Aggie Baseball Heads to Oxford to Face #8 Ole Miss

Swayze Field - via OleMissSports.com

Texas Aggie Baseball, fresh off a sweep of Georgia and on a 5-game win streak, heads to Oxford for their first SEC road series against the 8th ranked Ole Miss Rebels.

Texas A&M (15-7) at Ole Miss (20-2)

Fresh off the heels of a sweep of Georgia to start SEC play and one of just 2 SEC teams undefeated in conference play, the Texas Aggies will hit the road to Oxford for their first-ever SEC away series. The Aggies are on a 5-game win streak dating back to last Tuesday's come-from-behind win over Houston Baptist, and took care of business this Tuesday against Dallas Baptist in a 2-0 win. Let's recap that one quickly if you missed it...

Grayson Long got the start against DBU and continues to impress as a true freshman, striking out 5 and allowing just 3 hits and no runs in 5 1/3 innings of work. The bullpen was strong for the Aggies as well, allowing just 1 hit in 3 2/3 innings and completing the shutout over a Dallas Baptist squad that averages over 8 runs a game. A&M jumped on the board in the 1st inning when Krey Bratsen walked and Mitchell Nau knocked him in with an RBI double after Blake Allemand had struck out. Cole Lankford continued to hit well, following Nau's double with a single into RF that scored the Aggies' catcher from 2nd. That would be the only offense that the Aggies would muster, but the Patriots using 7 different pitchers in the game made it difficult for the A&M hitters to get a good feel for what they were going up against.

As for this weekend, this will be an even tougher trip than the one out west to Cal State Fullerton recently. The Titans are a good baseball team, but they don't have anything close to the SEC fan support that Ole Miss enjoys. The Aggies have a chance to earn some revenge this weekend for last season's first loss in the College Station regional at the hands of the Rebels. In terms of the RPI rankings, A&M has moved all the way up to #41, while Ole Miss comes in at #7 in the country. Both teams have also used fast starts to their benefit in 2013 - A&M has outscored opponents 29-10 in the first inning, while Ole Miss has outscored opponents by combined 92-22 in the first 4 innings. In fact, the Rebels have yet to lose when scoring first (15-0) or when scoring in the first inning (10-0). Let's take a look at what the Aggies will be going up against in what will likely be a rainy Oxford this weekend.

Friday (6:30pm CST):

RHP Kyle Martin (2-2, 3.52, 30 K, 6 BB)
vs
RHP Bobby Wahl (5-0, 1.82, 27 K, 17 BB)

Wahl will easily be one of the best pitchers that the Aggies have faced so far this season, coming into the weekend undefeated and with an ERA under 2. Wahl was impressive in his Friday start on the road at Arkansas last weekend, going 7 innings and holding the Hogs to just 1 run on 3 hits in 7 innings and picking up his 5th win in as many starts. Opposing batters are hitting just .194 against Wahl on the season, and he is expected by many to be a 1st round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft. Wahl will feature a fastball in the mid-90's, a strong slider, a serviceable changeup and possibly even a slurve. One thing worth noting, though, is that Wahl has struggled a bit with walks so far this season, having walked 17 batters in 29 2/3 innings. The Aggie hitters have showed that they are capable of being patient at the plate, so if Wahl has any issue with the strike zone things could get very interesting.

Martin posted his second consecutive strong outing last weekend in the Aggies' first-ever SEC victory over Georgia, and he evened his record at 2-2 on the season. KMart got the Aggies into the 7th inning with a lead against Fullerton and Georgia the last 2 Fridays, and should he be able to do so against a tough Rebels lineup he would put A&M in a great position to pick up a win. Martin does have the second-most hit batters on the A&M staff with 5, so I'm confident he will look to clean that up.

Saturday (7:30pm CST, ESPNU):

RHP Daniel Mengden (3-1, 1.82 ERA, 32 K, 5 BB)
vs
RHP Mike Mayers (2-1, 2.79, 25 K, 11 BB)

Mayers features the highest ERA of the 3 Ole Miss weekend starters at 2.79, which certainly says something about how talented the Rebels' pitching staff is. Mayers was hit hard in his last outing, though, giving up 7 runs (5 earned) on 7 hits in 5 1/3 innings against the Razorbacks last Saturday in an eventual 10-1 Rebels loss. Mayers did strike out 5 Hogs in that game but also walked 3 batters and hit another. Mayers will sit in the low 90's with his fastball and features a very strong changeup and a low-80's slider. Mayers has walked 11 batters on the season, which is actually the number of batters that Kyle Martin and Daniel Mengden have walked combined, so A&M hitters will be sure to make him throw strikes.

Mengden continues to be the most consistent starter for the Aggies so far in 2013, throwing a gem against Georgia last Saturday but failing to earn a decision because A&M was not able to score their 2nd run of the game until the 10th inning. Megnden worked 8 innings and allowed just 1 run on 6 hits while striking out 8 and not walking or hitting a single batter. Coach Childress chose not to have Mengden DH in his start last Saturday, and I would not be surprised to see the same thing this weekend - the Aggies have to keep him healthy all season.

