Yeah yeah yeah football football blah blah blah. Players were good, players were less good, lots of points were scored (making me look pretty stupid - like it's hard), and jerseys were something something. But my pathetic excuse for a Spring Game prediction is not the impetus for the title of this article. It's the play of the Oregon baseball team.
The Diamond Ducks finished off a three-game sweep of the Cal Bears with a 7-1 victory on Sunday, and moved into first place in the Pac-12. After losing three straight against WSU and OSU last week, the Ducks received a much-needed boost from the return of Aaron Jones, who drove in three runs in Friday's 4-1 win. And sophomore 2B Aaron Payne was named Pac-12 Player of the Week, who drove in a total of five runs in the series, including the game-winning RBI single on Saturday. But Oregon's season is defined by pitching, and it will be the success of the staff that makes or breaks what has already been a fantastic season.
In 7 of the first 11 games of the 2012 season, the Oregon pitching staff gave up 4 or more runs. The Ducks went 6-1 in those games. Since Pac-12 play started, the Ducks pitching staff has allowed 4+ runs ten times. Their record? 0-10. In the eighteen games the staff has allowed 3 or less runs? 18-0. And a quick look at the offense's stats reveals... an average of 4.7 runs per game! So for Oregon, 4 is the magic number.
Duck fans were worried about the depth of the rotation after losing presumptive #1 starter Christian Jones to preseason Tommy John surgery. But senior Alex Keudell has stepped up in a major way. The Jesuit HS grad currently sports a 1.87 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP, and won two straight Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week awards in April, after beating UCLA and Stanford in consecutive starts, allowing only one run in 16 innings. #2 starter Jake Reed has been nearly as good, holding opponents to a .214 batting average. Reed has only given up six extra base hits thus far in the season. Brando Tessar, who left his last start against Stanford with a muscle strain, looks to return to the mound in some capacity this week against Arizona. Oh, and there's freshman Jordan Spencer, who threw the first
perfect game no-hitter in Oregon history two weeks ago against Portland.
Here's the question that will decide the rest of the season: can they keep it up? We've seen what happens when the pitching falters: last week against WSU, the Ducks allowed 25 runs in three games. And Oregon simply isn't built to outslug another team. So Oregon's quest for a conference title rests solely on the arms of a starting staff that wasn't expected to be this good at the start of the season, and a bullpen that consists of essentially three pitchers: closer Jimmy Sherfy, righty Joey Housey, and lefty Thomas Thorpe. If the starting staff regresses, even a little bit, or one of the big three in the pen has a hiccup or an injury, it could drastically swing the course of the season.
Oregon has seventeen games to go, starting tonight in Spokane against Gonzaga. It's been the outstanding pitching that has gotten the Ducks to this point, and it'll be the pitching that propels the Ducks to postseason success. So you all can have this football, running around and wearing facemasks, mumbo jumbo. I'm all about outs.