The phrase "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" comes to mind after this weekend's performance by the Aggie Baseball team. Well, unfortunately, I don't really have the "don't say anything" option here. I try to keep a positive outlook on things more often than not, but right now it's time for this team and for us as fans to face a painful reality - these guys simply aren't getting it done on the field. There's no way around it. When the team needs big performances or players to step up, no one out there seems interested. You can put some of blame on coaching - and I'll get there - but at some point, the coaches aren't the ones out there swinging the bats or throwing pitches.
Now, has this team completely reached dumpster fire status? Probably not quite yet. But the Aggies are without their two best hitters - Cole Lankford is out with an illness that I hear may be mono, and Mikey Reynolds will likely miss some time with a knee injury from Saturday's game - and the schedule is not getting any easier. The Ags' record sits at 21-16, and 6-9 in SEC play, and the record in weekend series for A&M is a seriously concerning 11-16. If the season ended today, A&M may (and I emphasize may) be in the NCAA tournament, but with 5 more weekend series to go the Aggies are going to have to start playing much better in order for that to actually happen.
Normally I try and break down the recap into positives and negatives, but there are so few positives from this weekend that I'm not even sure where to start. I'll go ahead and recap each game from the series and then finish with some overall thoughts.
Friday: Bulldogs 3, Aggies 2
This was the most favorable pitching matchup for the Aggies coming into the series, and as strange as it feels to call a Friday game in the middle of conference play a "must-win" that is how I felt about this one for A&M. Daniel Mengden turned in yet another solid performance overall, but the Aggies were not able to do enough at the plate against a Bulldogs pitcher who has been the Friday starter for just 2 weeks. Krey Bratsen drove in both of the runs for the Aggies in the 3rd inning with a double, and promptly stole 3rd base, but the Aggies were unable to bring him home with 1 out in the inning.
A&M put runners on base in each of the first two innings but Troy Stein and Hunter Melton grounded into double plays to end both of those innings. The Aggies would go hitless through the middle 3 innings before wasting golden opportunities in the 7th and 8th. Hunter Melton drew a 1-out walk in the 7th and was followed by a Logan Taylor double, which anyone other than Melton probably would have scored on, gave the Aggies runners on 2nd and 3rd with just 1 out. The Bulldogs went to their closer, Jonathan Holder, who got Mitchell Nau to fly out to shallow right field and struck out Mikey Reynolds on a questionable 3rd strike.
A&M was at it with 1 out again in the 8th, with a pair of singles by Blake Allemand and Troy Stein giving Jonathan Moroney an opportunity to come up big with runners on the corners. Instead, Moroney grounded into an easy double play and that was the last threat for the Aggies in this one.
It is incredibly frustrating to watch A&M fail at the plate time and time again with runners in scoring position, and it has become increasingly clear that this team just lacks a "clutch gene." It isn't as if the Aggies can't get runners on base at all, but when it comes time to drive those runners in they suddenly can't hit their way out of a paper bag.
Saturday: Bulldogs 9, Aggies 3
We knew that this game would likely come down to which Rafael Pineda the Aggies got on the mound, and unfortunately it was the bad Pineda that showed up on Saturday. Pineda allowed 6 runs (5 earned) on 8 hits in just 2 innings of work. It wasn't control issues that plagued Rafi like before, but rather the Bulldogs had absolutely no trouble hitting anything he threw. Matt Kent allowed another run after replacing Pineda, and a 7-1 deficit after 3 innings felt like, and proved to be, an insurmountable lead.
Perhaps more concerning than the actual result in this one was the injury to SS Mikey Reynolds, the Aggies' best hitter in 2013, in the 1st inning. Reynolds scored on a safety squeeze by Troy Stein but stayed down after sliding in safely to home plate. Mikey tried to give it a go and stay in the game in the field in the 2nd inning, but was promptly removed after still being visibly in pain. Based on what I've heard, I would be surprised if Reynolds was out for any less than a couple of weeks, although the team is just calling it a tweaked knee and he's listed as "day-to-day." With Cole Lankford already missing time with an illness, the Aggies are going to have to have some guys step up at the plate if they want any chance at righting this ship.
