[I'd like to welcome Kris Anderson as a contributing author to ATQ. Kris is a senior journalism major at Oregon, and will be covering baseball here. Welcome, Kris, and we look forward to hearing your insights on the Oregon baseball team! -jtlight]
If you have any Oregon bats on your college baseball fantasy team, I sure hope you're enjoying being in the cellar of your league.
As a team, the Ducks are batting a microscopic .229, last in the Pac-10. They also rank last in slugging percentage (.310) and second to last in on-base percentage (.337).
In fact, the Ducks (14-12, 0-3 Pac-10) are in dire straights in almost every statistical hitting category.
Expectations were high for the team that finished last year ranked 25 in the country and earned a trip to regionals.
After a 2010 performance that caught the attention of college baseball-surprised that manager George Horton (the man with the classiest ‘stache in all of college baseball) could create an Omaha caliber team in only three years at the D-1 level-the Ducks weren't flying under anyone's radar entering 2011 (I hope you enjoyed that pun. Vegas has the over/under at three for me entering this year).
Preseason polls had Oregon consistently ranked in the top 15, and between improvement on already impressive hitting in 2010 and dominant starting pitching from the likes of ace Tyler Anderson, Oregon was expected to make noise in their elite conference.
The Ducks began the year with an opening series split with Hawaii, but rolled through their games against the West Coast Conference by taking two out of three against St. Mary's-they did loose one game against Portland-and sweeping the University of San Diego.
In the first Civil War showdown of the year, Oregon bats sputtered and Oregon St. had just enough offense to take the midweek match up 4-1. It was not a conference game.
For a team in limbo, Oregon had a disappointing series split with Wichita St. in their final tune-up before conference play began.
Things went from poor to woeful as the Ducks began Pac-10 play by being swept at the hands of Arizona St.
Patience and offense were left in Eugene as the Ducks scored just three runs and didn't draw a walk until the final game of the set.
But if the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants taught the world anything, it was that great pitching can beat great hitting. And the Ducks have the pitching to battle their way out of the brown bag of embarrassment.
In a conference dominated by pitching and littered with aces that will soon be big league studs, Oregon is right in the thick of almost every statistical pitching category.
Anderson is sporting an 1.75 ERA, and Madison Boer is close behind at 2.22. Each have opponents batting below .215, and Anderson has recorded 59 strikeouts and only 15 walks.
While Boer's strikeout-to-walk ratio is not as impressive, in his last start against the Sun Devils, he threw first pitch strikes to 18 of the first 27 batters he faced. He also tallied six strikeouts and only one walk in the 3-1 loss.
The Ducks host the reeling Washington Huskies (7-19, 0-3 Pac-10) this weekend at PK Park.
Oregon is expected to throw Anderson on the hill on Friday night, Boer on Saturday night and Alex Keudell on Sunday afternoon.
Keudell is 3-3 with a 3.77 ERA. It will be his first start since his rough outing last Sunday where he gave up five earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched.
If Oregon hopes to drag themselves out of the cellar-and help me not regret being a homer and only taking Ducks in my fantasy draft-here are five things that I will be looking for during this weekends series:
Production from the 1-3 hitters
The top of Oregon's lineup goes like this: K.C. Serna, Danny Pulfer and Jack Marder. Those three players have a combined batting average of .232. I do need to note that Pulfer is not the reason for the low average as his .301 batting average is second on the team behind Aaron Jones (.310).
The Ducks do not have the bats that can change a game with one swing. Last year they ranked 262 in home runs per game, proving that they must manufacture runs in order to win. The best way to manufacture runs is to get the top of the order on base, something Serna and Marder have had trouble doing. Because of that, the Ducks are ranked eighth in the Pac-10 in runs. The top of the order has to start producing.
As I mentioned earlier, Oregon did not draw a walk in the first two games against the Sun Devils. In the second game of the series, the Sun Devils starting pitcher, Kramer Champlin, pitched eight innings, gave up only five hits, one earned run and did so on only 93 pitches.
In a conference where starting pitchers are stacked, it becomes even more important to run-up a starters pitch count and get to a teams bullpen. Washington does not have great starting pitching-they rank close to the bottom in the conference in most pitching categories-but taking pitches and drawing walks is important when trying to get runners aboard. Oregon ranks second in the conference in walks, so I expect to see that trend continue this weekend.
Oregon ranks sixth in the conference in fielding percentage (.972), and committed four errors during last weekend's series. Oregon infielders-mainly the left side of the field-had trouble with ground balls, which were not ruled as errors, but they were still plays that should have been made. Because of that, innings were extended and allowed Arizona St. to manufacture runs. The Ducks will play a lot of close games this year because of their lack of offense. That means that errors can decide games.
Scott McGough, RP
Last summer, McGough was selected for the 2010 Collegiate National Team and proved that he was deserving of the honor. He went 1-1 with a 0.82 ERA. This year he is 0-3 with a 4.43 ERA. He has been the poster child for the Ducks' bullpen woes this year.
It looked like he might have turned a corner last weekend by not allowing a run in four innings of work. It will be important that he continues down that road, as the Ducks get deeper into conference play.
GET THE SWEEP!
Oregon is beginning to fade from the radar of college baseball, but have an opportunity to get back to .500 in the Pac-10. The Ducks have the starting pitching to quiet the Washington bats, and if they can scrap for a few runs in each game it might be all they need. It's time to turn the season around and it could happen this weekend.
Follow me on twitter at @ twitter.com/kanders4