When you talk about college baseball in the state of Texas, it's the Longhorns who get most of the pub and for good reason. They have the second-most national titles in history and lead the nation in College World Series appearances. Rice also gets plenty of pub with seven College World Series appearances since 1997, a national title to their name and playing in Houston. Lately, TCU have grabbed some of the headlines as well with a trip to the College World Series a year ago and going from afterthought to top-five team.
Clearly, there is a lot of competition for recognition in the state of Texas, which is why it is easy to overlook Texas A&M, but in no way should they be overlooked. They're back in the College World Series for the first time since 1999 after a fantastic season in which they have gone 47-20. They were Big XII regular season co-champions with Texas, but then got a leg up by grabbing the Big XII conference tournament crown.
Even as regular season co-champions and tournament champions, the Aggies were not given a national seed. On paper that decision seemed strange. Their record, championships, quality wins, RPI and pretty much every measurable held up against just anyone else, but there was one thing that could not be measured and that was the impact of John Stilson's injury. The Aggies' ace was lost due to an injury and the future of the A&M staff, without a guy who would have been a first round pick, was in question. As a result, they lost their national seed.
Texas A&M were still Regional hosts and despite being forced into an elimination game against Arizona, got past the Wildcats for a spot in the Super Regionals. All that meant was a trip to number five national seed Florida St. The Aggies won the opener before being destroyed in the second game while giving up 23 runs. No worry, A&M took game three 11-2 and booked their spot in the College World Series.
Going to Omaha without Stilson won't be easy though. With him, Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling, the Aggies had a dominant starting rotation that could match up with almost any team in the country. Without Stilson, Wacha and Stripling can still easily handle the first two games, but there is a major drop off to Derrick Hadley, who has had to move up to the third starter spot.
To compensate for the absence of Stilson, the offense will have to step up. Tyler Naquin is one of the top hitters in the country and Krey Bratsen has jaw-dropping speed, but the Aggies will need help all the way down the lineup to get the job done. That means cutting down on the strikeouts from top to bottom because the Aggies have been victimized by the punch out far too much this season.
The real question for the Aggies will be what they get out of the bullpen though. Joaquin Hinojosa, Brandon Parrent and Kyle Martin were all dependable arms during the regular season, but all have really struggled of late. All have ERA's well into double digits and have been a liability. If A&M is to make a run at a national title, all three will have to step it up and not leave the dominant Nick Fleece as the only dependable arm in the bullpen.
Probable Starters In Opening Two Games
Michael Wacha, Ross Stripling - This is the Aggies' strength. Wacha went 9-3 with a 2.12 ERA this season and showed a great ability to work his way out of trouble when things got messy. Stripling led the team with 14 wins and limited opponents to a .200 batting average. As the number three starter, he was a gigantic advantage for the Aggies, but he can still match up with any number two starter.
Tyler Naquin - Of all the hitter in Omaha, Naquin might be the best. He hit .390 and while he only has two home runs, he finds gaps for doubles as well as anyone in the country. With a man in scoring position there might not be a better hitter to have at the plate. Naquin has decent speed too and scored 67 runs.
Being in bracket two, the weaker of the two brackets, the Aggies have their chance to make the championship series. Virginia remain the favorites though and while A&M will give them a run, the absence of Stilson will force the Aggies to go to Hadley, which will end their season.