Bruins Gain Momentum – Ducks Seek Identity…
By CB360 Contributor Kris Anderson
As the regular season winds down, we are starting to gain a better idea of what the postseason might look like. In Eugene, Ore. over the weekend, the UCLA Bruins and the Oregon Ducks showed they are two teams heading in opposite directions.
The Bruins, behind their dominate starting pitching, swept the Ducks, and continued to silence the criticism of their offense. On the other side of the diamond, the Ducks all but played their way out of any hopes of the postseason, due in large part to an offense that only got worse as the series went on.
Beginning with the first game of the series, the Bruins offense seemed unhindered by Oregon’s elite starting pitching.
Friday’s series-opener marked one of the most anticipated pitching match ups in PK Park’s short history. Gerrit Cole, a potential number one overall pick in this year’s draft, faced off against Oregon’s Tyler Anderson, a probable first round draft pick. An estimated 25 scouts were on-hand, including Seattle Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik.
The Bruins took advantage of Anderson’s lack of control, tagging him for four runs (three earned) on six hits and drew four walks. Anderson only lasted 5 1/3 innings. Cole’s stuff wasn’t as sharp as usual, but he only allowed one earned run through 7 1/3 innings. A steady drizzle throughout the game could have been a factor for both pitchers, although Anderson said it wasn’t.
Saturday night against Ducks’ sophomore Madison Boer, the Bruins bats did get to Boer early, but not often. UCLA right fielder Chris Giovinazzo led the game off with a double and would later score. They rattled Boer once more in the fifth innings, scoring two runs on three hits and a walk.
The nation’s strikeout leader, Trevor Bauer, was on the hill for the Bruins, and he dazzled as usual. The probable top-10 pick struck out 12 on the way to earning his fifth consecutive complete game (sixth on the year). The only sign of life in the Oregon lineup came from freshman Ryon Healy who drove a 4-seam fastball over the wall for his second home run of the year.
Healy’s performance in recent series’ has earned him a starting spot in the lineup, and has many excited about his future as a Duck.
UCLA looked to earn the sweep behind the arm of freshman Adam Plutko on Sunday. Plutko was a sixth round draft pick in 2010 by the Houston Astros out of high school, and showed he why on Sunday. He and Oregon starter Alex Keudell matched zeroes until Keudell came out of the game after 6 2/3 innings. In the eighth inning, UCLA got on the board first. Things fell apart for the Ducks in the ninth as relief pitcher Scott McGough was tagged for three earned runs.
Plutko earned his first complete game of the season in a shutout effort. He pitched to his scouting report, as he worked his fastball and changeup effectively and recorded seven strikeouts. He did show an extreme lack of confidence in his curveball. Following a base hit up the middle by Oregon center fielder Brett Thomas on a hanging curveball in the fourth inning, Plutko did not appear to throw another curve throughout the rest of the game.
By series end, the Bruins had outscored the Ducks 14-2, and continued to prove that their weekend rotation is among the best—if not the best—in the nation. They also out-hit the Ducks 30-to-13. UCLA was able to get to the Oregon pitching staff in a way that not many teams have. Bruins head coach John Savage said that any concerns about his team’s offense were “a non-issue,” and that is hard to argue after their showing at the plate over the weekend.
Bruins third baseman Cody Regis raised his batting average over the weekend from .287 to .302—he went 4-for-4 in the final game of the series. Including Regis, the Bruins two, three, four and five hitters in Sunday’s lineup are all hitting above .300.
UCLA’s offense was reeling during the first half of the year, but that was likely due to a lack of comfort with the new bats. While they did leave 26 runners on base over the weekend, they found ways to get on base and continuously executed sacrifices, helping to bring runners home. With their pitching staff, that might be all it takes to win games now, and possibly into June.
Following the game on Sunday, there was plenty of insult to add to the injury. Second baseman Danny Pulfer’s streak of reaching base consecutively ended at 31 games. It was the first time the Ducks have been swept at home since May 24, 2009. They were also held to a season low two hits.
Last year the Ducks were selected for regionals with a 13-14 record in the Pac-10. They now sit at 5-13 and would have to go 8-1 through their remaining conference schedule to match their record from last season. That includes a three game series against No. 3 Oregon State at home to finish the regular season.
Oregon appeared to be a team finding their stride as of late. After taking two out of three against Arizona , the Ducks went on the road and played No. 21 Cal. Oregon did drop the series but both losses came on walk-off hits by the Bears.
In the week before UCLA, the Ducks beat Oregon State during a mid week, non-conference game, 7-2.
But by many accounts following the sweep, this is a team that consists of some players who have given up on the season.
“Pretty sure we established that we’re soft two weeks ago…” Pulfer said. “Some guys are focused, some guys aren’t.”
Ducks head coach George Horton echoed Pulfers thoughts. “I feel like throwing up. I thought it was one of the weakest offensive efforts that I’ve seen in a long time,” he said of Sunday’s game. “I’m out of speeches.”
While by last year’s standards the Ducks are not yet eliminated from the postseason, mentally they appear to be. In the week leading up to this series, Horton described his team as being “immature”, and those feelings are probably even stronger after the weekend. 21 of the 35 Oregon players are underclassmen, and the immaturity could be a result of that.
This is a team that hasn’t found an identity, nor do they have the emotional stability that would make them poised enough to finish the year by going 8-1. To be a year older and a year wiser could create for an impressive turnaround next season. They’re a team with raw offensive talent and freshman set to become the face of the program in the next couple of years. But with every step forward comes two steps backwards.
Barring a dramatic epiphany, Oregonis a team better suited for the future than the present.