This time last year, Oregon baseball fans were basking in the light of handing UCLA its first series loss of the year and securing a playoff berth.
This year, following weeks of mediocrity, Oregon finally showed up to play – winning 10 of the final 12 games of the season. This weekend’s series with Arizona will determine if the Ducks can repeat the feat.
Unlike 2015, this year’s Pac-12 race is extremely competitive. A margin of four games separates 1st place from 10th with the Ducks just three games out. Arizona will be out of chances to make up any ground as this series is the last set of conference games for the year.
I would love to re-live the exciting run of 2015, but what are the actual chances that lightning will strike twice?
As dark as the landscape has been recently, we saw some light shining through in Corvallis. Three quality starts in three nights led the way, and a steady stream of offense backed up those strong performances.
Arizona is another beast, though. Some of the teeth have been taken out of the Beavers this year, but substantial threats lurk in the Wildcat lineup. Two of the top seven batters in the conference, Zach Gibbons (.387/.481/.459) and Cody Ramer (.350/.450/.480) are the scariest of the bunch.
On the mound, Nathan Bannister is equally frightening. His 2.69 ERA is the eye-catcher, while his three complete games are the heart-stopper. Where the Ducks have struggled at times to keep their men on the mound, Arizona also has JC Cloney and Kevin Ginkel who have thrown complete games, as well.
Historically, Arizona has had Oregon’s number, leading the all-time series 18-11-1 including a sweep in Tucson last year. But now the Ducks are back at home where they have played well, posting a 16-9 record and outscoring opponents 156-108.
For a team built around pitching, the spark for a streak will have to come from the mound.
Matt Mercer has provided that spark in his replacement role. The freshman has pitched into the sixth inning in all three of his starts, helping him secure a spot in next year’s rotation. Mercer hasn’t shown the same swing-and-miss capabilities as the other starters, but his 23:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio is encouraging.
Cole Irvin has been dialed in lately, too. He followed up his dominating performance against Washington State by pitching into the eighth inning in both of his last two starts. Irvin hasn’t managed to make his way back to his rookie form, but has racked up a career high 82 strikeouts and allowed a career low 13 walks.
The long-ball has been a problem for Irvin, but fortunately for him, Arizona ranks in the bottom of the conference, sending just 18 balls over the fence in 2016.
The month of May hasn’t been especially kind to Oregon, but summer is coming. The weather is warming up, and – hopefully – so are the Ducks!
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck