Every week during baseball season, our sports staff will discuss various topics surrounding an upcoming Oregon series. Today, Emerald digital sport editor Victor Flores and sports reporters Andrew Bantly and Chris Mosch discuss the Ducks’ 2014 outlook and their season-opening series against Hawaii in Honolulu. The first game starts tonight at 8:35 p.m. PT.
1) Should the Ducks lower their season expectations now that Cole Irvin is out for the season?
Flores — The starting rotation will still be good, but Irvin’s injury leaves a significant amount of concern for the third starter slot. Irvin, Tommy Thorpe and Matt Krook would’ve made up one of the best starting rotations in the Pac-12 (assuming Krook came close to his sky-high expectations). Now, it looks like Jordan Spencer will replace Irvin, and who knows if he can be a consistently decent starter? And consistently decent would still be worse than Irvin’s likely output. Oregon won’t fall off a cliff without Irvin, but don’t expect the Ducks to be quite as good as some expected.
Bantly — Not at all. Thorpe said that he doesn’t “expect anything different for this year after Cole going down.” I think he’s right. The expectations are for a CWS run and, even without Irvin, they could have a dominant pitching rotation to lead them there. But with that said, they don’t have room to slip up.
Mosch — When you lose arguably your best starting pitcher, it’s hard not to temper expectations. The silver lining for Oregon is that the loss comes from its biggest strength, as Tommy Thorpe and Matt Krook still have the makings of a formidable 1-2 punch. Spencer has shown flashes of excellences in the past (recall his no-hitter against Portland two years ago) but has also struggled with his control, as he has walked as many batters as he has struck out during his two seasons at Oregon.
2) Who will be the toughest player to replace this season: Ryon Healy, Jimmie Sherfy, J.J. Altobelli, Brett Thomas or someone else?
Flores — Healy is irreplaceable. Not many teams in the nation had a bat as good as his last season, much less the Ducks. Healy hit 11 home runs in 2013, nearly half as many as Oregon’s total (24). Only Heineman and Shaun Chase hit over three blasts last year. Mitchell Tolman (Healy’s replacement) hit one. Altobelli’s defense, Thomas’ on-base abilities and Sherfy’s shutdown of ninth innings will all be missed, but the Ducks have the personnel to at least somewhat replace their contributions. Almost none of the Ducks can replace Healy’s.
Bantly — I think replacing the bat of Healy just won’t happen. Healy is someone who had the “green light” for the Ducks but they don’t have that power threat. Not to say that the Ducks are in trouble offensively. With Tolman, Kyle Garlick and maybe even Scott Heineman will hit a lot of doubles.
Mosch — Replacing Healy will be the toughest task for Oregon and its best chance to replace his bat in the middle of the order will be Kyle Garlick. The Oregon slugger broke out in 2012, smashing six home runs and producing a .287/.382/.470 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) slash line but was limited to just ten games last season due to a wrist injury. A healthy season from Garlick will be Oregon’s best chance to replace Healy’s production, but breakout campaigns from guys like Tyler Baumgartner or Mitchell Tolman could also soften the blow.
3) Can Jake Reed at least approach Sherfy’s level as the closer?
Flores — Reed said he’s hit 96 miles per hour and consistently throws in the 93-95 mph range. That’s a great sign if it’s true. Of course, velocity doesn’t mean everything and he doesn’t have Sherfy’s filthy slider, but Reed has shown solid control and command as a starter in the past. And he only needs to be good for one inning — two, at most. I expect Reed’s results to be fairly close to Sherfy’s from past seasons.
Bantly — I don’t think so. But I don’t think the Ducks need Reed to be Sherfy-like and nor do I think they expect him to. First of all, Reed doesn’t have a breaking pitch that can compare to Sherfy’s slider. But Reed struggled last year because of the “big inning,” and in the closer role the opposing team won’t have three, four or five innings to pick up his tendencies.
Mosch — Reed doesn’t have the classic profile of a closer, as he’s sported a mediocre strikeout rate (5.54 K/9) out of the rotation during his first two seasons. Even with increased velocity, Reed won’t come close to the rate at which Sherfy was able to miss bats out of the bullpen. Sherfy set the bar so high that it would be difficult to expect anyone (outside of perhaps Garrett Cleavinger) to be quite as effective in the ninth inning, but Reed should serve as a solid stopper nonetheless.
4) How will Oregon fare in this weekend series against Hawaii?
Flores — Oregon had three times as many wins (48) as Hawaii last season. The Ducks are much better and should take three out of four, and a sweep would not be unexpected. Even with some question marks in the rotation, Oregon should have no problem this weekend.
Bantly — I think Oregon should and will sweep the series. The Ducks are talented enough to dominate this Rainbow Warriors team as they did last year. I think the starters all perform well and the offense gets going early. What I will keep my eye on, however, is how freshman catcher Jack Kruger will perform in his first series.
Mosch — Hawaii is coming off a disappointing 16-35 season in which they finished last in the Big West conference in nearly every offensive statistic. Only two Warrior hitters managed more than one home run and they graduated two of their three weekend starters. While Oregon has its own question marks, the Ducks should have no problem taking at least three of the four games in Honolulu.