Home Plate Entrance, PK Park
The name Kent State isn't one that strikes fear into opposing teams. MAC teams in general aren't ones that you circle at the schedule at the beginning of a season in any sport. But the Golden Flashes have twenty reasons why Oregon needs to take them very seriously in tonight's Super Regional at PK Park--as in the 20 game winning streak that Kent State is currently riding. The Golden Flashes haven't lost since an April 25 game at Penn State. They swept their last four conference series, impressive in any league. Swept through their conference tournament. Swept through their regional, beating host Purdue, and beating twice a Kentucky team that earlier in the year looked like it could be the best in the country.
In fact, Kent State has all the elements that make for a potential upset brewing. They've been to a regional four years in a row, thus carrying significant postseason experience. They've travelled to the West Coast this season, playing five games in six days against Pepperdine and Fresno State earlier in the season. They have a legitimate ace in David Starn, a 7th round pick of the Atlanta Braves last week who is 10-3 on the season with a tiny 2.01 ERA. They also have a deep bullpen, critical when you look at winning a three game series.
That's not to say Oregon isn't the favorite. The Ducks have gotten it done all year against one of the most grueling schedules in the country. They, too, have a legitimate ace in Pac-12 pitcher of the year Alex Keudell, and the deep bullpen. Both teams are pitching-heavy and offense should be at a premium. This series has all the makings of a classic, and for it to come down to a game three on Monday would come as a surprise to nobody.
Sat. Alex Keudell, Oregon (11-4, 2.38) vs. David Starn, Kent State (10-3, 2.01)
Sun. Jake Reed, Oregon (7-4, 2.93) vs. Ryan Bores (9-2, 3.29)
Mon. Jeff Gold (8-4, 3.50) vs. Tyler Skulina (11-2, 3.84)
If you like pitching, this is the series for you. Our friends at Baseball America have an excellent scouting report that tells us what to expect on the mound. I'm amazed by how similar these staffs are. Keudell and Starn are from the same ilk, both sitting in the mid 80s, but with impeccable command and both a change and a breaking ball that they throw for strikes. Starn has the better secondary stuff, and therefore misses more bats, but Keudell has a bit better command. Reed and Bores both sit in the low 90s, with excellent movement on their fastballs and the change and breaking ball to go with it. The one matchup that is kind of a contrast is the potential Monday matchup, where Gold is in the mid 80s, throwing a lot of changeups and breaking balls, whereas Skulina sits in the low 90s pounding a fastball without much movement. The bullpens are both excellent, but Jimmie Sherfy is a dominant closer whereas Kent State's Casey Wilson is farily pedestrian.
Kent State is hitting .306 on the season, but they haven't seen many pitchers like Oregon's in the MAC. Baseball America describes them as a top-heavy lineup. Catcher David Lyon, 1B George Roberts, and CF Evan Campbell are their big power guys, with 24 HR between them. Roberts and Campbell have much higher averages in the mid .300s, but Lyon's superior ability to draw walks puts him on base just as much. The key is the set up guys, as SS Jimmy RIder and DH Nick Hamilton, both with OBPs higher than .400, need to set the table for the middle of the lineup as after the five spot the lineup quickly becomes dead weight. But that top five can be killer.
Oregon doesn't have any outstanding hitters to the extent of Lyon and Roberts for Kent State, but they don't have the dead spots, either. They just count on somebody to get on, try to move them over, and get them in a run or two at a time. With their pitching, its been a successful strategy. There is nobody in that lineup that strikes real fear into you, but they are all competent and are capable of stringing together hits at any time. Aaron Jones and Kyle Garlick hit six home runs each, but its really a team with more doubles power, especially as spacious PK Park tends to deflate HR numbers. But the offense isn't designed to break games open, its designed to give the team the 4-5 runs that, with their pitching staff, is usually all they need to win games.
Both of these teams will rely on very good pitching, and hope that they can manage enough runs to win. We should see close, low scoring games all weekend at PK Park. Both teams have outstanding pitching staffs, deep bullpens, and excellent defenses. Both have competent offenses, but ones that won't usually break games open and that leave you wanting in some areas. For me, a big X factor is Jimmie Sherfy. In a three game series, to have a reliever of that caliber, who is nearly unhittable and misses a ton and can also throw several innings if needed, is an extremely big advantage. If, as I expect, this is a series with a lot of close games late, Sherfy could prove the difference maker.