The 2023 Oregon Ducks baseball team put an entertaining squad on the field this season. Oregon looked to improved upon an anemic ending to last season, where they faltered in both Pac-12 and NCAA tournament play to end their season with a 36-25 (18-12 Pac-12) record.
The Ducks found themselves with a preseason rank of #20. Oregon had a potent offense - and would demonstrate that all season - but pitching remained a question mark. The anticipated return of RJ Gordon and Issac Ayon was a non-starter; Gordon was originally reported to be injured but then disappeared from the roster at some point during the season, and Ayon was injured all season and did not appear in any games.
This left the brunt of pitching duties to a young pitching room, with 9 of the 16 pitchers being true freshmen. The result of using these inexperienced arms was a mixed bag, which is to be expected with so many pitchers having not played at the college level.
The early season was a roller coaster of ups and downs, with an opening series sweep of Xavier followed by a curious sweep of the Ducks by San Diego. Oregon then suffered a series loss to UCLA and a midweek loss to Niagara. During this stretch, the Ducks were inconsistent at the mound and behind the plate.
Oregon’s lone win against UCLA came with Jace Stoffal at the mound. Stoffal had not yet shown himself to be the vital experienced starter that Oregon needed during this series in the middle of March, but he became the Friday starter at this point - a move that would pay off in April, when Stoffal went on a tear, winning all of his starts between late March to late April, when he was sidelined with a finger injury and would not pitch for the rest of the season.
It was during the series win against Washington State that the Ducks offense came to life. The 15-game stretch between 3/18 - 4/12 included eight games where the Ducks scored 12 or more runs a game. This stretch also included an 11-game win streak that was ultimately upended by a series loss to the Beavers. However, April ended on a up note, with sweeps or series wins against San Francisco, Stanford, California, Gonzaga, and Arizona State.
In May, Oregon was on a decided downward trend. Having lost Stoffal through the end of the season, the Ducks were using a patchwork of starters and bullpen to try and win ball games. They lost to OSU - again - and dropped the USC series, and were then swept by the Huskies. During those first few weeks in May, the Oregon bats could not muster enough runs to bail out their lackluster pitching.
Oregon closed the regular season in upbeat fashion, having won the last two games against Utah to take the series. That meant entering the Pac-12 tournament with some momentum. Regardless, skepticism abounded insofar as the Ducks being able to go deep at all in tournament play. If the bats could overcome the pitching woes, then great; however, any kind of faith in Oregon’s pitching certainly seemed to be without merit.
The Ducks did the unthinkable in the Pac-12 tournament. They beat California and eliminated Stanford to prevail in pool play. Oregon defeated Washington in the semifinals to play Arizona in the championship round. With the lead against the Wildcats after 7 innings, 5-3, the Ducks held off a rally attempt and came away as Pac-12 champs with the 5-4 victory.
Winning the Pac-12 tournament guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament, and the Ducks were Nashville bound.
Oregon swept all three of their contests in Nashville, defeating Xavier and Vanderbilt before defeating Xavier again in the final. That sent the Ducks to their first Super Regional in 11 years.
Because the presumed Super Regional host, Oklahoma State, was knocked out of their own regional, Eugene became the host of the Super Regional, squaring off against the winner at Stillwater, Oral Roberts University.
The Ducks won the first game against ORU, and had every opportunity to take the second game. They lost the second game, however, and the failings of their pitching staff meant that Oregon’s season ended in PK Park, with Oral Roberts advancing to Omaha.
On behalf of the @OregonBaseball players and staff…THANK YOU!@GoDucks fans, @uoregon students, @OregonPitCrew, @UOAlumni, @cityofeugene and so many others for this INCREDIBLE support! PK PARK was ELECTRIC!!! We are building this TOGETHER!! #GoDucks https://t.co/xoqRM384JP— Mark Wasikowski (@CoachWazUO) June 12, 2023
Oregon baseball had a banner year on offense, and showed all season that they were capable of pouring on runs.
Sabin Ceballos set a new single-season home run record with 18. He also shared the RBI lead with Drew Cowley, with both having brought in 70 runs. Cowley was the batting average leader, finishing with a .341 average. Rikku Nishida set the single season stolen bases record with 25. Nishida also had the most at-bats (253), runs scored (67), and sacrifice bunts (8).
The Ducks set a single season home run record with 75. This was the most offensive firepower that Oregon fans have ever seen, and the building blocks are in place to keep it going in future seasons.
Last season, Oregon’s pitching was a glaring sore spot, and the biggest reason why the Ducks could not generate much of anything in tournament play.
On paper, the 2023 pitching was arguably worse. 2022’s team pitching was a 4.74 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. 2023 was a 5.28 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. 2022 saw 320 runs and 63 home runs. 2023 gave up 363 runs and 75 HRs. The vast majority of stats read the same way, and shows that there was no real difference in pitching when comparing 2022 to 2023.
But what to make of a deep tournament run? That is probably the luck of the draw and a stretch where pitching was able to hold up, and relied on excellent offense to win games. Has the pitching improved related to 2022’s bullpen? Well, no, but as it relates to the overall team performance, it can’t be discounted that the 2023 Ducks hosted a Super Regional. The pitching did put things together for a stretch. It’s the best advancement that Oregon has done in many years and should be taken for what it is.
Oregon ended its season with a 41-22 record (16-14 Pac-12). The tournament win streak is what separates 2023’s season record from 2022.
When all is said and done, though, Oregon will need better pitching in order to regularly compete against the blue bloods and make deep tournament runs the norm. The 2022 and 2023 versions won’t cut it.
However, that’s not the way to remember the 2023 season. Instead, remember it for the magical, improbable tournament run that the Ducks gifted us all with this season.