They don't get any bigger than this in the regular season. #1 vs #2 with a lead for the SEC regular season championship on the line. To get a read on the Aggies, I talked with with Jason Zimmermann of Good Bull Hunting.
PodKATT: Not only is this a battle between the #1 and #2 teams in the national polls, LSU and A&M are currently 1 or 2 in the SEC in most statistical categories. The Aggies have a slightly better pitching staff on paper, but are currently listing TBA for the Game 3 starter. Who do you think that will be, and who are some of the guys in the bullpen we should look out for?
Jason: My best guess is that Turner Larkins will get the start for Game 3 on Saturday. Larkins is a true freshman who has struggled with consistency so far this season, but when his stuff is on he can be really, really good. He did actually get the start in this week's Tuesday game, but Coach Childress only left him in for 3 innings (41 pitches) before going to the bullpen. Larkins wasn't necessarily struggling, so I can only assume the move was made to save him for Saturday. Tuesday's stat line for Larkins read no runs on 2 hits with 3 strikeouts and 3 walks, which more or less sums things up for him; he's got to keep the walks number down if he's going to have any chance of being successful. Keep an eye on Kyle Simonds out of the bullpen should Larkins struggle; Simonds got a chance to start a few games before being pulled back out of the rotation for now, but he was the long relief guy out of the 'pen for the Aggies to start the season and he had been largely excellent. Matt Kent has been the Sunday guy for A&M for most of the season, but his batting average against has ballooned up to .319 so I'm not sure if he'll be a bullpen option this weekend or not. Jason Freeman has been another long relief type guy for A&M this season, but if he sees significant action on the mound this weekend things probably haven't gone as planned for us.
PK: The new ball has made the game more exciting for everyone, A&M included. While just behind LSU in slugging and BA, the Aggies have 10 more HRs this season and a higher OB%. Like LSU, A&M has a lineup loaded with .300 and above hitters. What’s the typical A&M offensive gameplan look like on an SEC weekend?
JZ: The approach we've seen at the plate this season has been an exceptionally stark contrast to what Aggies have been used to seeing for a number of years now. A&M hitters are going to be aggressive from the word go; this isn't a lineup that will necessarily work a pitch count and get a starter out of the game early. If they see a pitch they like, they're going to swing for the fences. The nicest change is that A&M has typically been in the Top 50 or above in terms of sacrifice bunts, but this season they're all the way at 212th nationally with only 18. The Aggies also aren't being nearly as aggressive on the bases as they have been in recent years; A&M has just 28 stolen bases in 2015. With one or possibly two exceptions, any one player in the A&M lineup is very capable of walking up to the plate and going yard, but the Aggies can also get guys on base with singles and doubles as well. Logan Taylor and Ronnie Gideon are probably the two biggest power threats, while Nick Banks is the best pure hitter in the lineup.
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PK: A&M has struggled to get a footing in the last few years after joining the SEC, but obviously things are clicking on all cylinders right now. Did you expect this kind of vast improvement this year?
JZ: Not at all. I liked the Will Bolt hire a lot, but I most definitely did not expect the changes would be this drastic this quickly. It was apparent from the start of the year, though, that this was going to be an extremely different approach at the plate compared to what we're used to seeing at A&M. As mentioned, this isn't a team that looks to get guys on base and move them over with bunts or stolen bases; these guys are going to the plate looking to hit doubles and home runs every time. It's kind of crazy to think about where this team might be if the top 2 starting pitchers hadn't gone down to injury by early March.
PK: What’s with the bubbles?
JZ: One of our freshmen this year, Corbin Martin, is a big fan of Anchorman and the "WHAMMY" catchphrase that Champ uses. Another player thought it would be fun to do something different when the team scored a run, so he brought a bubble machine and named him Whammy. From there, it just kind of took off. Section 203 (our quasi-student section) caught on quickly and bought a couple of our own bubble machines and we'd use them any time we scored a run. It's to the point now where the marketing department has bought bubble machines and loans them out during the game for people use, and a baseball staffer bought a bunch more and told us to fill Olsen with bubbles. Speaking of which... what are the official Alex Box Stadium policies on bubbles, exactly?
PK: Bottom 9, Two out, down 1, 1 on. Who do you want to come to the plate for A&M?
JZ: I'll say Logan Taylor, but it's a tough call to go with him over Nick Banks. I don't just want a guy up there who can tie the game, though, I want to win it. Taylor has been A&M's best slugger this season, so I'll take a 2-run WHAMMY.