Three games after the Ducks turned their season around with a big win over Vanderbilt, coach Horton made a tough decision: replacing starting third baseman Ryan Hambright with freshman Mitchell Tolman. Hambright was in a slump, hitting only .167 at the time, and even though many people (including me) believed he would turn things around, nobody could really blame Horton for changing course after 18 games.
It’s especially hard to blame Horton because the switch has worked to perfection. Tolman has arguably been Oregon’s best hitter since he was inserted into the starting lineup on March 15 against USC. He’s hitting .361/.439/.514 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) on the season, but he’s not the only Oregon hitter who has lit it up over the past month.
Brett Thomas has hit .310 with a .424 OBP since that USC game. Aaron Payne’s BA has only been .275 in that span, but he’s gotten on base at a .400 clip. Scott Heineman has been especially hot, hitting .357 with an OBP of .423 and four home runs.
Steve Packard, Tyler Baumgartner, and Connor Hofmann haven’t been quite that good, but they’ve still been much more productive post-March 15. Ryon Healy is frantically waving his arms and yelling “Don’t forget about me!” – as well he should. He’s been Oregon’s best hitter all season long.
As a team, the Ducks have hit .302 since that first USC game. As they say in Austria, “das ist gut!”
The only thing that was remotely holding this team back earlier in the year was its lack of offense. The starting pitching and bullpen have been good all season, so now that the lineup is producing at the plate, it’s easy to dream about postseason glory. As of right now, it’s hard to find any reason why the Ducks can’t make some noise in the College World Series.