Diamond Ducks: #10 Oregon Takes Series, Pac-12 Lead from #11 Arizona

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DucksAttack.com

Published: May 6, 2012

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As you may have noticed, singular guy who probably reads this blog, I don’t really like doing detailed game recaps. If you’re reading this you probably already know what happened, and if you’re reading this you definitely have access to a newspaper’s website that can break down the games into their nitty gritty details.

Here’s my series recap, game by game: Keudell, good. Reed, bad. Gold, good. Offense, good enough. Wins, more than the alternative.

That’s not really what this blog is for. This blog is more to scream big, macro-level ideas at you. Here, I’ll try one:

 

Your Oregon Ducks are in first place in the Pac-12, with two series to play.

See, that’s a big idea. I’d rather focus on something like that, as opposed to regurgitating what inning Kyle Garlick hit his 11th double of the season to drive in his 33rd RBI.

Here’s another big idea worth exploring: Arizona hits the ball really, really well. Inhumanly well, at times. We saw that on Saturday. Jeff Reed wasn’t very Jeff Reedian this week, and he got taken advantage of by an excellent Wildcat lineup. But the good part? The big idea point of this paragraph? Arizona didn’t hit the ball very well Friday and Sunday. Alex Keudell and Jeff Gold didn’t let them. And that, too, is worth exploring.

So, without further ado… some big idea talking points to take from this series.

 

#1 – First Place Feels Kinda Nice.

We were technically in first last weekend, coming off the Cal sweep, but with the trip in Tucson looming, there wasn’t a lot of fire dancing. It wasn’t hard to imagine a rough weekend ahead, where we could lose sight of first place with a couple bad outings and drop down the standings in what has become a ridiculously compacted upper tier of the Pac-12. But now that Tucson has come and gone… I don’t know. It feels kind of nice to say it. We’re in first place. That’s not to say we’ll stay in first place, or that we should begin printing up t-shirts, but we have a game and a half lead in the conference race and we have only 6 conference games remaining. That’s better than being virtually tied atop the conference standings with 9 games to play. If we can take the USC series next weekend and we happen to find ourselves 1.5 or 2.5 or however many games ahead of the pack with only three games left to play, well, that would be even better.

But it’s okay to take a deep breath every once and while and enjoy it. Hell, I’ve been saying that since day one – less talk of hosting regionals and national seeds and looking at whom we could potentially meet in the Supers, and focus more on enjoying a fantastically unexpected successful season as it unfolds. We may or may not end up winning this conference when the dust settles, but right now we’re positioning ourselves to do so, and that feels pretty good. It’s a cool feeling. We’re in first place! No harm in saying it. Just the facts, y’know.

 

#2 – Jeff Gold, Jeff Gold, Jeff Gold!

Jeff Gold, if I haven’t said this before, was projected (by me) before the season started to be our #5 starter. Behind Alex Keudell, Christian Jones, Jake Reed, and Brando Tessar. Do you know how often 5th starters actually make starts? About three times a year. Whenever we play a two-game midweek series, like the one we just wrapped up in Spokane. Based on my projections, Tessar would have started the first game against the Zags, Gold on Wednesday. Your 5th starter is basically a reliever. He would have started the final game of the Texas State series. And that’s kinda/sorta it.

I say that not as any sort of deterrent to Jeff Gold. I really like Jeff Gold. I’m just saying it because at one point, it was thought that Jeff Gold would not be a big part of the 2012 season. He’d be a part-time reliever, basically, behind established guys like Joey Housey, or guys who were creating offseason buzz like Jimmy Sherfy. That’s just how most fans thought it would be.

