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Published: April 23, 2012
(Image from Daily Emerald)
Baseball is a ridiculously unpredictable game. Oregon is a good, but hardly elite, team with occasionally great pitching, a weak line-up, and good-but-not-dominant relief pitching. What’s that all add up to? Frustrating unpredictability.
I alluded to as much last week. This is a team capable of going 7-2 when faced against a three-week gauntlet of #14 Arizona State, #5 UCLA, and #6 Stanford. The starting pitching can be that good, and the bats can do just enough damage to get by. But this is also a team entirely capable of going 2-4 against the Washington schools, when the pitching isn’t quite as sharp as it’s capable of being and the bats still aren’t working magic.
That last bit was essentially what we saw this week. Oregon lost the Washington State series one game to two, taking the first, blowing the second, and getting run out of its own park in the third.
This series was pretty much how I thought a lot of Pac-12 series would go this season, after the rash of injuries was released to the general public at media day. We knew Alex Keudell was capable of keeping us in games Friday. Saturdays looked a little dicey at the onset, but when George Horton announced that an unknown freshman reminded him of “Tyler Anderson, but more mature (at their respective ages)” Saturdays instantly got more exciting. Sundays looked like an every week adventure, with Brando Tessar not even winning the job outright until the week of the Hawaii series.
And that’s how this weekend played out. Alex Keudell was awesome, again. Jake Reed was excellent, again, but the bullpen collapsed. And Sunday – with Jeff Gold filling in for an injured Tessar – was a disaster from the get-go, down 3-0 before ever recording an out.
Of course, it goes deeper than that. Alex Keudell was indeed awesome, but kudos also go to Kyle Garlick for carrying the offense with a home run and a triple in that first game. The bullpen did indeed meltdown on Saturday, ruining a perfectly good Jake Reed start, but the offense also couldn’t pick itself up all afternoon, seemingly content to sit on a 3-2 lead. Against an excellent hitting WSU club, that’s dangerous territory, and it certainly blew up in our face. And while Jeff Gold was bad on Sunday, the offense also didn’t do squat until it was far too late; having multiple runners on base and never driving them home can wear on a pitcher as much as it frustrates fans.
I don’t like playing the injury card. Every team has them, and injuries in baseball aren’t always felt like they are in other sports. But on a team as this as this one – with so many pitchers lost before the season began, and on a team with exactly three above-average bats – losing a weekend starter and losing one of those three big bats really makes itself apparent, especially when one of those remaining above average hitters has on off weekend (it’s okay, Ryon Healy; we still like you). This lineup needs Aaron Jones back, but it’s hard to argue Tessar’s loss wasn’t felt just as much this weekend. Tessar’s a solid #3. Actually he’s a really good #4 midweek starter pressed into the role of a #3, but he’s done the job all year. Jeff Gold is a spot midweek starter who is, unfortunately, out of his element at this point in time against Pac-12 hitting. I don’t think Sunday was an aberration. Gold’s just not ready for prime time. It’d be like thrusting Tessar into a weekend role last year. He wouldn’t have been ready, either. It’s not to say Jeff Gold won’t be a very good pitcher in time, but if Tessar is out for any length of time and Gold remains our Sunday guy, the offense is going to have to show up.
It is what it is. The team lost a series it was favored to win, one fans packed PK to see. It’s baseball. One thing Duck fans not yet overly familiar with college baseball are quickly figuring out is that baseball rankings – the national rankings – really don’t mean a whole lot. Case in point: Oregon is 3-0 in series against ranked Pac-12 teams. Oregon is also 1-2 in series against unranked Pac-12 teams. Would you ever see that in football? Unlikely. Probably not in hoops, either. In baseball, that’s just commonplace.
But enough about Washington State. The Ducks, technically, had a winning record this week. And as disappointing as this weekend was, let’s not forget what Jordan Spencer did Wednesday against Portland. A no-hitter is pretty damn special.
No Oregon pitcher had ever recorded a no-hitter. Okay, okay, that’s a potentially misleading statement – from 1876 to 1981, Oregon didn’t keep written statistical records. And then we, you know, stopped playing the sport from 1982 to 2008. So, potentially, there have been several Oregon no-hitters through the decades. Just none that we know about. But enough asterisks! Jordan Spencer did something really, really special Wednesday night. It’s hard to put it in proper context for everyone to understand. It’s darn rare, incredibly difficult to do, and for all intents and purposes, it’s never been done here at the University of Oregon.
Spencer faced just two batters over the minimum Wednesday night, in just his third ever collegiate start. Against a pretty good Portland team.
Oh, and we also beat Arkansas Pine-Bluff 3-2 in a rather forgetful game Monday.
The kids have a big week ahead. Before starting a weekend series at PK against Cal, we have the opportunity to take one against the Beavs on Tuesday. We last saw Oregon State, of course, right here in Eugene last June in the regular season finale. You’ll remember, of course, that the Beavs came into the series needing to win one – just one game – in order to clinch at least a share of the Pac-10 title. They needed to take 2 of 3 to win the Pac-10 outright. And they left with zip, nadda, nothing, 0-fer. That series was Oregon’s first Pac-10 series sweep since rebirth, and it left the Beavs without a trophy. We remember it fondly, of course, because if nothing else it was hilarious; a struggling team in it’s third year of existence keeping the big, bad neighbor from the north from a title in the sport it does best. Oregon State likely remembers it less fondly. So, you know… expect some fireworks.
Don’t ask me who will pitch. I would guess it’d be Jordan Spencer, the Man himself, that gets the call now that Jeff Gold is a weekend guy for the foreseeable future. Spencer came into the game Sunday in relief of Gold and got an out and walked his next two batters (still unhittable!), then promptly left in favor of David Wylie. His arm should be good to go. Whether or not he’s as effective Tuesday in a big rivalry game against OSU’s bats remains to be seen.
Then, it’s Cal on Friday-Saturday-Sunday. Cal’s the team that you’ll remember we’ve never actually taken a series from. We’ve never been swept by them, mind you, not even during the horrendous 14-42 2009 season. But we’ve never been able to get over the hump. Erik Stavert pitched a wonderful game down in Berkely in ’09 to get us a win, Zach Thornton helped the Ducks avoid a sweep in ’10, and last year we lost a highly frustrating series that saw Tyler Anderson lose a 2-1 pitcher’s duel in the opener, Madison Boer take game two, and the Ducks blew a 4-0 lead in the rubber match and lost 5-4, the bullpen sabotaging a perfectly good Alex Keudell start.
This will be a big series. Not only to exercise some demons, but because we’re still kind of in the thick of that whole Pac-12 race, and failing that, we haven’t actually done anything yet this year. I hear people talking about hosting regionals and all that, and that’s fine, but we’re not actually in the postseason yet. It’s one thing to assume we will, and we certainly have the quality wins and RPI to project as much, but we will still need to collect series wins over the back half of the season. We were on the bubble last year, and look where that got us. Cal’s a big series because we just lost a conference series – and we’ve got games against a very good Oregon State team sandwiched before and after it – and we’re tripping to Tucson for a huge three game set against Arizona the weekend after. Cal is a good team who needs to start collecting wins, too. This will be another three game bloodbath.
Horton said Sunday afternoon that we might get Aaron Jones back. Here’s hoping. Brett Thomas’ status will likely be unknown until he shows up in a line-up. Looked like a pretty bad concussion from my seats.