Just how rough has 2018 been for TCU baseball? The Horned Frogs' weekend in Waco tells the story.
Baylor swept TCU for the first time since 2000, including a 4-3 win Sunday afternoon at Baylor Ballpark.
The series was crucial for the Frogs (19-17, 6-8 Big 12), who are battling a low RPI (ratings percentage index) ranking while scuffling to find any sort of sustained winning streak.
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The losses last week of their best slugger Luken Baker and ace Jared Janczak (who has pitched one inning since March 30) have left the team reeling as their RPI has dropped into the 70s. RPI rankings are important because they're factored into at-large bids and seeding in the 64-team NCAA tournament. TCU's chances of hosting a regional for the eighth time under coach Jim Schlossnagle are unlikely in 2018.
Of course, a couple or three wins in Waco could have changed the mood around the TCU dugout on Sunday afternoon.
Instead, the Bears (22-17, 6-9), who have done their own share of struggling this season, thoroughly outplayed the Frogs. Baylor outscored and outhit TCU 16-5 and 24-17.
Most disturbing? TCU combined to make seven errors while Baylor had none.
"There are games we don’t play well, we don’t deserve to win," said Schlossnagle, who had never been swept by Baylor in a three-game series. "And there are games we play well enough but don’t execute at the right time, or the wrong thing happens at the wrong time. And that’s where we’re at right now. There's not much else to say about it."
TCU, which hosts Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday before hosting No. 3 Texas Tech this weekend at Lupton Stadium, needs to find an answer for the void in the lineup left by Baker. It's not that one person needs to step up and mash a bunch of homers, but the Frogs must find other ways to drive in more runs.
"It's obviously huge, especially on this team," Schlossnagle said of losing Baker, who had surgery to repair a broken fibula and ligaments in his left leg on Friday. A shoulder injury that required surgery also cut short Baker's season a year ago.
"It's not an excuse. But last year, you had some other bell cows in the lineup that you could plug in there. For this particular team, that’s just a huge loss."
Baker's power alleviated pressure in the lineup on others, who now find themselves forced to alter their role in the offense.
"It asks more of guys in certain spots than they’re necessarily capable of right now," he said. "But he’s not coming back so we have to find a way to win ballgames."
The Frogs scored a run in the first on Sunday and led 3-1 after adding two more in the fourth. Starter Charles King left after five innings with a 4-2 lead.
Baylor had the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth against Jake Eissler, who struck out Cole Haring on a check swing for the first out before Schlossnagle called on Cal Coughlin for the final two outs. Coughlin appeared to have them on a double play ball to third. But Coby Boulware's throw to first was wild and two runs scored to give the Bears a 4-3 lead.
Baylor's bullpen was dominant over the final 5 2/3 innings as Alex Phillips, Joe Heineman, Drew Robertson and Troy Montemayor combined to hold TCU scoreless on four hits, no walks and four strikeouts. TCU had the tying run at second with one out in the ninth but Montemayor struck struck out Josh Watson for the final out, stranding Adam Oviedo at third.
The 2000 series in which Baylor last swept TCU was a nonconference split series, with the first game played in Fort Worth and the next two in Waco.
The last time Baylor swept TCU in a three-game conference series was in 1992 in Fort Worth when both teams were in the Southwest Conference.
"There’s nobody to bring up. This is our team," Schlossnagle said. "They’re good kids. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t really doubt their effort. Give credit to Baylor. Their bullpen did an awesome job."