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Photo by Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Texas A&M Baseball

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

March 5, 2021

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 (1-3, 0-0 WAC)
Where: Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park – Bryan-College Station, Texas

  • Friday: 6:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network+)
  • Saturday: 2:00 p.m. CT (SEC Network+)
  • Sunday: 1:00 p.m. CT (SEC Network+)

Pitching matchups

Friday: Dustin Saenz (LHP, 1-1, 4.22) vs. Chris Barraza (RHP, 0-0, 18.00)
Saturday: Bryce Miller (RHP, 2-1, 4.15) vs. Josh Lankkanen (RHP, 0-1, 9.64)
Sunday: Jonathan Childress (LHP, 0-1, 0.84) vs. Chris Jefferson (RHP, 1-0, 2.57)

Scouting New Mexico State

Texas A&M welcomed New Mexico State to Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park for the first time last season, and the good guys were not nice hosts, outscoring the other Aggies 31-10 in a convincing three-game sweep. A&M could use more of that hospitality in 2021 as the team is still digging out of a 1-3 hole from their first week.

Tarah Cochran, TexAgs
Asa Lacy held NMSU hitless through seven innings last year as A&M won Friday’s opener, 8-3. 

New Mexico State had its first weekend series of the year canceled at UNLV and opened the season with a three-game set with Abilene Christian, losing two out of three. The Texas tour moved south to Texas State, and NMSU lost Tuesday, 8-6, to fall to 1-3 heading into the weekend in College Station.

It’s pretty easy to identify the weakness of this Aggie (Land of Enchantment version) squad, and that’s pitching. It’s early, but their team ERA sits at a bloated 8.42.

Friday night’s starter, Chris Barraza, sports a hefty 18.00 ERA. Things are so in-flux on the mound that second-year head coach Mike Kirby is bringing sophomore Josh Lankkanen and his 9.64 ERA out of the bullpen to start Saturday.

That said, Kirby will be starting one of the few pitchers that have shown success in 2021, and that’s fifth-year senior Chris Jefferson from Pearland Dawson. He had a stellar start against ACU to get the team’s only win so far this season going seven innings, scattering six hits and two runs while not walking a batter. On paper, Game 3 looks to be the toughest for the Texas Aggie lineup.

New Mexico State does have some formidable offensive production at the top of their lineup with two hitters batting .400 (DH Connor Laux and CF Tommy Tabak), one at .338 (1B Ethan Mann) and another at .313 (2B Kevin Jimenez). The second half of the batting order is definitely struggling. The overall team batting average is an uninspiring .258.

As we’ve seen so far this season, the Aggies of College Station can’t take anybody for granted. New Mexico State is not very deep in talent, but they have a handful of bats and a Sunday starter that could pose problems this weekend.

Texas A&M storylines to watch

Leading into the season, I discussed the importance of getting good production at the plate from the middle of the order and establishing a couple of guys that opposing pitchers don’t want to face. Thus far, that has happened with Will Frizzell and Austin Bost in the three- and four-spot in the order.

Frizzell has been on fire of late. He literally leads the team in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.368), RBIs (8), home runs (4), doubles (4), runs scored (10) and slugging percentage (.782). The big lefty has been so dominant compared to his teammates that his 30 total bases is 16 greater than the next highest total (Austin Bost, 14).

Tarah Cochran, TexAgs
Bost homered three times in two games against New Mexico State last year.

Speaking of Bost, he has raised his batting average to .360. That’s a nice little one-two punch in the order, and those numbers compare with any college lineup out there.

The problem is at the other seven positions. The Aggies are last in the SEC in batting average at .246 along with several other categories. At this early stage of the year, given the competition level, the team batting average should be in the .290-.300 range.

Highly heralded JUCO catcher Taylor Smith hit clean-up on the opening day scorecard. He has struck out in 11 of his 12 plate appearances and has yet to have a base hit almost two weeks into the season. Trevor Werner hit in the five-hole on opening day, and a lot was expected of him. He’s still hitless in 11 plate appearances. Sophomore Logan Britt had a nice preseason camp and snagged the lead-off spot in game one. He’s hitting .154, although he did slam a couple of critical home runs along the way. The staff considered Logan Sartori one of the best hitters on the team, and he was in the second spot on opening day. He’s scuffling as well, hitting .222 with four total bases in eight games.

I think you see the point here. Three of the four guys expected to lead this offense aren’t just off to a slow start. They are almost non-existent. That’s a killer for an offense looking for some semblance of consistency and acceptable production.

If two or three more hitters don’t emerge to be solid, productive spots in the batting order, this will be a very long SEC season. The SEC runway keeps getting shorter and shorter with each passing day. That Florida road series is only 13 days away. Now is the time for this offense to break out.

On the other hand, the pitching staff appears to be rounding into shape. The Aggies’ team ERA is very good at 3.26 and opposing teams are hitting just .233. All three weekend starters have been solid to good. If there is one small area for improvement, it would be pitching more efficiently by getting ahead in the counts and avoiding the free passes. Ideally, you’d like to see these starters get into the seventh inning and complete six frames at a minimum. The starters are putting too much pressure on the bullpen to hold the line for four or five innings every night.

Jamie Maury, TexAgs
Menefee has helped solidify the backend of the Aggie bullpen.

I think the biggest storyline of the early season is the emergence of Joseph Menefee, who struggled last season after an All-American campaign his freshman year.

After a shaky outing to start the season, Menefee has been on a historic run. By my unofficial count, he has struck out 12 batters in a row going back to the Tarleton State game last week. You read that correctly: Menefee has struck out every single batter he’s faced since last Wednesday in three outings. In his last performance against Incarnate Word, you could see his confidence beaming. When the big man has his stuff going and he’s confident, he’s as good as any hurler in the land. Menefee will be a huge boost to the back-end of the bullpen going forward, and that was an area of concern that needed to be addressed going into the season. Well, it’s a concern no more.

Mason Ornelas has been perfect out of the bullpen so far in 2021, and he garnered a lot of buzz from pundits after great work the first week of the year. Given how the games transpired last week, he didn’t see any action. Expect to see him this weekend, and if he stays hot, that’s a good sign for the bullpen heading into SEC play. 

What's at stake this weekend

In last week’s weekend preview, I said that A&M’s backs were against the wall and desperately needed to win a minimum of two games in Round Rock. Mission accomplished, and although there were some tense moments this week, the team notched two critical midweek wins.

The stakes are still high for this team, with no room for error.

Last week, I mentioned that the Aggies really needed a 5-0 week to get back to a respectable 9-4. I still feel that way. There’s simply no margin to let one of these games slip away. And frankly, it’s even more than that at this point.

The team needs to show some life at the plate and prove they are up to the challenge when much better SEC pitching hits the schedule in 13 days. Squeezing out 4-2 or 5-3 wins against a less than stellar New Mexico State pitching staff will not be a good sign for conference play. Yes, the number one priority is taking care of business, and that’s grabbing three more wins. However, this team has to start showing some consistent offensive performances that can lead to success during crunch time of the spring baseball schedule.

Discussion from...

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

1,757 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by Hop
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Did Rob address swapping Saenz and Miller and address if that is the plan going forward? I recall that we wanted Saenz last week against the lefty heavy Baylor line-up.
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Since Saenz has been so good, he's decided to keep that order for the time being. He'll likely keep this rotation unless Saenz has a couple of poor outings.
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