From start to finish, TCU’s anemic offense too much to overcome

The symbolism was almost too apropos. TCU’s season ended as it began, with an offense in exile.

The 2013 campaign, the team’s first in the Big 12, opened with a 1-0 loss at Ole Miss against Rebels ace Bobby Wahl. At the time, it didn’t necessarily seem to foreshadow what was to come.

But, oh, did it ever.

The Horned Frogs (29-28) were shut out seven times, including a 4-0 loss to Kansas on Saturday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark that provided an agonizing, but fitting, bookend to a befuddling season.

In the previous five seasons, TCU had been shut out only four times combined. And in coach Jim Schlossnagle’s first nine TCU seasons, his teams had been blanked only 11 times total.

“This is not up to our expectations, our standards,” Schlossnagle said late Saturday night after the Frogs had left 11 men on base. “I personally have a lot of re-evaluating to do on our program. There’s no panic, but there are some things, some adjustments we have to make.”

Schlossnagle was already aimed in that direction long before TCU went 1-2 in its first Big 12 tournament. He wants to know what his coaching staff can do to help his players relax more at the plate, especially if they’re mired in a slump. Sluggers Kevin Cron, Jerrick Suiter and Derek Odell all finished hitting below .250 after having strong freshman seasons in 2012.

Those wanting to point fingers at the coaching staff, need to explain how first-year players such as Boomer White (team-high .314 batting average), Paul Hendrix (.273, team-high five home runs), and Cody Jones (.269, team-high 43 runs scored) seemed to manage.

TCU, as it has been under Schlossnagle, is built to win with top-line pitching and reliable defense. The offense is supposed to do the small, smart things, such as moving runners over, executing hit and runs and running the bases smartly.

Too often early in the season, however, not only were main run-producers slumping, but it seemed, when it mattered most, one of the other phases would go AWOL as well. Throughout the season, even when the offense started clicking down the stretch, the big hit seldom came.

As if to shine a light on the season-long problem Saturday, TCU left seven runners in scoring position.

“I definitely thought about that,” Schlossnagle said. “There were times during the course of that game that were very similar to a lot of games we played this year. Either we haven’t been a good offensive team or we haven’t gotten the big hit.”

Sure, Big 12 pitching is superior to what the Frogs faced in the Mountain West since 2006. But three of the seven shutouts this season came outside the conference. And, true, the weaker bats instituted two years ago have pushed offenses down across the nation. But neither of these two factors explain a 35-point drop in team batting to .246 in 2013. Two years ago the Frogs hit .306.

“All season long we definitely had opportunities to score, we just seemed to come up short more times than we came up with the big hit,” said senior Jantzen Witte, who finished the tournament with a team-high seven hits in his last three games as a Frog. “Towards the end of the year we really started to play well, but it was too little, too late.”

Still, TCU felt confident entering the tournament with the best pitching staff in the league and an offense that had started to improve.

“We had so much pitching,” Witte said as he walked through the tunnel to the team bus one last time. “We just needed a couple guys, it seems like, to come around. I went through a big cold spell myself offensively and I was starting to come out of that this weekend, so I really liked our chances. It just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.”