Discuss 19
June 03, 2012
Thoughts: Facing elimination, Aggies have decisions ahead
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photo: Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs
Postgame: Texas A&M
Postgame: Ole Miss
GAME #60 (Regional Game 2): No. 3 Ole Miss 6, No. 1 Texas A&M 3
RECORDS: Texas A&M 43-17 (1-1); Ole Miss 37-24 (2-0)
WP: Mike Mayers (6-3)
LP: Ross Stripling (10-4)
S: R.J. Hively (4)

Loss to Ole Miss strengthens case for lineup shakeup

* It's not like Texas A&M didn't have its chances to jump all over Mississippi in the winner's bracket game on Saturday night. No, the chances were abundant in this one, but the Aggies simply kicked the ball around too much and failed to get any semblance of clutch hitting. Missed opportunity after missed opportunity — including a 1-for-12 night with runners in scoring position — ultimately cost the Maroon and White in this one, as they dropped a 6-3 decision at the hands of the Rebels.

And now, the Ags find themselves needing to pull off three straight wins out of the loser's bracket to avoid an early exit as a regional host. It all starts with a battle against TCU Sunday afternoon at 12:35. The winner moves on to face Ole Miss Sunday night and will need to win that game to force a winner-take-all game on Monday night.

* Several key moments stand out from this one. Let's quickly explore what went right and what went wrong from A&M's perspective:

Matt Sachs, TexAgs Stripling started on an early roll; it wasn't until the third when he began to falter. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"Stripling started on an early roll; it wasn\u0027t until the third when he began to falter.","MediaItemID":16259}
Moment # 1 -- Ross Stripling ran into trouble in the second inning … allowing three infield singles to load the bases with Rebels. But like he's done throughout his career, Strip found a way to pitch out of the jam. He got back-to-back strikeouts to the bottom of the Ole Miss order to get out of the jam and keep the game scoreless.

Moment #2 -- A&M responded to the positive momentum gained from the Stripling punch outs, scoring the first two runs of the game in the top of the third and doing it all with two outs. Tyler Naquin got the scoring started with a double down the right field line, scoring Mikey Reynolds from second. Matt Juengel followed by reaching base on a throwing error by pitcher Mike Mayers, scoring Naquin from second to make it 2-0 Aggies.

Moment #3 -- Mental and physical blunders started creeping into play in the bottom of the third, leading directly to a two-spot for Ole Miss in the third, tying the game at 2-2. After back-to-back singles to open the frame, Stripling got the hard-hitting Matt Snyder to ground out to Matt Juengel near the third base bag. But instead of simply tagging the base and possibly then trying to throw over to first for a double play, Juengel made a mental mistake by failing to touch third.

Instead, he opted to get the trail runner at first, allowing both runners to move safely into scoring position. The lead man, Tanner Mathis, came home to score soon after the Juengel mishap on a Stripling wild pitch. It was a gift for Ole Miss and it directly led to the two-run frame.

Moment #4 -- Things got very emotional in a two-run bottom of the fourth for the Rebels, when they took a 4-2 lead on Stripling. It all started when a throwing error by Juengel after a great, double-saving snag at third put Andrew Milstone on first base. Tanner Mathis then doubled down the right field line on a controversial call by first base umpire Steve Corvi. He ruled that the ball crossed over the first base bag in fair territory but then landed in foul territory behind the bag.

But the argument can be made that Corvi never saw the ball because he was jumping out of the way at the time that the ball got hear the first base area and he did not have the best look at it. At any rate, that put runners at second and third and both runners scored two batters later on a double to the right center field wall by Snyder.

Matt Sachs, TexAgs For his part, Bratsen struggled more at the plate and uncharacteristically in the field. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"For his part, Bratsen struggled more at the plate and uncharacteristically in the field.","MediaItemID":17932}
Moment #5 -- The Rebels scored two more in the sixth to make it 6-2, and once again, errors were a big part of the storyline. Milstone reached base thanks to a Reynolds throwing error. He scored on a double to center by Bratsen in which Bratsen made the mistake — mentally — of electing to dive for a line drive to the outfield instead of letting it hit in front of him and fielding it cleanly.

The ball got by him and Mathis was able to get two bases out of the deal. Sure, Milstone would have scored from third anyway, but the failed diving attempt allowed Mathis to get to second. He scored two batters later on a Snyder single up the middle.

Moment #6 -- You could really do moments six, seven and eight separately but let's roll it into one "thought" here. It's all about A&M's failure to cash in in clutch situations offensively in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The Aggies got a total of seven base runners on over the final three innings and stranded six of them. The Ags managed just one run, thanks to a huge RBI double by Bratsen with one out in the seventh.

