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Self Blame

May 4, 2009

(ASU 20, at UA 3)
(at UA 13, Cal 4)
(at UA 8, Cal 4)
(at UA 12, Cal 8)

I take full responsibility.

While I let the basketball season linger the baseball team was languishing with a 16-19 overall record and a dreadful 3-12 Pac-10 mark. Since I turned my typed attention to the diamond the BatCats have responded with a 6-2 record including their first two Pac-10 series wins of the year.

Coach Lopez, tell the team I’m sorry.

Having learned my lesson, it’s all baseball the rest of the way. On Friday night I made it to the ballpark for the first time this season. (Dang paternal responsibilities associated with recent reproduction). It was a perfect night. Not hot, not windy, and not-ugly young people all over the place. Watching the Cats score four runs before recording an out in the first inning wasn’t bad either.

So with a sweep of Cal the UA is above .500 for the first time in a while and with three weeks and 12 games left the goal of posting an overall winning record is within reach.

But why did it take so long? What went wrong the first five Pac-10 series? First we have to define “wrong.” With last year’s team coming within three runs of the College World Series it’s easy to forget the ’08 Cats only went 12-12 in league play. If we can win the final two Pac-10 series this year we’d finish with a 12-15 record which certainly isn’t great but it’s not the sackcloth-and-ashes-type season we were facing two weeks ago.

However, we were hoping this team would be good enough to make the NCAA tournament and that’s a worse-than-Mine-That-Bird long-shot right now. So what happened?

It’s easy to point to the freshman pitchers and their bloated ERAs (because huge things are easier to hit) but coming into the year there were four veterans we needed to play like superstars: seniors Preston Guilmet and Brad Glenn, and juniors Jason Stoffel and Dillon Baird. Baird has been tremendous. Guilmet has been decent with 3.47 ERA, but he’s still not in the top 10 among pitchers with at least five starts.

Glenn and Stoffel have been head-scratchingly subpar. Glenn is hitting .265 and his home run total has dropped like the stock market. Stoffel looked like he was throwing batting practice against ASU and he’s got one of those bloated ERAs.

But the team is winning now. What went right? Hitting, for one, and lots of it.

It’s not a superstar lineup but it doesn’t have any gaping holes. The bottom portion of the current batting order features Bobby Coyle, Dwight Childs, Hunter Pace and Kyle Stiner who are hitting a combined .336. All they did this weekend was hit .447 with four doubles, four triples, 11 runs and 17 RBIs.

With that kind of production at the bottom of the order the opposing pitcher doesn’t get any breaks, and when the momentum gets going in a positive direction the Cats can string together a bunch of hits. The result was four innings with four or more runs against Cal.

Quick batting race update: Dillon Baird went 8-for-18 last week to up his average to a hefty .420. ASU’s Kipnis was 1-for-8 to drop to .391 and Cal’s Canha went 3-for-12 to dip to .381. Go, Debo, go!

Baird and the Cats hope to keep it going Tuesday and Wednesday at Cal State Fullerton. Unfortunately they’re great again. The Titans have posted a 5-2 record against Pac-10 teams this year and they’re ranked as high as #5 in the polls. Ranked teams have owned us this year so we’ll see how much things have changed.

Then it’s a Saturday-Sunday-Monday series at home against Loyola Marymount, who isn’t terrible either. They’ve won 29 times, with 21 of those coming in their last 30 games. They have a 10-game losing streak and an 8-game winning streak this year (back-to-back in March actually). They’re currently on a four-game win streak which may not be a good sign.

Our next Pac-10 series is against another team that can’t decide if it’s great or if it stinks. Washington’s last five league series have gone like this: swept by ASU, sweep Cal, swept by UCLA, sweep Oregon, sweep USC. If you look up “feast or famine” in the baseball almanac you find the ’09 Huskies team photo.

You up for some dreaming? Here’s some optimistic math for you: Two more Pac series sweeps, 3-2 against Fullerton and LMU, and an it’s-about-time win over ASU puts you at 32-23 overall, 14-13 in the Pac-10 and 16-4 in your last 20 games. Maybe then we could Mine That Bird as far as the playoffs.

I’m here and ready to do all I can.

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