The Tigers are heading back to College Station for the 2nd year in a row. Ahead of this weekend's series, I talked to Jason Zimmermann, one of the many Waffle Enthusiasts over at Good Bull Hunting, to discuss the state of A&M baseball and his thoughts on the series. You can find my answers to his questions over on their site.
PodKATT: A&M currently sits next to last in the West, but this year that means the Aggies are only 3 games back. And there are some really good series wins in that resume (UF, @ Vandy) Is this how you thought A&M would do this season and what’s the general mood on HC Rob Childress?
Jason Zimmermann: I'd say it's been kind of a weird season from our end of things. I went into the season thinking we had enough talent on this team to be able to be in the mix for hosting a regional, but now we've had to fight just to play our way back into postseason consideration. So, I guess in terms of my preseason expectations, it's been a bit disappointing. After losing 3 of our first 4 series in SEC play, though, and then following up a big series win in Nashville with a loss to Kentucky at home, I thought we may be facing a postseason-less year for the first time since Childress' first season. This team has showed a lot of fight, though, and going 3-1 last week on the road against Rice and Mississippi State was huge. I don't even want to talk about our nonconference games; if we hadn't lost games to each of Sacramento State and Louisiana Tech and/or if we'd at least won a game instead of getting swept by Fresno State, we'd be in a much better spot right now.
As for Rob Childress... I'm torn personally, and I think that's probably the general feeling among A&M fans as well. I think RC's a great person, and historically he's been an excellent pitching coach for us as well. As you may or may not have seen, I wrote an article earlier this season essentially saying that I've seen enough of the Childress era in Aggieland. We have 1 CWS appearance and zero wins there under his tenure, and I'm of the belief that simply making the postseason shouldn't be the standard for A&M Baseball. I know there are definitely fans who think he should be replaced due to a consistent decline in hitting over the last few years, but there are others who believe he deserves to keep his job. It'll be curious to see how the rest of this season plays out, but considering A&M AD Eric Hyman intends to keep Billy Kennedy as the basketball coach I tend to believe that Childress' job is perfectly safe.
PK: The Aggies are in the top half of the SEC and ahead of LSU in just about every offensive category. There are a handful of Aggies slugging really well . Nobody can be called a "power" offense with college baseball in it’s current state, but would you consider the Aggies to be a "power" team?
JZ: Our offensive statistics are really a bit baffling to me, to be honest with you. We've been very inconsistent at the plate for most of the year; we'll score 1 run on 5 hits in 1 game and then put up 12 runs on 14 hits in the next. We've had a few guys - Blake Allemand, Nick Banks, to name a few - who have really hit the ball well in conference play. As far as true power hitters, though, I really wouldn't say anyone on this team fits that bill right now. Cole Lankford has the most long balls on the team with just 4, and Logan Taylor leads the team in extra-base hits with 17 (14 of which are doubles). Brodie Greene back in 2010 might be the last true power hitter that I'd say A&M has really seen under Childress, although it depends to an extent on how you define "power hitter."
PK: A&M’s rotation looks like it’s been pretty solid for most of the year, which will probably be an advantage on Sunday as LSU rolls with another TBA start. Do you have any major concerns with your starters and who’s someone LSU should be wary of seeing come out for relief?
JZ: Our starting rotation has been a major strength the last few years, but it's been unusually worrisome in 2014 actually. Daniel Mengden started the year as our Friday guy and has never really found a groove this season. He's really struggled with his command at times, which is disappointing because he was excellent for most of last year, but he's a guy that's always going to go out there and compete with everything he's got. Grayson Long has probably been our most promising weekend starter, so I do think that having him go on Sunday against a TBA starter for the second straight week will be an advantage. I'd say that Parker Ray has been very good in some relief appearances this season, but we've apparently decided to sacrifice him to the wolves (aka Aaron Nola) on Friday night. Keep an eye on Ty Schlottmann out of the 'pen though; he's a southpaw who has really come on strong in the latter half of the season. If you see Jason Jester, you may want to throw a party, as he's had major struggles this season after setting the A&M single-season record for saves last year.
PK: Bottom 9, down 1, 2 outs, 1 man on. Who do you want at the plate?
JZ: Tough question, mainly because I can't decide between 2 guys. I'll go with Cole Lankford, simply because of his experience (he's a junior) relative to true freshman Nick Banks, who would be my other choice given how he's hit as this season has gone on.
PK: How do you see the weekend going?
JZ: I think Nola cruises on Friday, and then I think we probably split the next 2 games. I'd like to think that we're capable of taking 2 games in a row at home after dropping the first game like we did last weekend in Starkville, but I think we're going to have a harder time against your pitching staff than we did against State's.