A&M had a great chance to really get back in the game there in the seventh, but Naquin had maybe the worst at bat he's had all year with runners at first and second and one out against Ole Miss closer Brett Huber. He struck out and did not look good against Huber's off-speed stuff. Juengel then flew out to end the inning.

Funny thing about baseball … you finally get the guys up that you want up with ducks on the pond and you get nothing from the guys who have been giving you production. Funny, funny game.
In the eighth … a terrible at bat by Mitchell Nau put a damper on what could have been a monstrous inning for A&M. Nau struck out and looked overmatched after House singled and Huber walked Stein. Jace Statum then flew out to deep right center and Reynolds struck out after getting ahead 3-0, ending the inning.

Matt Sachs, TexAgs A&M committed three recorded errors and more mental ones, giving Stripling little to nothing in the way of help. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"A&M committed three recorded errors and more mental ones, giving Stripling little to nothing in the way of help.","MediaItemID":17824}
In the ninth … more noise but none of it turned into music — or magic — for Texas A&M. Arthur walked with one out and Naquin reached on a hit batsman after Huber got him down 0-2. That was the last pitch of the night for Huber, and R.J. Hively — a normal starter with six relief appearances on the season — came in and slammed the door. He got Juengel to pop out to himself and then got House to ground out to first.

* One of the flaws of the 2012 A&M squad from time-to-time reared its ugly head in this game and made it very difficult to overcome … errors. And in this one, they came from both the mental and physical variety. I pretty much broke it all down in the above section but three actual errors — all charged to a very, very shaky left side of the Aggie infield — and at least another three mental miscues and poor decisions led to extended innings for Stripling, more stress on his arm with long innings on the mound and easy runs for the Rebels.

The way A&M kicked the ball around is not winning baseball. It haunted the team in losses throughout the season, but has not been as big of an issue over the last couple of months. However, Blake Allemand is still out at third because of mono and Juengel is having to play third — and Reynolds is still nursing his shoulder issue. All of that came back to bite the Ags in this one. One change that I would make for Sunday is starting Reynolds at second and moving Arthur to short stop. Save Reynolds' arm because it's pretty clear that he's having trouble throwing the ball right now.

* It's very difficult to evaluate Stripling's outing. Same story as last week, really, and same story as Michael Wacha over the past two weeks. Good? Yes. Great? Most definitely not. I thought that Strip battled and showed tremendous toughness out there in what will likely be his final start at Olsen Field. He did not have his best stuff and got hit hard at times, but he dug deep and made some critical pitches to get out of jams early. And the defense caved in on him as the game wore on and that made it very difficult for him to find success.

Yes, he made some mistake pitches, but several of those were during innings where he was overworked in a particular inning or two. And in many of those instances, the big hits that the Rebels got would not have been nearly as productive without the base runners that A&M allowed because of mental and physical errors that allowed extra base runners to get on.

Overall, Stripling worked 7.2 innings, allowing six runs (five earned) on 11 hits, walking three and striking out 10. He tossed 132 pitches and enjoyed a wonderful ovation from the Aggie faithful as he walked off the field in the eighth inning. Like Wacha, it may be the last time that Stripling pitches for Texas A&M. It's been one heck of a ride for the senior, who has gone about his business in such a classy way and has turned himself from Childress' project to a two-time All-American and one of the top ten pitchers to ever wear maroon and white.

Matt Sachs, TexAgs The trio of Naquin (pictured), Juengel and House has carried a shaky Aggie offense of late, but they came up short more than once on Saturday. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"The trio of Naquin (pictured), Juengel and House has carried a shaky Aggie offense of late, but they came up short more than once on Saturday.","MediaItemID":16168}
* Alright, let's get into this … the offense. Where to start … where to end. This offense is just having really difficult times putting together productive innings unless it directly involves the combination of Naquin, Juengel and House ... and now Reynolds, who is heating up at the bottom of the order. And all four of those guys had ample opportunities to step up in a critical situation and etch their name in Aggie lore for as long as baseball is played on the West side of the tracks off of Wellborn Road.

But in this particular game, none of the "big four" — or anyone else for that matter — found a way to dig deep and come up with the big hit in that big moment. It's what every kid dreams about … standing at the plate with the game on the line and thousands of fans waiting for you to deliver that play that makes you a legend. These guys certainly envision moments like this. But when push came to shove, Ole Miss one those head-to-head battles nearly every time. Story of the game, along with the errors on defense.

