I wrote last week how the writers at FishDuck.com will no longer be contributing but for a few articles here and there by myself and the Grizzled Ol’ Coach. I will let a few writers post who have been mainstays on the site, and Max Thornberry (below) is an example, as he is a passionate follower of Oregon baseball and a talented writer/analyst. So we will not be posting much, but are still alive as a site. Charles Fischer
Expectations from fans and experts rarely line up. This year our hopes have been endorsed by the preseason poll released by Collegiate Baseball where the Ducks sit as the No. 14 team in the country. The first preseason rankings appear to confirm what we have been saying for years, that Oregon stacks up against the best of the best in the country.
The early rank comes riding the coattails of a 38-25 season a year ago when the Ducks made a late push, winning 10 of their last 12 games to appear in playoffs only to drop out in the first round. A pitching staff stacked with returning players is making waves, posing a serious threat in the powerhouse Pac-12.
Brutal conference play prevented a Pac-12 team appearance in the second College Football Playoff despite sending 10 teams to bowl games this season. That level of play goes beyond the gridiron and onto the diamond, as last year the Pac-12 sent six teams to the CWS playoffs, with UCLA headlining the group as a No. 1 seed.
Despite the top 15 ranking, the Ducks still rank fourth in the conference, coming in behind Oregon State (No. 8), UCLA (No. 10) and California (No. 13).
With little pop at the plate, the Ducks are riding the high preseason rank on the arms of an experienced and talented pitching staff. Cole Irvin, Matt Krook and David Peterson have a combined 54 starts at Oregon, bringing strength, experience and a formidable task for weekend opponents.
Without throwing a wrench into the celebrations, we need to stop and take a look at one looming factor that could effect this season. How will Krook perform after so much time away? Will he show the same prowess he did as a freshman or was he a flash-and-burn phenomenon?
This time last year the Ducks were eagerly awaiting the return of Irvin following his lost season following an outstanding freshman year. Once again the Ducks are in a similar situation, this time with Krook who compiled 60 Ks over 45.1 innings of work before an elbow injury sidelined him for the remainder of the 2014 season and kept him out all last year.
Can Krook be as effective as he once was? A look at Irvin’s 2015 stats offer a glimpse into what is in store for Krook, most likely some slight regression but an overall positive performance. However, unlike Irvin, Krook spent the last summer playing in Cape Cod so the rust has already begun to come off.
If the extra time in one of the most competitive summer leagues in the country isn’t enough to settle your mind, Krook also received third team Louisville Slugger all-American team honors this week.
Krook presents a risky option with a huge upside for head coach George Horton who could find himself on the hot-seat without an exceptional performance this postseason.
The talent at the front end of the rotation is undeniable, but the power at the back is what has and will continue to sustain Oregon in tight games.
Garrett Cleavinger was nearly perfect in his time at PK Park, but his duties now fall to Stephen Nogosek who spent his summer impressing scouts with team USA. Cooper Stiles (3-1, 3.56 ERA) and his wily sidearm action will slide from middle relief to the eighth inning role, forming a back end that will work to keep the Ducks in contention for a title this spring.
For those who live in Eugene, Oregon, the luxury of going from watching winning football to winning basketball, is followed up by witnessing winning softball and baseball in the spring. This year is no exception, and has diamond Duck fans anticipating seeing one of the best starting rotations of pitchers in the country. Opening day is less than two months away!
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove