Two weeks in, here is what I have learned about the Oregon Duck baseball team.
The offense is better. Really.
After producing a .293 batting average with 15 extra base hits in the season opening four game sweep in Hawaii, the Ducks were only able to manage 11 hits in three games against LMU and lost the first game of the series. Oregon benefited from a three run gift from Trevor Megill Saturday and a rally in the 6th against a tiring Aaron Griffin in order to take the series. Thank goodness for Ryon Healy’s two run single Saturday and Tyler Baumgartner’s clutch bases clearing double on Sunday. Two hits on two key pitches that went Oregon’s way.
So, going into this week, Oregon is now hitting just .230 as a team. But they are averaging five runs a game. IF the Ducks can maintain a five runs per game average, (after 4.67/g in ’12), this is going to be another epic season. In order to do that, Ryon Healy will have to be an RBI machine and a few guys are going to have to get it going.
I think the offense is going to be much better simply based on the returning experience. Brett Thomas (.179, 11 Ks) will come around and Kyle Garlick (.105), Steven Packard (.222) and Ryan Hambright (.040) are talented enough to rebound from awful starts. I am left to wonder how long Coach Horton allows JJ Altobelli to bat ninth, though. He leads the team with a .474 average and a .615 on-base percentage.
The pitching is still really good.
Starting pitchers backed up a solid performance in Hawaii (1.99 ERA in 22.2 IP) with another good trio of starts against LMU. Jake Reed, Tommy Thorpe and Cole Irvin combined for a 2.67 ERA against the Lions, and that’s with one bad inning for Reed in game one when the Lions scored 4 runs. They scored two runs the rest of the weekend.
Christian Jones will get his first start this week. Jeff Gold should be back soon. Once Jones is cleared to go deep in a game and Gold is cleared to hop over the foul line again, the Ducks will be blessed with the luxury of five guys who can start and four of them bringing considerable experience to the bump. Only Irvin, a freshman, is cutting his teeth on Division1 baseball this season.
The bullpen roles are still being worked out. Obviously, this is Jimmy Sherfy’s staff. Hopefully he can live up to the hype he has created as a three-time preseason All-American and member of the Golden Spikes and NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch lists.
The rest of the bunch will include well-travelled Darrell Hunter, freshman Garrett Cleavinger, Jordan Spencer and whichever starter doesn’t get a turn on a given weekend. I think the coaching staff wants Cleavinger to serve as Sherfy’s setup man and lefty specialist out of the pen. It appears the Ducks also like throwing Hunter behind Jones. The rest of the roles are being established. The innings have been relatively few after the strong starts the Ducks have had so far.
The Ducks are still human.
Friday night against LMU, the Ducks loaded the bases in the first two innings and left them loaded. The Lions adjusted to Reed and found a way to beat him while Oregon’s hitters couldn’t solve Colin Welman’s changeup. Midway through the game, the Ducks were behind and bit bewildered. The next day, Coach Horton told me he thought his team was a bit flat despite being at home. He wanted more energy in the dugout and more discipline at the plate.
It was a good reminder that you may have the players and momentum in the program, produce big time expectations and still have some things to learn. The Ducks responded with a better attitude the rest of the weekend and were rewarded with those timely hits and two wins over LMU.
Oregon will need to remember the lesson of that Friday night loss going forward because….
The home schedule is AWESOME!
After the trip to 8-0 Cal State Fullerton, the Ducks come home for two early week games with 4-3 Cal State Northridge and a weekend series with Top 5 Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 7-1. After a trip to USC to open Pac-12 play, the Ducks return home for defending College World Series Champion Arizona, off to a 7-1 start. Later, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State play at PK Park.
Baseball fans will be able to see some of the best programs in the country this season. If Oregon can claw their way to series wins against those teams and maybe get a sweep or two in there, the Ducks will be a lock for another Regional in June.
If the Ducks should drop a few of those series, but contend for the Pac-12 title in year five, they could still make the postseason as a well-prepared, veteran team.
One more thing about the Ducks: Do not underestimate the motivation that comes from last season’s heart breaking loss in the Super Regional. The Ducks were this close to Omaha. That factor isn’t good for much by itself, but it could be the unseen force that pushes the Ducks over the hump.