Short Ball

April 28, 2008

(UA 10, at New Mexico 6)
(UA 4, at UNM 2)
(at UA 7, WSU 6 Ė 12 inn.)
(at UA 6, WSU 5)
(at UA 4, WSU 2)

(at UA 4, UNM 1)
(at UA 10, UNM 4)
(UA 7, at OSU 0)
(at OSU 4, UA 3)
(at OSU 3, UA 2)


Why is it the team goes undefeated when I donít write and then the old struggles return as soon as I sit back down at the computer? Is it me? Somebody tell me. I can take it.

It sure looked like the BatCats had things turned around after the Washington State series. The reason? Itís easy to point to the increased scoring, but for the 2008 Wildcats it comes down to one thing: winning close games. Arizona was 3-0 in one-run games during the 12-game winning streak heading into the Oregon State series. The Catsí record in one-run games during the 3-9 stretch prior to that? 0-4.

Whatís the difference between a Pac-10 sweep and losing two of three? Two runs. And the two runs usually come down to one swing of the bat. Brad Glenn hits a 2-run HR in the bottom of the 9th against WSU and we win. Bobby Coyle strikes out with the bases loaded in the top of the 9th against OSU and we lose.

At least weíll always have New Mexico. Yo no soy marinero, but I do enjoy playing Los Lobos. Well, in baseball anyway.

The individual highlight of the four New Mexico contests has to be Dwight Childs knocking one out of the park with the bases loaded. I certainly didnít see that one coming. What are the odds of a .200 hitter with zero career home runs hitting a grand slam? 1,000 to 1? 6,000,000 to -3?

But at some point midweek wins arenít enough. We do have a strong non-conference resume. The series win at Georgia now looks exceptional. The series win against Fullerton is very strong. Winning true road games at SDSU is solid, and losing true road games at Oklahoma State is understandable.

If we don't get a favorable tournament seed it's going to be because we keep leaving wins on the table in Pac-10 play. Getting shut out twice at USC. Blowing an 8th-inning lead with Guilmet and Stoffel against UCLA. Losing 1-0 at Washington. Both Oregon State losses.

Add it up and weíre back to having a losing conference record and weíre running out of time to fix it. The Cats need six more wins to post a winning Pac-10 record. Considering there are three series left the math is simple: Win every series. Much easier said than done, but that's the kind of climbing you have to do when you dig yourself this big a hole.

The frustrating thing with the offense is these are not new guys. In fact the two new guys Ė Bryce Ortega (.352) and Bobby Coyle (.347) Ė were our two leading hitters going into the weekend. Itís the old guys who arenít getting it done. And itís not a matter of guys not progressing as much as you hoped. We would be in great shape if last yearís regulars had merely plateauíd. No, the numbers for the returning regulars are almost universally down. Take a look (í08 stats through the UNM games). This is so important Iím going to bust out an html table. (Thank you, 1997 Geocities page!)

Player Avg OBP SLG HR
07 Ziegler .355 .434 .645 13
08 Ziegler .327 .416 .646 11
07 Sedbrook .335 .431 .426 1
08 Sedbrook .273 .389 .364 3
07 Glenn .333 .442 .573 10
08 Glenn .282 .375 .524 8
07 Steele .323 .383 .516 7
08 Steele .341 .412 .659 9
07 Gaston .319 .437 .574 6
08 Gaston .282 .355 .490 7
07 Fon .300 .413 .423 2
08 Fon .289 .369 .533 2

Exactly one guy - T.J. Steele - has gotten better from last year to this year. The peculiar thing is every single player on that list is on pace to exceed last yearís home run total if he hasnít already.

Conclusion: Weíre hitting too many home runs. Or, more accurately, weíre trying to hit too many home runs.

I donít think itís a coincidence that the early 12-game winning streak ended after the first USC game. The Cats hit five homers that day and then went into a long stretch of strikeouts and fly outs. Iím a bit concerned that the 13-game winning streak ended the day after we hit three home runs.

Our players are another year older and another year stronger but it looks like theyíre going about the wrong way of proving it. When the winning run is on third base, an opposite-field single is just as effective as a monster home run down the line.

However, as disappointing as the overall season has been, the reason we just canít give up is the pitching. We have a championship-level pitching staff. Last yearís team was second in the league with a 3.90 team ERA. This yearís staff leads the Pac with a 3.62 (and dropping) team ERA. The team that beat us out for the ERA crown last year? Oregon State, and they went on to capture another crown once their offense caught up.

So we gotta keep battling, and we gotta keep hoping this yearís hitters can get back on that plateau. Walks, singles and doubles, boys.

Chicks dig the long ball, but not as much as they dig guys who wear big shiny rings.



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