA of 3.20. Dallas (3.23 ERA) is set to throw Saturday and Montgomery (4.00 ERA) has filled the role of the Sunday starter.
Yet Texas Tech lost a close game to TCU due to its bullpen, and gave up nine runs over the final three innings, all charged to the bullpen, in a 13-3 loss to Baylor last Sunday. One reliever that will be critical in the Red Raider bullpen changing its past pattern is right-hander Ryan Sublette, who has appeared in 12 games, often as a late reliever or closer. Sublette has a strong fastball that regularly hits in the mid-90s, and has limited runs, with a 3.20 ERA in 26 innings of work.
Texas has a reliever to combat Sublette, especially considering the games he pitches are often low-scoring. Cole Quintanilla is the Longhorns’ go-to reliever out of the bullpen, considering his 2.08 ERA and consistent performances throughout 15 outings. In fact, he was called upon to pitch on consecutive days against Oklahoma State.
Also, freshman Tanner Witt, the son of former MLB standout Kevin Witt, has made his mark early, having registered three saves and closed out several games strong for Texas. Pete Hansen is another reliever that is almost certain to make at least one relief appearance during the series. A converted starter, Hansen is a quality middle reliever, with good stamina and a high-powered fastball.
It helps that Texas has what Oklahoma State head coach Josh Holliday called “the No. 3 starter in college baseball” in Friday night starter Ty Madden. Madden is untouchable when he is at his best, currently ranked second in the Big 12 (min. 39.0 innings) in ERA at 1.68. Oklahoma State managed to knock him out of the game in the sixth inning last week, but Madden still picked up the win, as Texas emerged victorious 4-3.
Madden is in for another challenge this Friday, as Texas Tech’s bats are strong, statistically better than Oklahoma State's. The Red Raiders have a good mix of power hitters and hitters who hit for average, fifth in the Big 12 in team batting average at .283...tied with Texas.
If that is any indication of how crucial the pitching will be, we should expect at least one pitchers' duel. Both teams will have their pitchers ready to go against the opposing lethal offensive attack.
While Texas Tech was outscored by Baylor 26-11, it would be a mistake for Texas to underestimate the Red Raiders. Jace Jung highlights the lineup, a notable power hitter who enters the series tied with Oklahoma State’s Christian Encarnacion-Strand for the league’s home run lead at 15. But when it comes to average, Jung does not lead the team. That title goes to left fielder Dru Baker, a sophomore who seldom launches the long ball with just two homers on the year, but is second in the Big 12 in average at .391.
Texas has an identical scenario with arguably its top two hitters in second baseman Mitchell Daly and third baseman Ivan Melendez. Daly has just two home runs, but a team-high .358 batting average, and is tied for the team lead in hits (44). Melendez earned attention earlier this season when he hit seven home runs in six straight games, displaying his power like never before. He currently has nine homers on the year and a .352 batting average.
Prediction: The series in Austin will undoubtedly shape the Big 12 standings and the conference title conversation. I think we will see pitching play a key role, though a high-scoring contest appears to be in the cards as well. Considering how evenly matched these two teams are, it is hard to make a prediction, but I am going to take Texas, as the Longhorns seem to have the edge, both on the mound and with the home crowd behind them. I will take the Horns winning games one and three, but Texas Tech handing Texas its first Big 12 loss on a Saturday this season.