The battle is for second place, with first place seemingly long-ago decided, and for one of the eight spots in the conference championship in June. No dramatic down-to-the-wire finishes this season in Big 12 baseball. Baylor has yet to lose a conference game and has made a runaway of the 2012 league race.
The Bears are already guaranteed a share of the conference regular-season title, and with one more conference win, they will clinch the regular-season championship. This will be Baylor's third Big 12 regular-season crown and their first since 2005, when they finished in a three-way tie with Nebraska and Texas. Baylor's first Big 12 title was in 2000, when they won it outright.
Just a few weeks ago, followers of college baseball as well as the media were marveling at Baylor's perfect 9-0 league start, all at home, against three successive Big 12 opponents. No one was really jumping on the Baylor band wagon at that point, though, knowing that the Bears had not played any conference games on the road. Nine road contests later, they remain undefeated, leaving no question that the 2012 season is clearly their year.
Baylor (38-8, 18-0) won't lose this weekend either, as coach Steve Smith's team enjoys a rare bye weekend. As exciting as this year has been for Baylor on the diamond, the feeling has been the exact opposite for the two Kansas schools. Kansas and Kansas State find themselves mired at the bottom of the standings and looking up at the eight other conference teams.
It's not been a particularly good season thus far for the other local team, Missouri, either. The Tigers (23-21, 7-11) are just two spots better than Kansas in sixth place in the standings, and this weekend host second-place Texas (26-16, 12-6) in a three-game series in Columbia.
Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State combined have four fewer conference wins (14) than Baylor. The Bears have lost only one game since March 7, when they were shutout at home, 4-0, by Michigan State. Baylor climbed to No. 2 in the country this week in three of the four major college baseball polls, and were ranked No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball.
Kansas (18-27, 4-11) is out of the conference this weekend, after being swept at home last weekend by Oklahoma (29-17, 9-8). That's probably just as well, because the Jayhawks have won only one of the six series they've played against Big 12 opponents (against Texas Tech in late March), while being swept by the Sooners, Baylor and Kansas State. Next weekend, Kansas and Kansas State (19-27, 3-15) will play three games at Kansas State in what is shaping up as a battle for last place.
Kansas State also gets a break from conference action this weekend, taking on Nebraska-Omaha in Manhattan. The Wildcats are struggling, having lost their last nine games and suffering series sweeps against their last three league opponents (Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor). K-State's last victory was against Northern Colorado in mid-April.
Individually among the three local teams, Kansas State sophomore outfielder Jared King is fifth in the conference in hitting with a .364 average through all games, third in hits (64) and third in total bases (92). Junior Dane Opel and Blake Brown of Missouri are tied for second in the conference, each with eight home runs on the season.
There are just three matchups of Big 12 teams this weekend: Besides Texas and Missouri, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (26-17, 11-7) meet in the 2012 edition of the Bedlam baseball series. This will be a matchup of the fourth- and fifth-place teams in the conference race, with the Cowboys a game and a half ahead of the Sooners in the standings.
The other conference series has Texas Tech (26-22, 5-13) at No. 9 Texas A&M (32-13, 11-7). The Aggies were the preseason choice of the conference coaches to win the Big 12 in their final season in the conference.
Four Big 12 teams are ranked in Collegiate Baseball's top 25 this week: Baylor is No, 1, followed by A&M, 12th; Texas, 20th, and Oklahoma State, 25th. Baylor, Texas A&M and Texas are the only conference teams ranked in the other three polls.
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