If there was one positive to take away from this one, it was the performance of Kyle Martin who has had his share of struggles on the mound as of late. KMart went 3 2/3 innings and allowed just 3 hits and 1 walk and held the Bulldogs scoreless. Martin gave the Aggies a chance to fight their way back into this game, but there simply was nothing doing at the plate against Bulldogs' starter Kendall Graveman, who finished with a complete game.
Sunday: Bulldogs 15, Aggies 4
Things went from bad to worse for A&M, as the Bulldogs used an 8-run inning in the 4th to put the wraps on a series sweep at Olsen Field. Corey Ray got the start on the mound for A&M and allowed a run in the 1st and worked out of bases loaded jams in the 2nd and 3rd before the wheels fell all the way off in the 4th inning. Ray was lifted for Jason Freeman with runners on the corners and 2 outs in the inning. Freeman's first order of business was to intentionally walk Hunter Renfroe - WHY WEREN'T WE DOING THAT ALL WEEKEND?!?!?! - but he then walked in a run, allowed a 2-run single, and then hit a batter to load the bases again. That was the end of the day for Freeman, but things got ugly quickly when AJ Minter entered the game. Minter walked in another run before giving up a grand slam to the same batter who started the inning.
Krey Bratsen and Mitchell Nau were the only bright spots at the plate for A&M, with Bratsen going 3-for-5 on the day and Nau going 2-for-4 with an RBI. Parker Ray also continued to pitch well for the Aggies - he and Mengden may be the only consistent guys on the mound right now - working 3 scoreless innings in this one. Jason Jester was brought on for some work in the 8th inning and recorded just 1 out, giving up 4 earned runs on 5 hits with a walk and a strikeout.
Bad, bad, bad. That really sums this one up.
Hunter Renfroe is REALLY GOOD
I told you this last week. The dude came into the series with 10 HR, 38 RBI, and a slugging percentage over .800. I said that the Aggies would have to be careful with Renfroe and make someone else beat them. Apparently Coach Childress was unconcerned with Renfroe's gaudy stats and decided to let his guys pitch to Renfroe. Let's see how that worked out...
Renfroe went 8-for-13 against A&M pitchers this weekend with 4 runs batted in and a home run in each of the 3 games. His solo blast to LF in the 6th inning on Friday night proved to be the winning run for the Bulldogs, and I cannot for the life of me understand why he saw any pitch close to the plate as the leadoff hitter in the inning. I have to imagine that it was Childress' decision to let Mengden (and the rest of the pitchers, for that matter) go after Renfroe this weekend. Renfroe's first and only walk of the weekend wasn't until the 4th inning on Sunday. I simply don't agree with that decision.
Consistency on the Mound? NAHHHHHHH.
Like I said, Daniel Mengden and Parker Ray appear to be the only 2 pitchers for the Aggies who are even remotely consistent on the mound right now. I do not even remotely envy Childress' job of having to decide who to start or even who to turn to in the bullpen when he can't be sure exactly what he's going to get out of the majority of his pitchers right now.
Mengden, Ray and Jason Jester are the only A&M pitchers who have worked more than 6 innings that have an ERA under 3.40, and even Jester has not been consistent on the mound as of late. Rafael Pineda's inconsistency has been well documented, but the likes of Jason Freeman, Corey Ray and Grayson Long have all been Jekyll and Hyde for the Aggies. Only having 1 truly reliable starter in the SEC is usually not going to work out well, and A&M is learning that the hard way right now.
Yes, the Aggies are going to be without their 2 best hitters right now. They also won't be the only team in the country to have to deal with illness or injury, and it's no excuse for the rest of the team not showing up. Other guys have to step up and take on some responsibility, but no one - outside of maybe Krey Bratsen or Daniel Mengden - has seemed interested in doing so.
The schedule does not get any easier, as the Aggies now face an 8 game road trip including Tuesday games against Sam Houston State and Texas State and weekend series at Arkansas and Alabama. We're going to find out very quickly if this team is able to deal with adversity and scratch their way back into position for the NCAA tournament, or if they simply throw in the towel and write it off as not their year.
I don't want to hear any more about players or coaches being mad, frustrated, angry, or any other adjectives. I'm tired of hearing about it. I want to see those emotions played out on the field. If this is a team full of players and coaches that are angry and sick of losing, I'd sure as hell like to see them play like it.
Check back later this week for a preview of the road series coming up in Fayetteville. Spoiler - the Hogs are very good.