Going with the same lineup as Friday night really surprised me … especially facing the right-handed Mike Mayers. I would have liked to see A&M punch some buttons and go with some of the lefties that have done nothing to disprove their ability to hit righties. Chance Bolcerek is a .290 hitter this season in relatively limited opportunities. Jace Statum is hitting .279 this year … mostly as a switch-hitter. They're left handed. But instead, A&M trots out right-handers like Brandon Wood (.258), Bratsen (.226) and Nau (.217) … all of which had really been struggling of late. The trio went 1-for-9 in this one with five strikeouts.

The time to punch a few buttons is right now. It's win, then win, then win or go home. It's "end game" time for Texas A&M. A right hander in Stefan Crichton is on the mound for TCU. Go with the lefties … please. Go with the lefties.

Here's what I would do if I had my lineup choice:

1) Reynolds - 2nd
2) Naquin - RF
3) Juengel - 3B
4) House - 1B
5) Stein - C
6) Bolcerek - LF
7) Mengden - DH (Lankford vs. RHP if Mengden is pitching)
8) Statum - CF
9) Arthur - SS

Matt Sachs, TexAgs Among the team's less-used hitters are Bolcerek (pictured) and Statum, who have shown much better plate approaches than A&M's struggling righties. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"Among the team\u0027s less-used hitters are Bolcerek (pictured) and Statum, who have shown much better plate approaches than A&M\u0027s struggling righties.","MediaItemID":17076}
Yes, that's dramatic but desperate times call for desperate measures.

* I was impressed by Reynolds at the plate. I thought he saw the ball very well on Friday night and hit some monster foul balls, and also drew two walks. And he was on point most most of the Ole Miss game, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored and also drawing a walk. I say move him back to the leadoff role and win or lose with your best guys in their best spots.

* I'm actually surprised that the game was not more high-scoring considering how small home plate umpire Frank Neves' strike zone was throughout the early part of the game. But someone must have told him about it because he started to widen it up as the game wore on. Okay … I guess all of this means that he was just really bad. In fact, this was indeed one of the worst officiated games that I've seen in a long time. I felt like I was watching a Big 12 men's basketball game at Reed Arena with blondie patrolling the sidelines and baselines. Neves had very little control out there and did a horrible job calling balls and strikes for both teams.

* The SEC vs. SEC factor provided an amazing atmosphere, as 5,445 fans — including about 1,000 Ole Miss fans — came out and provided an electric evening for baseball. They hung on every pitch and a palpable tension throughout. If this is what the SEC will look like week-to-week in baseball, I'm even more excited than I already was about the move east.

* It's TCU tomorrow for Texas A&M on Sunday afternoon at 12:35. Stefan Crichton on the mound for the Horned Frogs, while Childress is not dead set on starting Rafael Pineda. It will be either Pineda or Daniel Mengden. I'm on the fence about who I would start but I'm leaning toward Pineda. I do feel that Mengden would do a better job against Ole Miss than Pineda would because of his ability to overmatch the opposition with his fastball. I also want to issue Pineda a vote of confidence and I feel that he'll be the more confident pitcher if he takes the ball in A&M's third game of the weekend, instead of working behind Mengden.

It can be done. Texas did it last year and several teams have to climb this road every year to get out of the regional. A&M is familiar with it and I believe that they'll be ready to roll on Sunday afternoon. {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"left","Quote":"It can be done. Texas did it last year and several teams have to climb this road every year to get out of the regional. A&M is familiar with it and I believe that they\u0027ll be ready to roll on Sunday afternoon.","Author":""}
However, you also want to get to the night game and A&M's best option in a must-win game is Mengden. But in the end, you don't need one win … you need three wins. So you need both of them and then another arm in the fifth game if it gets to that point. So start Pineda and have Mengden waiting in the wings against the Rebels.

* I'll close with a quick reminder that Texas A&M has been in this exact situation before. Back in 2007, year two under Rob Childress, the Aggies defeated Le Moyne, 7-2 on Friday night but lost to UL-Lafayette, 5-4, Saturday in their second game of the College Station Regional. A&M fought through the loser's bracket with a 10-4 win over Ohio State and beat the Ragin' Cajuns, 4-1 in the night cap to set up the deciding game on Monday. On that night, Kyle Thebeau created a legend that is still being discussed with great frequency among Aggie baseball fans with his 13-strikeout, no-walk, complete-game victory as the Aggies pulled off a 5-2 win to advance to the Rice Super Regional.

It can be done. Texas did it last year and several teams have to climb this road every year to get out of the regional. A&M is familiar with it and I believe that they'll be ready to roll on Sunday afternoon. They have the pitching to make things very interesting and I'm looking forward to a very long day at the ballpark.
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