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The UTSA Baseball team has a shirt that plainly says, “Win Sunday.” In baseball, Sundays are often the final game of a series, especially in college. By the end of a weekend, you might be tired, banged up, or focusing on the upcoming week. The Roadrunners want to make a point not to do that and “Win Sunday. They did just that today. They also have won every Sunday game this season outside of the first one, where they lost in twelve innings to Tarleton State in the opening weekend.
Across the four-game spread, UTSA went 2-2 but has yet to lose two games in a row, has yet to lose a weekend series, and sits atop the conference standings with a 5-1 record. They also improved to 20-5 overall and are now halfway to what would be a program record forty wins. On Tuesday, they will have one final road game – five straight total – against Texas A&M Corpus Christi before returning home to host Western Kentucky in conference play. More on TAMU-CC in a bit. This weekend featured UTSA scoring late on both ends of the series for wins, and their first Saturday loss of the season, where they also suffered their biggest defeat losing 13-8 against Rice. Let’s get into this week’s blog.
WHAT I FELT GOOD ABOUT…
Continuing to Battle – Throughout the 2023 campaign, UTSA has kept the game within reach in nearly each of the five losses they have had so far. Despite Saturday’s loss, it was a two-run game entering the last three innings. Unlike in football, even an elite team is not going to win every single baseball game. Perhaps in the post-season, a team could go on an unbelievable run, but it will not happen in the regular season. I believe the closest a DI baseball team ever got was six losses. Great teams have to find a way to bounce back from losses and deficits, and UTSA did just that in this series. Just look to Friday’s game as example. Courtesy of D1 Baseball and 6-4-3 charts, between the bottom of the ninth inning and the eleventh, the win probability went from 98% for UTSA, 68% for Rice, back to 69% UTSA, 77% for Rice, and then finally 100% with UTSA winning 4-3 shutting down the Owls in the bottom of the eleventh.
Opponents Strikeouts – Across the four games, UTSA struck out thirty-seven batters. Strikeouts take the wind out of a team’s sails a little differently as the ball doesn’t get put in play, and it signals to the team batting that they still haven’t quite figured out the stuff coming from the mound. This is a metric that the Roadrunners have seen improve each year that Pat Hallmark has been at the helm. Pitching coach Zach Butler, who is in his third season, has also made a difference with his coaching. While Miller leads the team in strikeouts this season, he also has a K:BB rate of 6.78. Luke Malone is second in strikeouts, while Quiroga is second in K: BB ratio of 5.64. Last season UTSA pitching set a record with 514 strikeouts. It will be close, but they can topple that record for a second straight season at the current pace.
Defensive Cleaning Up – I had previously mentioned that the Roadrunners needed work on defense. While UTSA did make one error on Tuesday and Friday each, neither time the run scored. Errors are like walks in that they can quickly affect a player’s tempo and demeanor on the field. As UTSA moves deeper into conference play and will eventually face some pre-season favorites, it is encouraging that the defense up the middle is finding their place. While it might have been lost in the shuffle of Saturday, Shane Sirdashney made a great catch robbing a Rice homerun while the game was still in the early parts. Several UTSA players made great defensive plays on Sunday that, if not successful, we may be discussing a different outcome.
WHAT I DIDN’T FEEL GOOD ABOUT…
Ill-timed walks – While walks aren’t necessarily a terrible metric – it’s not an extra-base hit – but they are not ideal. They eat up pitchers’ pitch count, can get the pitcher in trouble if his command is not there, and signal to the other team that the opportunity is there for a big inning. While UTSA only walked four UTRGV batters during Tuesday’s loss, it was the timing of those walks and what followed that hurt. Two of the four came with two outs in the bottom of the second – one of which I thought Drake Smith hit his spot – and would eventually be the first two runs in a three-run inning. They could not score on the other two walks for UTRGV – one from Maldonado and one from Riojas. UTSA also walked eight Rice owls in Saturday’s loss. Four Rice players would end up scoring after being walked. This week, the Roadrunner pitching staff’s goal will be to find that command and hopefully reduce the number of walks. They already improved on this Sunday, only walking three, and none of those Owls scored after the walk.
Double-digit runs – This is going to happen, especially in college baseball. While it never feels good to be on the receiving end of a game with double-digit runs, it is not an end all be all. Unless, of course, it starts happening every other game for a team. The Roadrunners have only given up double-digit runs once this season (Saturday’s game). What makes these games challenging is the constant pressure on the offense to produce almost every inning. Not only did Rice put up thirteen runs on as many hits Saturday, but they also scored more than one run either in the same inning or within one inning of UTSA putting runs on the board. Rice also did the same Sunday in the two innings they scored runs.
