With murderer’s row Pac-12 schedules looming for the league’s baseball clubs, non-conference play is giving observers a good gauge of the pulse of western teams. As always, there’s no shortage of variety as far as styles of play go among the Pac-12′s group. Within just two weeks, these contrasting styles will be jockeying for position in the conference standings. For now, though, here’s the vibe emanating from non-conference play:
Defending national champion Arizona is off to another solid 10-3 start behind league-leading offensive output, but the Wildcats left this past weekend’s home series against San Francisco with a bitter taste in their mouths. The Dons salvaged the set against Andy Lopez’s heavily favored squad by administering a 9-2 Sunday spanking, a loss that catcher Riley Moore called a “wake-up call.”
There’s no tying in baseball! Well, unless Arizona State’s opponent, Gonzaga, has to catch a flight back to Spokane. The Sun Devils’ game against the Bulldogs finished tied 6-6 in the eighth inning due to the Zags’ pre-arranged travel plans. Thankfully for the Sun Devils, Trever Allen’s home run prevented a loss: after blowing a 5-0 lead, Arizona State needed the shot to even out a 6-5 deficit just as time expired. All’s good, though: the Forks made a statement for West Coast baseball by knocking off SEC power No. 2 Arkansas twice on the weekend.
Perhaps the greatest moment in Cal baseball history happened two seasons ago in Houston, when Devon Rodriguez capped off a furious ninth-inning rally to bring the Bears back from the dead against Baylor. Cal’s return to Space City hasn’t gone quite as well: Bears pitching surrendered 20 runs through the first two games of the Houston College Classic before netting a Sunday victory.
Oregon State won’t win Beaver State bragging rights (though they own the nickname) without a fight from their neighbors to the south. George Horton’s Oregon squad hasn’t been perfect, but the Ducks rebounded from two light-hitting losses at Fullerton to plaster the No. 10 Titans 9-1 on Sunday and improve to 8-3. The Quack Attack is again doing some small things well: Oregon pitchers have picked off four baserunners in just 11 games. The bats, though, must heat up: the Ducks are hitting a Pac-12-low .227 as as team.
Michael Conforto’s a monster again. A year of after dominating Pac-12 pitching as a true freshman, the Beavers’ sophomore slugger is Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week. Seven RBI on a pair on home runs - one a grand slam – tend to garner positive attention. Oh yeah, Pat Casey’s club hasn’t lost yet: at 12-0, No. 4 Oregon State is the final unbeaten team in the Pac-12. The Beavers’ 0.83 staff ERA may have something to do with that.
Another Pac-12 power statement struck in Northern California, where Stanford swept Texas away for the second straight season courtesy of Lonnie Kauppila’s walk-off double. Through 11 games last season, Mark Marquess’ squad had scored 109 runs. This year: only 44. But pitching and defense to the tune of a 1.74 staff ERA is keeping the Cardinal in the win column.
John Savage’s UCLA club rides a five-game win streak entering Tuesday’s midweek tilt at Long Beach before next weekend’s exciting invitational brings Notre Dame, Oklahoma and USC to Westwood. The Bruins, who own the league’s most experienced pitching staff, have been solid in all facets of the game. Don’t miss their showdown with the Trojans Sunday, which is live at 3 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks.
Following a 9-1 win Friday night, the wheels came off of Dan Hubbs’ USC squad at Fresno State. The Trojans required an astonishing 183 pitches to get through 24 outs in a 14-3 Sunday loss to the Bulldogs, and only 99 of those tosses were strikes. Injury piled on to insult: a home plate collision with six-foot-seven behemoth Aaron Judge knocked USC catcher Garrett Stubbs out of the rubber match.
Utah looks to improve after a brutal first year in the Pac-12, but losing to Ivy League member Dartmouth is not a favorable course of non-conference action. The Utes are 5-5, but they’ve yet to handle a legitimate program like the ones they’ll see week in and week out once conference play begins.
Washington’s offense has been anemic throughout the Huskies’ rough 3-8 start. Lindsay Meggs’ squad is in the Pac-12 cellar as far as RBI, runs scored, on-base percentage (.303), and slugging percentage (.300). A home series loss to Cal Poly was the latest result.
Washington State’s eight-game winning streak finally came to an end against Cal State Northridge Sunday. Redshirt freshman Nick Tanielu spearheaded the hot stretch. The third basemen, who’s tied with Oregon State stud Michael Conforto for the conference lead in total bases, is emerging as another legitimate offensive force in the Pac-12.
David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He is Stanford baseball’s radio play-by-play voice and can be found on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.