It's time for a change. Yes, that's how I'm going to start the recap of this weekend's series. And yes, it was a series that we technically won 2 games to 1. But let's be extremely clear - not sweeping that series against a very bad Louisiana Tech team is the same as losing it.
I've been trying with just about every fiber of my being to be optimistic that things can turn around, that returning players could make strides in improving their hitting, that bringing in JUCO players who had success at that level would make an impact, that we would stop running ourselves into outs on the base paths. After what I've seen in the last few weeks, especially this weekend and last, I've relented. Let me clarify that statement - I am in no way giving up on this team. Not even close. I do still believe that this team has enough talent on the roster to make a run in SEC play and compete for a chance to host a regional. I'll still be at Olsen every weekend supporting this team, and on the road for a series or 2 as well. But what I'm not going to do anymore is make excuses for this coaching staff or try and sugarcoat what Aggie Baseball under Rob Childress has become.
This is the 9th season for Childress in College Station. The last 7 seasons have featured a regional appearance, which for a number of programs across the country would be considered successful. Texas A&M Baseball, however, has the facilities, the financial contributions, the recruiting base, and the fan support to be held to a higher standard than that. Those 7 regional appearances have resulted in one trip to Omaha, and zero wins there. There have been 2 other appearances in Super Regionals, both losses.
There is a disturbing trend in hitting statistics over the last 4 seasons for A&M Baseball. The Aggies' batting average in Childress' first season was a subpar .252, but 3 of the next 4 years the team hit over .300. After the 2010 season, however, things have steadily trended downwards, as you will very clearly see below.
|Year||Average||Slugging %||On-Base %|
It doesn't take an advanced statistician to see that things simply are not getting any better under Rob Childress and Andy Sawyers, A&M's associate head coach and the coach responsible for the Aggies' offense (or lack thereof). While we are on the subject of Sawyers, there is more than just the worrying downtrend in the hitting stats - although that is certainly a big piece of the problem. Sawyers is in his 4th season back in College Station and also serves as the team's 3rd base coach. Sunday's loss to Louisiana Tech was a microcosm of the way things seem to have gone for the Aggies with Sawyers in his current role. A&M managed 10 hits, 2 walks, and another runner reached base via error. That's 13 baserunners in the game, and the Aggies put up a total of one run in 9 innings. 4 times the Aggies had a runner thrown out on the base paths - two of those coming at home, and the other two with players trying to stretch singles into doubles. Running into outs isn't a statistic that's as easy to track as, say, batting averages or slugging percentages, but this has also been a theme for A&M in recent years.
Don't even get me started on bunting and what statistics show bunting does to your chances of scoring runs in a given inning.
There's no doubt that A&M teams under Childress have excelled in the pitching department, and Childress certainly appears to be a great pitching coach. Rob Childress is not, however, the pitching coach at Texas A&M; Rob Childress is the head coach at Texas A&M. If we are going to hold ourselves to a standard where simply making an NCAA Regional appearance isn't good enough for what this A&M Baseball program should be, then it is time to make a change.
Sure, there is plenty of season left to play, and I realize that. But it's going to take drastic improvement in a number of areas for this season to end any differently than the last 2 have ended. For me, ending another season by failing to make it out of a regional just isn't good enough.
On to the actual recap of this weekend's series against Louisiana Tech.
Friday: Louisiana Tech 3, Texas A&M 5
With Louisiana Tech allowing over 8 runs per game and the Bulldogs' pitching staff coming into the series with an ERA north of 6, I thought the Aggies would be able to tee off and get some confidence back in their hitting. Although A&M did get the series started with a win, it wasn't exactly batting practice for Aggie hitters. A&M managed 10 hits - and drew 4 walks - but was unable to score more than 1 run in any single inning.