I think that makes the last two Sundays pretty incredible, actually. Gold shut down the Golden Bears last week, and pitched fantastic against an Arizona offensive lineup more cyborg than man. Seriously, look at Arizona’s numbers going into this weekend:

 

1: CF – Joey Rickard: .340, 14 doubles, 10 stolen bases

2: CF – Johnny Field: .354, 12 doubles, four triples, 40 runs

3: SS – Alex Mejia: .380, three home runs, 38 RBI

4: RF – Robert Refsnyder: .381, three home runs, 46 RBI

5: 3B – Seth Mejias-Brean: .391, 15 doubles, 44 RBI

6: DH – Bobby Brown: .345, eight doubles, six triples, 35 RBI

7:  C – Riley Moore: .283, 30 RBI

8: 2B – Trent Gilbert: .271, six doubles, 26 RBI

9: 1B – Joseph Maggi: .344, 13 RBI

 

Take note, that’s 7 everyday players hitting .300 or better. Seven! By contrast, Oregon has two (Kyle Garlick, Brett Thomas). There’s not a single easy out in that lineup. Just to hammer home the point, Trent Gilbert – the Wildcat with the lowest BA – has a better bating average than four everyday Duck position players, including JJ Altobelli, our leadoff hitter and the individual who Coach Horton trusts above all else to produce as our table setter.

Point is, Arizona can hit the baseball.

But Jeff Gold didn’t let them. He pitched a masterful 5.1 innings, which is more than enough when you can turn the ball over to a guy like Jimmy Sherfy, who hadn’t been used yet this weekend. In the world of college baseball, you don’t usually set out to dominate the opposition on Sunday, you just try to survive. Teams rarely have three aces, and almost everybody can hit well at this level, so a lot of times Sunday games are high scoring affairs. You just want to survive them, win them, and move on. They rarely look pretty. So 5.1 innings of four hit, one-run baseball by your Sunday guy? By your Sunday guy who should really be a situational middle reliever? Yeah, that’s kind of a decent story. Jeff Gold has been fantastic the past two weeks filling in for Brando Tessar. Cal can kind of hit, Arizona can really hit. What Gold’s done the last two weeks shouldn’t go unnoticed, or unappreciated.

 

#3 – Coach Horton & Co. Know Their Baseball

Jerry Allen harped on this a lot Friday, and again on Saturday when fondly romanticizing about Friday when we were getting clobbered Saturday. And Jerry wasn’t wrong to do so. The gents who gather our scouting reports did a really, really phenomenal job this weekend. Our defenders were almost always in the right position to make a play on the baseball. Did Alex Keudell pitch well? Of course. But Arizona also hit a lot of balls really hard off him that went for outs because we were in position to make plays. That’s scouting, and quality scouting at that. The difference between a routine out and a bases clearing, line drive double is knowing where a particular hitter likes placing the ball. Horton & staff earned their paychecks this weekend.

I also love the Sherfy move. Just because a kid is a closer doesn’t mean he can only pitch the 9th inning. Horton removed Gold with one out in the 6th not for kicks and giggles, but because he knew he had a superior arm in Jimmy Sherfy ready and available to pitch. Arizona had seen enough of Gold to presumably start making a plan of attack at the plate. So why not bring Sherfy in? He’s pitched multiple innings before, winning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week after his 13 K  performance in Hawaii. Some managers won’t do this. Some won’t touch their closers until the 9th, sometimes – in extreme circumstances – with two outs in the 8th. But Horton knew he probably needed to make a move, and Sherfy was his best available arm. And it certainly paid off.

Sometimes people wonder what managers do in baseball, beyond pulling pitchers and making long, slow walks to the mound when calling in a reliever. They do work. Believe me.

 

#4 – It’s How You Finish

I’ve yet to gain a feel for how Coach Horton’s teams finish out seasons. You need time for a coach to develop that kind of rapport. In Mike Bellotti’s early years, you just assumed his teams would finish strong, because they always did. In his later years, not so much. Dana Altman is quickly developing a reputation of bursting out of the gate slowly but finishing strong as his teams gel over the course of a season.

Horton’s teams have been tough to get a read on. 2009 doesn’t really ‘count’, for all intents and purposes. For all the fanfare of 2010, we actually finished the regular season with somewhat of a thud. We were swept by Oregon State, lost a game to Portland, and lost 2 of 3 to Cal. We did take 2 of 3 from Washington up in Seattle and swept East Tennessee State, but neither of those teams were any good. In 2011, we were 23-23 after UCLA swept a three game series at PK, and we closed out the season on a 10-3-1 run, complete with series wins over good Stanford and Oregon State teams.

How’s this team going to finish? I have no idea. Tucson was ‘the big one’, the showdown series on the horizon we all circled after we got through the ASU/UCLA/Stanford gauntlet. And we won it. USC, Seattle, and Oregon State are coming up, along with some midweek games. If both Oregon schools keep winning, it’s conceivable the Civil War could be played with the Pac-12 title on the line for both schools. That’ll be another huge series. Seattle University is our version of a ‘bye’ week, and I don’t say that in a derogatory way; with 11 conference schools, every Pac-12 school plays a 3-game non-conference weekend series, and Seattle U is ours. Should be three winnable games, but Seattle is over .500, and they’ve beaten both Washington schools. And I’ll talk about USC in a bit.

Anyway, how we finish will determine if this was an unexpectedly nice season, or a historic one. You know, like the 1994 football season, or what 2002 was to the hoops program. That kind of season.

 

#5 – Random Tidbits Can Be Big Ideas, Too!

What more is there to say about Alex Keudell? He’s ridiculous. Scoreboard says: 7-0, 0.95 ERA in his last 7 starts.

Jake Reed. He’s been phenomenal this year, and got lit up by a great hitting club. No shame. It’s all about how you bounce back, son.

The bats knocked in 6 runs and 13 hits on Friday against Kurt Heyer, who was previously 8-1. He’s a darn fine pitcher. 13 hits are the most we’ve had since bludgeoning West Virginia for 15. The offense scored 6 runs again Saturday, and in a Jake Reed start that’s usually more than enough, but y’know. We only scored 3 on Sunday, but I’ll invoke the ancient law of quality versus quantity here. The hits weren’t exploding off the bat, but the guys produced the clutch hits late.

We’ve got another non-conference game against Oregon State on Tuesday at PK, then stay home for a weekend of festivities against Troy. I don’t really need to go over the implications of the SC series… I mean, we’re in first place. A bad couple games and we could be in fourth. Gotta keep winning.

The Oregon State game is shaping up a lot like the last one, meaning we’re likely going to throw Jordan Spencer and hope for the best. Am I wrong? Is there Brando Tessar news that I’ve missed? I know he was scheduled to throw a couple weeks back in front of coaches, but I haven’t heard how that went, or what his time table is. I suppose it’s theoretically possible, if healthy, he gets the nod Tuesday (on a strict pitch count, naturally) to shake off some rust before returning to Pac-12 play.

Tessar is a big piece moving forward, and I’m talking this season. Remember 2010? We were sent to the UConn regional, where UConn was actually the #2 seed (we were #3) and Florida State was #1. You typically need four starters for a regional series. We threw Zach Thornton against UConn and won; we moved to the winner’s side of the bracket and threw Tyler Anderson against FSU, and lost. We had to play UConn again, who Justin LaTempa beat, and that left Alex Keudell – who wasn’t quite the Alex Keudell we all know and love today – to stave off elimination against Florida State. He couldn’t, and we were sent home.

Take the same scenario today, without Tessar, and we’ve got Keudell, Reed, Gold, and Spencer in-line to start. It’s possible Alex Keudell would be asked to throw on short rest in a potential elimination game. Actually, it’s probable that he would. But all the same, Tessar is an important cog in the machine. Throw Tessar in the third game with an emerging Jeff Gold pitching in game four, with Keudell available for extended emergency relief? That’s simply a better situation to be in. We need Tessar.

I’ve rambled on long enough. Enjoy baseball while you still can, Duck fans, there’s only 12 regular season games left.


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