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Texas A&M Baseball

Series Preview: Texas A&M vs. New Mexico State

March 6, 2020
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Also included above is Diamond Talk with Gabe Bock, Ryan Brauninger and Scott Clendenin from Friday’s edition of TexAgs Radio.

Who: New Mexico State (12-1, 0-0 WAC)
Where: Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park – College Station, Texas
When: 

  • Friday 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC+)
  • Saturday 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC+)
  • Sunday 2:00 p.m. CT (SEC+)

Pitching matchups

Friday: Asa Lacy (LHP, 2-0, 1.06) vs. Chance Hroch (RHP, 2-0, 3.79)
Saturday: Christian Roa (RHP, 2-1, 4.60) vs. Chris Barraza (RHP, 2-0, 1.80)
Sunday: TBA vs. Chris Jefferson (RHP, 1-0, 1.00)

Scouting New Mexico State

Stephen Brashear, AP
Nick Gonzales ranks fourth on MLB.com’s Top 100 Draft Prospects list, just one spot ahead of Asa Lacy.

I think I can safely say that the Aggies will win the series this weekend at Olsen Field. It will be a clash of Aggies as the New Mexico Aggies invade College Station to take on the Texas Aggies. A lot has been made of the resurgence of New Mexico State under first-year head coach Mike Kirby who came over from Cal-State Fullerton. The current 12-1 start ties for the best start in school history. The team boasts arguably the best hitter in college baseball, Nick Gonzales, and the team is collectively hitting a whopping .343. Give these Aggies credit for taking care of business on their schedule. But let’s look at that schedule. New Mexico State scored 49 total runs in a four-game sweep over Texas Southern. They also hammered Iona in a four-game sweep followed by another dominant sweep of Purdue-Fort Wayne. Their lone loss did come at the hands of nationally-ranked Arizona State. But the overall schedule has been extremely suspect to this point, so we really don’t know how good this team is heading into this weekend.

There’s no denying the talent of Nick Gonzales, regardless of competition. Gonzales entered the 2020 season as one of the most promising hitters in the nation, and he has not disappointed. In fact, Gonzales leads the nation in several major offensive categories, including runs scored (26), home runs (12) and RBI’s (36). He’s third in the country in slugging percentage (1.354) as well. He’s a massive presence in the middle of the Aggie order, and Texas A&M must manage his at-bats very carefully. New Mexico State has three other batters hitting over .400, so this lineup will be a challenge for Texas A&M pitching. However, none have the power and danger of Gonzales. 

On the mound, New Mexico State has some capable arms at the top of the rotation, but overall depth in the bullpen is suspect. The team’s overall ERA of 4.53 pales in comparison to Texas A&M’s 2.48 ERA. By the numbers, Sunday’s starter, Chris Jefferson, looks to be the biggest challenge. He’s 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA, and his hits-to-innings pitched ratio is well below 1.00. He’s only walked two batters in three starts, so he doesn’t give away many free passes, which will force the Texas A&M offense to earn every run they can get. Friday night starter Chance Hroch comes in with a 2-0 record and a 3.79 ERA. That ERA will likely be the highest that Asa Lacy will face the rest of the season, with SEC play beginning next weekend. Saturday starter Chris Barraza on the surface has a 2-0 record with a sparkling 1.80 ERA. But he’s had some good fortune so far because he’s given up more hits than innings pitched and opposing batters are hitting .300 against him. Saturday will be an intriguing match-up, but Christian Roa should have the advantage of going into game two of the series. The bullpen isn’t very deep, and New Mexico State doesn’t seem to have a designated closer. Four relievers have one save each. The numbers indicate that the best bullpen arm is Alex Pinedo with a 2.45 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 11 innings of work. But the bullpen stats drop off significantly after that and remember the competition level as well.

Texas A&M storylines to watch

Angelina Alcantar, TexAgs
Chandler Jozwiak will move to the bullpen after back-to-back rough outings as the Aggies’ Sunday starter.

Unfortunately, there are multiple storylines to watch because there were so many questions after a dismal 0-3 weekend in Frisco. In fact, about the only sure thing at this point with this team is a quality start from Asa Lacy on Friday. But even Lacy has room to improve. He must be more efficient with his pitch count and get the Aggies through the seventh inning at a minimum, saving the bullpen for later in the weekend. More glaring, though, is the existing hole in the weekend rotation on Sundays. Chandler Jozwiak struggled in that role and is back in the bullpen. Jonathan Childress was tabbed to be the Sunday starter, but a shaky outing on Tuesday has Coach Childress wondering if he brought him back to soon, and he’s left his Sunday starter TBA. Seeing what happens on Sunday and who fills that role will be a predominant storyline, especially with SEC play just one week away.

There’s no secret that the offense completely stalled in Frisco when the caliber of pitching improved. It seems like the same song but a different year with this offense that has struggled for the better part of three years now. Collectively, Texas A&M hitters struggle with breaking pitches and still appear to be hunting fastballs. That’s a good strategy when facing below-average pitchers that struggle to control their breaking pitches and frequently fall behind in the count. But the elite pitchers typically stay ahead of the count, and fastball hunting becomes a guessing game at best. There have been flashes of improvement from some veteran hitters, most notably Zach Deloach, who leads the team with a .487 batting average and an on-base percentage of .632. That tells you Deloach is seeing the ball well and is being patient at the plate. Coach Childress moved him up near the top of the order on Tuesday, and I’d expect to see him in the No. 2 or No. 3 hole this weekend as well. The only other Texas A&M hitter over .300 is Logan Sartori at .366. He’ll be paired up with Deloach at the top of the lineup. That means it is critical for Bryce Blaum to shake out of his current funk and add a third productive bat to the top of the order. He had a very poor performance both at the plate and in the field at Frisco, and he must be a veteran table-setter if this offense wants to rebound. 

Finally, this offense needs a dangerous clean-up hitter. Will Frizzell has been in that role most of the season, and while he’s at a respectable .277 batting average, his power numbers have been non-existent after the first weekend. He is sitting at eight RBI for the season, and that will not cut it in a productive offense. He’s in the lineup for his potential to hit gaps and big flies. If he doesn’t give you those power elements on a consistent basis, you need to insert a player with more speed and versatility at the plate. Hunter Coleman showed signs of being that clutch clean-up hitter with two critical RBI singles on Tuesday. He also delivered the only extra-base hit for Texas A&M in Frisco with a towering home run to left field against UCLA. But, he leads the team in strikeouts and is hitting just .261. Hopefully, Tuesday’s performance will be a turning point for the senior leader. If he can have some productive at-bats this weekend, he may be your future clean-up hitter. And if both Blaum and Coleman start getting hot, then the lineup looks a lot more intimidating than it did last weekend. The other big storyline to follow is the injury status of Trevor Werner. His absence will force the staff to rearrange the infield.

What's at stake this weekend

This is the last weekend dress rehearsal of the season. The brutal SEC grind starts next Friday. And frankly, this team has more question marks than any in recent memory. However, there are quite a few potential answers to those question marks on the team. Now is the time to show it. Those questions must be answered now. This isn’t just about getting three wins against New Mexico State. The team needs to start playing well. The starting pitching has to be consistent on all three days. Bryce Miller has to be strong and in complete control as the closer. Bryce Blaum must show us this weekend that he is willing and able to lead this offense both through production and emotional leadership. A clean-up hitter must step forward. All of that must happen for the team to be prepared for SEC play. Scrapping by with three wins is not enough. The team must answer these lingering question marks, period.

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Series Preview: Texas A&M vs. New Mexico State

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