What Was And What Should Be

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Last weekend wasn't an aberration. The Owls' offensive eruption at Turchin Stadium wasn't about their catching fire or Tulane gagging in the moment or some cosmic alignment of the stars. The Owls simply unleashed their dormant might, and the Green Wave just happened to be the unwitting victims of a lineup that finally showcased the vast talent it always possessed.

Sure, there was some tinkering required along the way. The OG shuffled the chairs on the deck several times, fiddling with his batting order in an attempt to discover a sequence that would unlock all that potential. There was trial and error unquestionably, but it seemed only a matter of time before The OG reached the conclusion he did recently: Jr. RF Chad Mozingo belonged atop the order, and Sr. C Diego Seastrunk should protect So. 3B Anthony Rendon.

Why did it take so long to get here? Well, GDG missing 12 games due to an oblique strain didn't help matters, and neither did a flaw in Mozingo's swing that required tweaking. It's easy to forget that Mozingo missed all of fall ball recovering from offseason hand and ankle surgeries, and perhaps he needed something as simple as live at-bats to get things in order. As Mozingo began to work his way back into form and GDG reclaimed the spot in the starting lineup he lost due to injury, the wheels began to turn. Mozingo is a rare southpaw able to hit lefthanders better than righties, and GDG is a proven Division I hitter. Mozingo has the raw speed and deft bat-handling ability to thrive atop the order while GDG is such a proficient gap hitter that RBI opportunities would abound if opponents kept intentionally walking Rendon.

The first shoe to drop was Mozingo, and once he became entrenched as the leadoff hitter, the Owls started their uptick. In the 10 consecutive games in which Mozingo has hit atop the order, the Owls are 7-3. Each loss came by one run, including walk-off defeats at Memphis and Tulane. Since being two-hit by Texas in Austin on March 23, the Owls have recorded at least 10 hits in 12 of 14 games. With Mozingo batting first, they are averaging 9.3 runs/game.

GDG just might be the final piece to the puzzle. He hit fifth behind Rendon in all three games against Tulane and finished the weekend with a .429 (6-for-14) average and eight RBIs. He rediscovered his line-drive stroke and, through rigorous effort in the cage, regained confidence in his swing from the right side. He can now make teams rethink their approach with Rendon.

Tulane paid a steep price for the Owls getting their lineup in order. The Green Wave opened the weekend with an ERA of 4.18 and a BAA of .255. The Owls scored 35 runs in three games while hitting .414 for the series. They produced 18 extra-base hits, earned 22 free passes and swiped eight bases, and were it not for their leaving 32 runners on base (including 14 in Friday night's 6-5 loss), the Owls would have thoroughly crushed what was statistically the best staff on Conference USA. For all the talk of the Owls' offensive struggles being linked to the quality pitching they faced during the opening month of the season, the Owls proved what they can do against quality pitching when the picture that is their lineup is complete. Just ask Tulane.

Over the last 14 games Mozingo is hitting .439/.500/.561 and GDG .313/.364/.542 while nursing a cranky left heel. So. OF Jeremy Rathjen, who was named C-USA Hitter of the Week on Monday and appears to have found a home hitting before Rendon, is batting .386/.438/.719 over those 14 games. The Owls are hitting .329/.410/.501 and are featuring the offense we expected all along. Their attitude should not be celebratory over their recent success but rather acceptance or the embracing of their potential. Their focus should be on laying waste to the staffs of Sam Houston State, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and UCF. If the Owls could pound the Green Wave so mercilessly, the onslaught should continue this week:

TEAM          SoS          ERA          BAA          WHIP

SHSU           62            5.80           .296           1.61
A&MCC        91            8.11           .347           1.92
UCF             189          5.84           .308            1.70

Don't discount the fact that Jr. SS Rick Hague, Sr. 1B Jimmy Comerota and Sr. CF Steven Sultzbaugh are all multi-hit games against the Bearkats away from reaching the .300 benchmark for the season. Comerota is locked in the nine-hole, but Hague, Sultzbaugh, So. LF Michael Fuda and Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree might continue to move up and down the order. Should Hague remain hot perhaps he slides into the two-hole and bumps Ratterree down to sixth, where he might face a little less pressure. Or perhaps Fuda, with his blazing speed, is the answer between Mozingo and Rathjen, although he'd have to cut down on his strikeouts.