Sunday (1:30pm CST):

RHP Jason Freeman (1-0, 1.23, 14 K, 6 BB)
vs
RHP Sam Smith (2-0, 2.49, 13 K, 6 BB)

Smith will make his 5th straight Sunday start for the Rebels on Sunday, and has been mostly successful so far this season on the mound for Ole Miss. Smith had a nice start on the road last Sunday in the rubber game against Arkansas, giving up just 1 run on 3 hits in 5 innings along with 4 strikeouts, but the Rebels were unable to hold the lead to earn him a victory before they won in 13 innings. Smith is a guy who will pitch to contact, seeing as how opponents are hitting for a .300 average against him in 16 2/3 innings this season, so the Aggies will have to be able to find the gaps to be successful.

Due to Rafael Pineda's inability to find anything resembling the strike zone in recent weeks, Jason Freeman was forced into duty versus Georgia and responded admirably - going 4 2/3 innings against the Bulldogs and giving up 0 earned runs on 6 hits. Getting the first batter out on the first pitch had to help settle his nerves, as did getting 4 runs from the A&M hitters in the bottom of the 1st. That game was Freeman's career-high in innings pitched, but he handled the start well and will look to build on it this Sunday in Oxford.

What to Watch

The Rebels come into the series with roughly the same batting average that Georgia featured last weekend, although I think it's safe to say that this group of Rebels hitters is a bit more talented than the Bulldogs that the Aggies squared off with last weekend. The Rebels are led offensively by junior juco transfer C Stuart Turner who features the 4th highest batting average in the nation at .474, just slightly ahead of Aggies' SS Mikey Reynolds who is 8th with a .458 average. Speaking of Turner and Reynolds, they both come into the weekend with impressive hitting streaks on the line - Reynolds' sits at 21 games, while Turner has hit safely in 17 consecutive games. Turner leads the Rebels in RBI's by a wide margin with 30 so far in 2013. Easily one of the most impressive stats I've seen so far this season is from the Rebels' SS Austin Anderson, who has struck out just once in 83 at-bats so far in 2013. If there is a negative to Anderson's game it is that he has committed 9 errors at the SS position so far this season. Here's a look at a hitting comparison between the Aggies and Rebels:

Team Average OPS K BB XBH SB
Texas A&M .283 .740 134 75 46 44
Ole Miss .299 .771 123 83 50 24

As far as pitching goes, the Rebels' staff has been mostly outstanding so far in 2013. As mentioned before, all 3 weekend starters feature an ERA under 3. However, this is where we are going to see the difference between the Big 12 and the SEC. Many Big 12 schools had some top-level weekend starters, but if you could get those guys out of the game you would be facing weaker pitchers. That is definitely not the case in the SEC, at least not with the upper-level teams which includes Ole Miss, as the Rebels have a very deep and talented overall pitching staff. Senior RHP Tanner Bailey (1-0, 0.00, 23K, 3 BB) is the primary bullpen option for the Rebels and you can understand why - he has yet to give up a single run on 11 hits in 17 innings of work this season. Ole Miss will also use RHP Josh Laxer (2-0, 2.14, 9 K, 10 BB), RHP Aaron Greenwood (2-0, 2.40, 14 K, 3 BB) and LHP Jeremy Massie (0-0, 1.93, 7 K, 1 BB) as their other main relievers out of the bullpen. Let's do a quick comparison of pitching (and fielding) stats between A&M and Ole Miss:

Team

ERA WHIP K BB HBP Errors
Texas A&M 2.83 1.20 165 69 25 17
Ole Miss 2.42 1.21 186 75 11 24


If I had to take a guess at what sort of lineup Ole Miss will feature, here's my best shot:

Pos Name Bats AVG SLG% OB% 2B 3B HR RBI SB
LF Tanner Mathis L .263 .275 .385 1 0 0 5 5
CF Austin Bousfield .R .323 .430 .385 5 1 1 11 5
SS Austin Anderson L .325 .422 .402 3 1 1 18 2
C Stuart Turner R .474 .697 .506 9 1 2 30 1
3B Andrew Mistone R .293 .360 .393 5 0 0 16 1
1B Sikes Orvis L .242 .348 .333 2 1 1 7 0
DH Will Allen R .253 .301 .276 1 0 1 8 1
RF Will Jamison L .263 .351 .413 3 1 0 10 3
2B Preston Overbey R .333 .472 .351 2 1 2 16 0


Actually, I normally have to do some guesswork when putting together a team's likely lineup for the weekend but Ole Miss did not make things too difficult for me. The Rebels used the exact same lineup for all 3 of their games in Arkansas last weekend.

Prediction

This is a really tough series for the Aggies going on the road in the SEC for the first time, as Ole Miss has a very talented pitching staff and a number of guys that can do damage in the lineup. It will also be by far the most hostile environment that A&M has faced this year, and maybe even in recent years - don't underestimate the fan support of these SEC baseball teams. If A&M were to somehow win this series in Oxford, that would be a huge momentum builder and an excellent start to positioning for the postseason.

Having said that, avoiding the sweep is a must for the Aggies this weekend and that is what I see happening. I think A&M takes either the Friday or Saturday game and the Rebels win the other 2. The Aggies have still been too inconsistent at the plate for me to be able to pick them taking a series win on the road against a Top-10 opponent.

One other note of importance - the weather forecast for Oxford this weekend is not a good one. There is a good chance of rain for a large part of the weekend, so that may affect the game schedules and the games themselves. There are a group of RAggies from Section 203 (and possibly some 205'ers?) and elsewhere that are making the trip to Oxford this weekend, so safe travels if you're going out there and y'all Give 'Em Hell! BTHO Ole Miss!

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