Hunter Melton and J.B. Moss each picked up a pair of hits in this game, with Melton adding an RBI. A pair of throwing errors by Nottebrok at 3rd allowed the Bulldogs to strike first with a run in the 2nd, but Nottebrok attoned for that immediately by blasting his team-leading 4th HR of the season in the bottom of the inning. The Aggies took the lead - which they would not relinquish - in the 3rd when Moss walked, stole 2nd, advanced to 3rd on a ground out, and scored on a balk. Despite numerous opportunities to stretch the lead and put the game out of reach, the biggest A&M lead of the day was by 2 runs (3-1 and the final margin of 5-3).
Daniel Mengden picked up his 2nd win of the season and was better than last weekend, but he still is struggling a bit with his command. Mengden walked 4 batters and hit another, and he also had a wild pitch and a balk. His final line included 7 innings pitched, 2 runs (1 earned) on just 2 hits, and 8 strikeouts. Andrew Vinson allowed a run on 2 hits, and Jason Jester recorded a 4-out save, although he did walk 2 batters.
Saturday: Louisiana Tech 5, Texas A&M 6
Saturday's game was moved up from an evening game to an afternoon game due to rain that was forecast to move through the College Station area, but the majority of the game ended up being played in rain anyways. Cole Lankford was the star of this game, going 4-5 with a run and an RBI, and Nottebrok managed to drive in 2 runs without registering a hit. The Aggies got on the board early in the 1st inning, loading the bases with 1 out and scoring a run on Nottebrok's sac fly. The Aggies were unable to do any more damage, however, as they really let Bulldogs' starter Phil Maton off the hook.
Louisiana Tech would draw level in the top of the 4th thanks to a leadoff double by RF Bre'shon Kimbell and a 2-out RBI single from SS Taylor Love. A&M would respond right away, though, appearing to break the game open with one of the stranger innings I've seen in the bottom half of the 4th. Logan Taylor started the inning with a double, and Patrick McLendon drove him in with a single. Moss then reached base thanks to interference by the catcher. Krey Bratsen was next to bat, and he popped up a pitch that 3 Louisiana Tech players converged on in shallow CF. The 2nd baseman dropped the ball, but the Bulldogs should have retired Moss at 2nd. Instead, the ball was thrown away by the CF so the Aggies had the bases loaded. Lankford then delivered an RBI single into right, and another throwing error - this time by the RF - allowed Moss to score as well. Lankford and Bratsen executed a double steal, Hunter Melton drove in Bratsen with a single, and Logan Nottebrok brought Lankford home with another sac fly. The damage could have been even worse, but the Aggies ended the inning with a fielder's choice and a fly out.
Instead of being able to coast to a win, though, A&M allowed La Tech to scratch their way back into the game with runs in each of the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. Parker Ray was unable to get out of the 6th inning, finishing his start - which earned him his 2nd win, with 5 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks, and a strikeout. Tyler Stubblefield worked 1.2 innings and allowed a pair of runs - both unearned thanks to an error by Taylor at SS. Ryan Hendrix, A.J. Minter, and Andrew Vinson all made brief appearances and combined to allow another run. The Bulldogs got within 6-5 in the 8th inning, and the Aggies stranded 2 runners in the bottom of the inning in an effort to add an insurance run. Jester got the save in the 9th, but not before issuing a 2-out walk and allowing a stolen base which gave Tech a runner in scoring position with a chance to tie the game. Fortunately, Nottebrok made a nice play at 3rd for the final out of the game.
Sunday: Louisiana Tech 5, Texas A&M 1
Now for the straw that broke the camel's back, or, in this case, the last straw for me trying to defend the A&M coaching staff. The Bulldogs struck first in the top of the 2nd inning, with a 1-out walk which advanced to 2nd on a ground out and scored on a single to right that J.B. Moss was unable to field cleanly to attempt to gun down the runner at home. A&M had a golden opportunity to strike back in the bottom half of the inning, but some absolutely mystifying base running allowed Tech starter Richie Navari to escape the inning unscathed. Hunter Melton led off the inning with a single, and after a Nottebrok fly out, Melton advanced to 2nd on a thrown away pickoff attempt - which was probably at least his 8th such attempt. Troy Stein followed that with a double smashed to RF, but the ball hung up a bit and Melton had to stay close to 2nd until it fell. The RF was able to get the ball quickly and throw it back into the infield. For whatever reason, Coach Sawyers decided to send Melton home, where he was thrown out by something close to a mile. Stein advanced to 3rd on that throw, but was then caught coming too far towards home and tagged out by the catcher. If you're keeping score at home, that was 2 hits, 1 error, no runs, and only 3 at bats.
