A rough month of March in which the Ducks went 7-11 might prove to be the undoing of the preseason-ranked No. 22 team in the country. However something has clicked for George Horton’s squad over the last month, as they have gone 6-3 in May and are on the cusp of a turnaround that could land them in the postseason. The Ducks are looking more and more like the 13-2 team that started the season; so how likely are they to finish the race and make the playoffs?
We are all Duck fans so our first instinct is to have full confidence in our team, “Of course they will make the playoffs! They are Ducks, and Ducks always win the day!” But we might need some realism to enter the equation and bring us back down to earth.
The mid-week series against Gonzaga following a road trip where they won two of four games gives us a mixed bag of what to expect. The series against Washington State was far from perfect but the two-game sweep of Gonzaga highlighted the best that Oregon has to offer. Solid pitching, show stopping defense and tenacious offense all came together to improve the Ducks record to 31-22.
The remaining seven games give cause for concern, however, for the hopeful fan – especially with the final four, including another trip to Corvallis to visit Oregon State on May 19 – a Tuesday — to finish the Civil War series for this year — and closing out the season against No. 2 UCLA.
A three-game series in Salt Lake City this weekend pits the Ducks against the next-to-last place Utah Utes (16-29-1) offering Oregon a golden opportunity to improve their overall and conference records. With the magic number hovering around 35 wins, according to Horton, a sweep is all but required before the brutal match-ups to conclude the season, if they have any hope of reaching the post season.
The Ducks have split the season series with Oregon State, taking two-of-three at home in Pac-12 action, but falling to the No. 40 Beavers 10-2 in Corvallis last week. The out of conference match-up is likely the make or break event of the season, as a loss will virtually eliminate all hope, but a win would boost their RPI and give them momentum heading home to face the Bruins.
Players and coaches can tell us that they are taking the season “one game at a time,” but all they want is that everyone’s eyes must be on the final home stand against UCLA. Failure to play consistently has painted the Ducks into a corner and facing the second-best team in the country, even at home, isn’t a bright prospect for a team that needs to win out.
The 37-12 Bruins are 15-5 on the road and have outscored opponents 305-105 this year. All four of their starters have sub-3.00 ERAs and are holding opponents to a .222 batting average. As long as the Ducks avoid a sweep (they are 17-11 at home and have not been swept in a three-game series at home this season), a single win would boost to their RPI and should move them into contention for a playoff berth.
Should the Ducks sweep Utah this weekend they will be only one win away from their magic number of 35 — considered the minimum number of wins to make the regionals. Inside the top-64, there are currently seven teams with fewer wins than Oregon. The Ducks are sitting at No. 72 in the country, so with only eight spots to move up and ripe opportunities ahead, the chances of seeing Oregon on the road to Omaha is within reach but is still not a certainty by any means.
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove