April 7, 2012
By Jon Cooper
When the Yellow Jackets play, there’s almost no separating the two. Find one and you just know the other can’t be too far behind.
Defensively they blanket two-thirds of the outfield, with Thomas in left field, Wren in center. Offensively they jump-start one of the ACC’s most potent offenses, as Wren leads off and Thomas bats second.
It’s safe to say they’re on the same wave length.
“We have a really good chemistry, a good relationship,” said Wren, a sophomore and preseason National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Preseason All-American. “We talk a lot about what pitchers are doing, how fast they are to the plate, what kind of pitches we’ve been seeing, what we’re going to see at the plate, everything. We try to help each other out the best we can.”
“Kyle and I have developed a nice chemistry, in the outfield as well, between center and left,” said Thomas, a junior and a Baseball America Preseason All-American. “We kind of help each other out and probably save some runs for our pitchers as well.
“I think we’ve developed a feel for each other’s games and a lot of times Kyle might steal second then he’ll steal third and I can just hit him in,” he added. “Just little stuff like that makes it easy for us to score runs a lot.”
Heading into Saturday night’s game against Florida State, Wren and Thomas are ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in stolen bases, as Wren is tied for ninth with eight in 11 attempts, Thomas is tied for third in the conference with 11, having been caught once. They also rank in the top 10 in runs, where Wren is tied for third with 33, while Thomas is right on his tail, tied for fifth with 30. In runs scored per game, Wren is third with 1.14 per game, while Thomas is tied for sixth with 1.00 rpg. The left fielder also ranks fifth in the ACC in doubles (12) and is tied for eighth in triples (3, tied with six players, including Wren),
That ability to help manufacture and eventually score runs, especially early in games, has been a major weapon for Georgia Tech this season.
The Jackets boast a 15-4 record (6-3 in ACC play) when scoring first and are 9-3 (4-3) when scoring in the first inning. When opponents score first Tech is 4-8 (0-4).
The importance of getting the team on the board early isn’t lost on them.
“When you score early it just boosts the confidence of every other hitter in the lineup,” said Wren, who is hitting .308 with a .408 on-base percentage. “It sets the mood for the rest of the game. When you score early everyone’s attitude is ‘This is a game we’re going to win, we’re going to get a lot of hits, we’re going to score a lot of runs,’ and the other team starts thinking, ‘Are these guys going to be scoring on us all night?'”
“I’ve seen some teams make early pitching changes against us where we want to put a couple of runs on the board but they make a quick switch and I think that’s probably part of the reason,” said Thomas, who is batting .361, 10th in the conference, with a .450 OBP, eighth. “They know that when we score early and often that puts them in a big hole and they’re trying to keep as close as they possibly can.”
The 1-2 punch of Wren and Thomas, so nightmarish for opponents, is a dream ticket for the Yellow Jackets’ heart of the order, where hitters Zane Evans, Daniel Palka and Jake Davies lick their chops waiting to see what kind of RBI opportunity presents itself when the duo is done.
“If one of them’s not on the other one usually gets on,” said first baseman/DH Daniel Palka. “It’s pretty much having two leadoff guys there because Kyle’s the leadoff guy and then Brandon’s a leadoff guy with some power. So it’s good to have both of them back-to-back.”
The trio of Palka, Davies and Evans are 1-2-3 on the team in RBIs, with Palka and Davies each driving in 28 runs (tied for eighth in the conference), and Evans right behind them, with 27 (tied for 12th).
Palka feels the way the Wren-Thomas tandem makes things happen gives the team a confidence and a swagger once they get on top that is very intimidating for opponents.
“We’re looking to stay aggressive, score early and let our pitchers do the rest,” he said. “A lot of times it seems like when we get up, the other team’s just waiting for us to put them away.”
While the threat Wren and Thomas pose has been most noticeable at the start of games, it’s not limited to the first inning.
During last weekend’s series against Duke, Thomas drove the game-winning double to left-center in the eighth inning of the first game Saturday against Duke ace Marcus Stroman.
Then, in Friday night’s series opener against Florida State, Wren and Thomas tied the game in the ninth inning against FSU’s closer Robert Benincasa and nearly stealing the game for the Jackets.,
With one out, Wren used his speed to beat out an infield hit. Thomas then chased him home with a double down the right field line. It was Benincasa’s first blown save in eight attempts.
That ability to influence or change the course of a game in an instant makes Georgia Tech dangerous as it heads down the stretch of ACC play, with an eye toward the Conference Tournament and the road to the College World Series.
‘I think we’ve been successful so far but we want to improve upon our success throughout our team,” Thomas said. “To hit more throughout the rest of the season. We’ve had some ups and downs but we’re looking toward a stronger second half to improve and figure out ways to make a run to Omaha.”
As Wren and Thomas have proved, it’s never too early to start that run.