A&M did manage to tie the game in the 3rd, getting runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. The damage could have been more, though, as Moss only drove home McLendon with a groundout and Bratsen flew out to end the inning. The Aggies had a chance to do some damage with 2 outs in the 4th after a Nottebrok double and a Stein single, but Logan Taylor grounded out to end that threat. The 5th inning featured another round of Aggies running into outs on the base paths. This time, McLendon led off with a sharply hit single into left field. First base coach Austin Night decided to send McLendon to 2nd, where he was easily thrown out. After Jace Statum flew out, Moss knocked a single and - I believe on his own - also decided to make a big turn at 1st to attempt to stretch the hit to a double. He realized he would be unable to do so, tried to put on the brakes, slipped, and was tagged out. Another inning of 2 hits, no runs, 3 at bats.
Grayson Long gave about everything he could on the mound, but the Aggies simply were unable to provide him with any run support. Long threw 122 pitches over 6.2 innings and allowed just 1 run on 4 hits with 4 walks and 3 strikeouts. Ryan Hendrix got the Aggies out of the 7th inning, but La Tech would break the game open in the 8th. The Bulldogs put up 4 runs - 1 of which was charged to Hendrix, the other 3 to reliever Jason Freeman. Freeman entered the game after Hendrix issued a walk and struck out the 1st batter he faced, but then allowed 3 consecutive singles, hit a batter, and allowed another single followed by an RBI groundout.
Again, A&M picked up 10 hits, drew 2 walks, and had another runner reach base via error - totaling 13 base runners in the game - but only managed to score 1 run. And, again, this is against the same Louisiana Tech team that came into the series allowing over 8 runs per game. It simply isn't good enough from a hitting standpoint for A&M, and it's part of a larger trend over the last 4 years that indicates to me that a change needs to be made.
[Not so much] Fun With Stats
31 - Hits by A&M in 3 games against La Tech
12 - Runs scored by A&M in 3 games against La Tech
6 - A&M hitters with at least 10 appearances batting under .250
40% - percentage of A&M's RBI that Lankford & Nottebrok are responsible for
Friday (Courtesy of Aggie Athletics)
Saturday (Courtesy of Aggie Athletics)
Sunday (Courtesy of Aggie Athletics)
Coming Up Next
Tuesday & Wednesday (3/11, 3/12) vs UT-Pan American, 7:00pm
The Broncs come to Olsen with a 9-7 record, including wins in their last 3 games against Arlington Baptist College. UTPA took Texas to 11 innings in Austin before falling 2-1, dropped a 6-5 decision at UTSA, and lost 2 of 3 games against Lamar. The Broncs are hitting .251 as a team, including just 1 player with an average over .300, but they do have a combined ERA of just 2.58. Tyler Stubblefield and Matt Kent started last week's midweek games for A&M and both picked up wins, so I'm not sure there's any need to change that up.
Friday - Sunday (3/14 - 3/16) at Auburn
The Aggies will begin SEC play on the road against an Auburn squad that struggled to start the season but is coming off a sweep against a solid Mercer club this weekend. Auburn currently sits with a record of 9-6, which includes losses to Ohio State, Alabama State, California, ETSU, and Presbyterian. The Tigers are hitting .265 as a team and have stolen 35 bases, and their pitching staff has an ERA of 2.73. Saturday Starter RHP Keegan Thompson is 3-0 with just 1 earned run and 9 hits allowed in 30 innings of work. This is certainly a winnable series for A&M, but they're going to have to play better than they have in the last 2 weekends if they want to make that happen.