Oregon baseball: Stranded runners, predictable strategy, lead to another lost series

Kris Anderson, Addicted to Quack, Episode 2 

On Friday, I was reminded of what the Oregon Ducks (17-16, 2-7 Pac-10) season was supposed to be like. The dominant pitching would set the tone of the game--opponents would know that every run would be a grind. On the other side would be the Oregon hitters whose only way of impressing you was by their ability to score just enough runs to escape with the win. On Friday against the USC Trojans (15-20, 6-6 Pac-10), it was Oregon baseball--the way fans pay to see it.

The preseason All-American, Tyler Anderson, as on the bump Friday night and was unflappable in his outing. Anderson scattered five hits, walked only one, didn't allow an earned run and struck out ten. Trojans first baseman Ricky Oropesa, who ranks in the top-10 in the conference in--get ready for this list--batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, hits, RBI, home runs and total bases, struck out all three times he faced Anderson.

Led at the plate by second baseman Danny Pulfer--who appears to be the newly found leadoff hitter--the Ducks strung together hits when needed, and even reminded the faithful followers that this team does have some pop. With the game tied at two in the either inning, left fielder Stefan Sabol sent a solo shot over the left field fence. The Ducks would plate one more in the ninth to take the first game of the series 4-2.

What was most impressive in game one were the 11 hits the Ducks produced. What was most concerning were the eight runner left on base.

Oregon would prove in the final two games of the series that my concern was not purely paranoia.

The Ducks would strand 20 runners while only scoring three runs during the remainder of the series. Following the second game of the series where the Ducks lost 9-2 while producing 11 hits but also leaving 11 runners on base, head coach George Horton used the word "continuity" to describe what his offense was missing. I suppose the glass-half-full way to look at this weekend is that the Ducks were even able to have 28 runners to leave on base. It's all about baby steps, right?

The Ducks would drop the rubber match by the score of 3-1. 

Following this weekend's series, there were a few things that let me know this is a team deserving of its conference standing.

The predictability of the Ducks "small-ball" style of play

Horton has always been known as a coach that looks for ways to manufacture runs. Last weekend during the series against Washington, I turned to Adam Jude, sports writer for The Register-Guard, and said, "this team plays more small-ball than I've ever seen a team play." He said to me," that's just Horton, man."

But this style has gone past the point of "a coach with balls," to the point where if the Ducks have a runner on first with less than two outs--no matter where they are in the order--a sacrifice bunt, or a hit-and-run, or a steal is guaranteed. And I'm not the only one who knows it.

The Oregon dugout continuously called for the hit-and-run throughout the weekend--and one could argue that it cost the Ducks in both of their defeats. The Ducks would strategize their way out of innings with swinging strike-threes and throw-downs to second that would beat the runner.

In the third inning of the third game of the series, Oregon had an opportunity to build an early lead. Pulfer singled to drive in KC Serna who had just doubled off the USC pitcher, Logan Odom, a native of Oregon. With one out, Pulfer attempted to steal second, but was thrown out following a pitch-out by Odom. Brett Thomas record the final out of the inning on a strikeout looking.

When I can sit in the press box and predict when the runner is taking off with a, roughly, 90 percent success rate, that is when it looks more like it's hindering the team than helping the team.

One of the explanations that I've been able to come up with for it is that Horton has a lack of confidence in his offense-and it's hard to blame him. When your team is stranding 28 runners on base in a three-game series, you start to think outside the box when finding ways to score runs. When Horton talks about "continuity" missing form the lineup, maybe that is why he turns to "small-ball."

Rough weekend from Madison Boer and the ‘pen

Madison Boer was shaky in his outing on Saturday. He pitched five and two-third innings while allowing ten hits, four walks and three earned runs. He was able to strikeout five, but he struggled with his command. It was certainly not the Boer we saw last weekend.

The bullpen still appears to be hit-and-miss after allowing four earned runs and six walks in the last two games of the series. Christian Jones-in his first appearance on the mound following a back injury-was still in search of his command while walking two and allowing a hit in two-thirds of an inning. Scott McGough allowed a run on one hit and a walk during Saturdays one-inning outing. But he was dealing the next day when he didn't allow a hit and struck out one in an inning of work.

Closer Kellen Moen earned the save on Friday night, but allowed two runs to score during the eight inning of a tie game on Sunday.

Youth

In every series the Ducks seem to remind us of their age. The Ducks continuously define themselves by their youth and inexperience--and when the season is over, that is how this year will be defined.

The Ducks were down two runs entering the eighth inning of Saturday's game. From there, Oregon would collapse. With one out in the inning, McGough walked the second hitter of the inning. Porter Clayton would continue the unraveling of the bullpen. The runner would move to second on a wild pitch. Then Clayton would issue the second walk of the inning. Joey Housey replaced Clayton. He hit the second batter he faced to load the bases. A single would then score a run. Brando Tessar came in to replace Housey, but the final out of the inning was quite elusive for Tessar. When the inning was over, USC had scored six runs on only two hits and an error.

On Sunday, it was again the eighth inning that would prove disastrous.

Kellen Moen issued a leadoff walk. That runner would move to second on a balk, and then advance to third on a wild pitch. He would score on a double and the Trojans would plate one more in the inning.

The Ducks would commit four errors in the series, proving that they are a team not ready for the bright lights that come with lofty, early season expectations.

Follow me on twitter @ twitter.com/kanders4 I will continue to provide in-game updates, video of player interviews, links to my work for collegebaseball360 and any news that Duck baseball fans need to know.

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