However the lineup shakes out over the last 20-plus regular season games, the Owls should approach the closing stretch with confidence. What they accomplished in Tulane didn't represent a best-case scenario, but rather how they should have been performing all along.

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I like the analysis, MK. And I agree, this is nothing to celebrate, this is how it should have been all along.

I'm ready to see a 8+ game win streak from this team. That'll say to me that they're forming into what is expected of Rice baseball. In addition to the hitting improvements you covered, Ojala's good ~60 pitch start also bodes well for down the stretch.

Talon: The second most important development of the weekend was Ojala pitching five effective innings. His outing bodes well for the second half of league play. - MK

MK - when are final exams? The post-finals boost is as sure as the tides.

TFW: The Owls will take their finals break following the East Carolina series (April 23-25). They resume their season on May 5 at The Reck against TSU. - MK

MK, at this point I would seriously consider have Rick and Rat-a-tat-tat change places in the batting order. It appears opposing teams have gotten the scouting report on Michael's tendencies, and his strikeout frequency has increased dramatically over the past couple weeks. This would also allow him to get a better "look" at the opposing pitcher before having his turn come up to bat. Rick appears to have regained his confidence and his stroke, and he's always been an outstanding bunter when the occassion calls for it. Rathjen is just killer the ball right now-- he's in the same zone that AR was in the first third of the season, where everything he hits he hits on the screws. His outs are invariably well-hit balls.

Walt: I agree with you 100%. However, I remain very impressed with the fact that Ratterree has nearly as many walks (28) as strikeouts (30) through 33 games. - MK

Good report and analysis. Everything you mentioned was good and maybe the skipper found the right batting order, but I think the guy's may be starting to peak at the right time. I think we'll see this week. The weekend series will be the big confidence booster they need if they can take 3 for 3 from UCF.

I'm not arguing that Coach should mess with what is working, this is just my general take on the lineup structure.

I like Mozingo at the top. He killed the ball early in the year but had lots of bad luck, then got cold for a couple weeks, and now looks great. But all along he maintained a solid eye at the plate.

I also like Ratterree where he is. He strikes out more than I'd like, but he is really balancing that with taking plenty of walks. And as a freshman, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him improve the most from the beginning of this year to the end.

As much as Rathjen has been killing the ball, I am still not sold on him hitting right in front of Rendon. He has a propensity for extra-base hits, which leaves 1st base open too often for my tastes with Rendon up. He also has a propensity for K's, which to me might end too many innings with Rendon on deck. I'd still prefer GDG hitting in front of Rendon (with Rathjen 5th), but hard to argue with the results so far!

I was there Friday and Saturday. Too bad I had to miss the Sunday game, but I imagine it all would have been pretty boring just watching our guys run around the bases and score over-and-over.

great update, mk. thx. any news from your insider perch on ryan lewis? i've heard rumors of lingering football injuries, etc. but i've got no reliable sources on that. any timetable on a possible lewis return to the line-up? and how about DGL? he had some big at-bats last year filling in, so i've been surprised how little he's been used. just too packed an outfield with sultz and rathjen platooning? or has DGL not continued to improve his batting Fr to So, a la rathjen? thx, thx.

smackowl: I have neither seen nor heard of any injury issues with Lewis. He is in the same boat with DGL: With Mozingo, Fuda, Rathjen and Sultzbaugh, it's tough to crack the rotation. The fifth OF on this roster just won't see much playing time. - MK

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