The Oklahoma Sooners open up a pivotal three-game baseball series at Texas tonight. Both teams are in the top half of the conference standings and are separated by just one game. OU can either put some distance between themselves and the Longhorns this weekend or give up ground to the school's biggest rival.
To get the latest on Texas baseball, as we head into the midway point of conference play, we reached out to our friends at HornSports and Managing Editor Matt Cotcher.
CCM: You can typically bank on Texas having a strong pitching rotation. Talk us though the good and the bad of the Longhorns staff that currently ranks third is the conference.
MC: Texas leans on pitching tremendously - some say too much. The success starts with pitching coach Skip Johnson and his work is reinforced by Augie Garrido's belief that a team is most successful if they can rely on pitching and defense.
This season, the Horns are extremely capable on the mound, but not yet up to the level that fans are accustomed. There are two primary reasons: first, offseason surgery to Morgan Cooper forced Johnson to shuffle the starting rotation, and second is youth.
Texas starting pitching is very talented, but has also been inconsistent. It looks like weekend starter Chad Hollingsworth may not pitch this weekend, making it even more difficult to project how the staff will fare against the Sooners.
The bullpen is young but really talented. Both pitching with a lead, or holding the opposition in check while the offense plays catch-up, the bullpen has performed well in all types of situations.
CCM: It's shocking to see the Longhorns currently ranked last in the conference in team batting. What gives?
MC: It's not shocking for Texas fans that sat through the team's recent seven game losing streak. The offense is feast or famine - they dominate weak hurlers and get shut down by someone pitching well. While the team is only hitting .247, but the slugging (.373) and on-base (.341) percentages are more respectable.
Surprisingly, Garrido allowed the offense to take big swings and rip extra-base hits throughout the first month of the season. Normally Texas' skipper gets a tight rein on the offense and practices small ball up and down the order in non-conference play. Early this year, Garrido favored letting the team swing away and build confidence, but over the last month the results of that decision have been poor.
When it comes to the offense (and the 18-15 record) it's worth noting that Texas has played one of the toughest schedules in the country. The offense has struggled, but it's been against the likes of Rice, Stanford, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska.
CCM: Is it safe to assume that lack of offensive productivity, besides Ben Johnson, has been the primary struggle for UT this season.
MC: As streaky as the team has been this year, I'm more inclined to blame the team's mental approach than the offense. The team that finished third at the CWS in 2014 lost it's two biggest players in terms of leadership in the dugout (Mark Payton and Nathan Thornhill). So far 2015 has been a roller coaster as the Longhorn roster goes from looking like a Top 10 team nationally to the Bad News Bears, with little in between.
To your point, the offense has definitely haunted Texas in losses. The youthful Horns allow a lack of success at the plate to create negative momentum and it impacts offense, defense, and pitching.
CCM: With a road trip to Morgantown looming next week we've pretty much tabbed the next two weekend series as make or break for the Sooners. Are the Longhorns in the same boat?
MC: Not really, but that's only because Texas still has all of their goals within reach. The overall record (18-15) is ugly, but at 5-4 in conference play, with OU and TCU still ahead on the schedule, the Big 12 is undecided at this point.
Additionally, this is Texas and Augie Garrido - which is to say that what really matters is postseason success. Garrido talks frequently about responding to adversity and how certain challenges prepare a team for peak performance. When coupled with the fact that both Garrido and the players openly admitted before the season that this year's team was championship caliber, they set the expectation on their own.
The short answer is that if 18-15 prepared this team to make a stretch run (which they are absolutely capable of doing), then those losses are acceptable.
CCM: Under Steve Patterson the Longhorns have said goodbye by to Mack Brown and Rick Barnes, both long-tenured coaches. How much security does Augie Garrido have?
MC: As the winningest coach in college baseball history, Garrido is safe. After last year's run in the CWS, Patterson extended Garrido's contract through 2017. While there are fans upset with the team's performance to date, most are willing to concede that disappointment against Garrido's past successes.
It's difficult to envision any scenario where Garrido is terminated before his current deal expires. Not only is there too much talent on the roster for a complete meltdown, but Garrido has an ample reserve of goodwill in the bank.
Patterson is a bit of a wild card, and Garrido is not 'his guy', so anything is possible. But Steve Patterson is on the hook for Charlie Strong and Shaka Smart - would he really gamble with baseball while those hires determine his future? Probably not.
We'll have complete game recaps through the weekend so make sure to check in here at CCM for the latest on the baseball series. For press box updates, and some Longhorn perspective, make sure to give Matt Cotcher a follow on Twitter by clicking his name at the top of the article.