Run differential – It may seem obvious since this past week was the first time UTSA split the slate; however, for the first time this season, UTSA had a negative run differential. The Roadrunners were outscored twenty-six to twenty-one. With a small sample size –- like four games — if you have a larger final score, this is likely. A silver lining with this is that it shows the grittiness of UTSA and their ability to close out close games. The Roadrunners are still outscoring their opponents on the season 206-100.
Simon Miller – Luke Malone was well into another quality Friday start before taking a come-backer to the head in the 6th inning, which would remove him from the game. The good news is that from several outlets and people on Twitter, it appears that Luke is okay, and thank goodness it doesn’t seem to be worse than an early exit. Enter Simon Miller. In a low-scoring game that saw both teams only with two runs after five and two third innings, Miller came on in relief and only allowed one run over four and two third innings. UTSA would add one themselves, eventually sending the game into extra innings. Across the nearly five innings, he struck out seven, allowed four hits, and walked one. While Miller has appeared in every game this season from the bullpen, he leads the Roadrunner pitchers in wins with six.
Antonio Valdez – Across the four-game spread Antonio Valdez hit three home runs and brought his season total to eight. Valdez is on pace to catch and surpass UTSA alumnus and Around the Bird Bath guest Trent Lockwood’s single-season record of 79. One RBI came in the top of the 9th against UTRGV as UTSA was hoping for a comeback from three runs down. They ultimately fell short of that. Two in the first inning of Friday’s game against Rice proved huge as the two-run home run accounted for half of the runs UTSA would score in Friday’s win. RBI number forty came as a solo home run on Sunday afternoon against Rice.
Tye Odom – While just a freshman, Odom has already had some big moments this season, both in the field and at the plate. He has split time in right field while also entering at points to either pinch hit or run. Perhaps his biggest moment of the season came Friday afternoon. With Friday’s game tied at three in the eleventh inning, Odom singled to right field to bring in James Taussig for what would be the winning run. In thirty-eight plate appearances, Odom has four doubles, hitting .265/.342/.382 and an OPS of .724. Odom also recorded two RBIs in UTSA’s 13-8 loss to Rice on Saturday, bringing his total on the year to eight.
Ruger Riojas / Fischer Kingsbery – These two formed a nice 1-2 set-up both Tuesday evening and Sunday evening. Between the two outings, they combined for 9.2 innings, and the two-run home run given up by Riojas on Sunday was the only blemish and the only runs given up by the pair. They also combined for twelve strikeouts across the outings. Kingsbery was credited with the win on Sunday, his first of the season.
Leyton Barry – After struggling at the plate on Sunday, Barry came up big with an eighth-inning RBI single that would end up being the difference in the Roadrunners’ 6-5 win. It was his twenty-sixth of the season, and he is second on the team behind Valdez. Barry also made a great play at second base early on, similar to Matt King’s play before, that proved huge as Rice would hit a two-run home run on the next at-bat.
There are a few teams that UTSA has a home and away with this regular season. For conference opponents, Rice is the only team. Rice will come to the Bird Bath in early May. For non-conference opponents, Texas A&M Corpus Christi is one of those teams. You may remember the TAMU-CC series mainly for the 31-6 commanding win UTSA put up on the Islanders at the Bird Bath. I imagine Corpus Christi also remembers that and would like to get some revenge on the Roadrunners. The two teams will face off in a single mid-week game.
@ Texas A&M Corpus Christi Tuesday, March 28th 6:00PM (ESPN+)
Since this series was two weeks ago, I won’t provide the exact breakdown I usually do. Going into the weekend series, the Islanders were 7-6. Since then, they have dropped below .500 and are 12-13 on the season and 1-2 in conference play. They beat the mutual opponent UTRGV 5-4 and dropped a close one to Texas State, losing 7-5. From the plate, Brendan Ryan has surpassed teammate Tre Jones in triples, and Ryan now leads the team with seven. Ryan also leads the team in RBIs with twenty-three, and Jones is behind him with twenty-two. Both Ryan and Jones were productive against UTSA, combining for multiple RBIs, extra-base hits, and runs scored in the series. The Islanders continue to struggle on the mound, having only a few pitchers with ERAs under three. While Jaime Ramirez Jr. and James Trimble have both started a game, their K:BB ratio (1.34/0.60) and their WHIP (1.9/2.16) aren’t great. I could possibly see Evans Hendricks get the nod. He has a 3.86 ERA in 9.1 innings and has struck out thirteen which is second among the non-starters. For the record, I don’t believe I have correctly predicted a Tuesday/Wednesday starter yet for the opposing team.
The Roadrunners will be looking for their 21st win of the season Tuesday night. They will also be hoping to sweep the season series against the Islanders. Western Kentucky comes to town this weekend for conference play. I will do my typical podcast preview for this weekend’s games with another former UTSA Baseball player. WKU is 2-4 in C-USA play so they will be looking to play spoiler on the Roadrunners’ home field.
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