TCU needs strong finish to keep postseason streak in play

Unfortunately, TCU has been here before.

A year ago on May 12, Luken Baker injured his left arm during a collision after first base against Oklahoma and missed the rest of the season after having surgery.

The Horned Frogs won that night but lost the next two in Norman, Okla., and finished the regular season going 3-3 before going 3-2 in the Big 12 tournament.

But the Frogs were 36-11 and ranked No. 6 nationally year ago when they lost Baker. Their ticket to the postseason was already punched. TCU reached the Big 12 tournament semifinals and swept its way to a fourth consecutive College World Series. All without Baker. And the Frogs might also be without their ace pitcher Jared Janczak, who pitched in an inning Tuesday for the first time since March 30 after dealing with a neck issue. He has inflammation in his throwing elbow and is out for the next three weeks and perhaps the season, as well.

"Our margin for error is thin," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "There's not going to be too many three-run homers with Luken not here, but there are many ways to win a baseball game. We're going to go with that and see where it leads us."

It will take a Herculean task to do it again in 2018. Baker, who led the team in home runs and RBIs, is out for the rest of the season with multiple injuries to his lower left left, including a fractured fibula.

For starters, TCU (19-14), which beat UT Arlington (19-18) 11-7 Wednesday night at Clay Gould Ballpark in Arlington, has struggled out of the gate, both in nonconference games and in the Big 12, where it's in fifth place at 6-5. The Frogs' RPI (ratings percentage index) ranking has fallen off a cliff to 65th, down nine spots after losing to Abilene Christian in 11 innings Tuesday night.

Six of the nine Big 12 teams are ranked higher in RPI. The Frogs will need to finish strong in conference play, beginning with a three-game series against Baylor this weekend in Waco.

The Bears (18-17, 3-9 in the Big 12) are currently no. 63 in RPI. Beating them won't do much for TCU's RPI but losing two or three would be harmful. The Frogs need good showings against West Virginia (No. 29 in RPI), Texas Tech (No. 3) and Texas (No. 23) on May 17-19 in Austin.

TCU has reached the postseason in 13 of the 14 previous seasons under Schlossnagle. The only year the Frogs missed was 2013 when they went 29-28 and 13-12 in their first season in the Big 12. TCU finished 107th in RPI that season.

With a decent showing in their last 20 regular-season games and in the Big 12 tournament, the Frogs may be able to rely somewhat on their reputation as a national power which has been to the past four College World Series. If not, their postseason fate will be out of their hands.

"I still believe it can happen," Schlossnagle said. "Plenty of teams have grinded it out. It’s about this particular team reaching its potential. We have a ton of work to do to put ourselves in that position but we do have opportunities."

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