Emerald roundtable: Oregon baseball heads to Loyola Marymount looking to stay undefeated

Oregon head coach George Horton, left, Ducks pitcher Jimmie Sherfy (#30), and the Oregon outfielders gather on the pitchers mound during the top of the eight inning. Oregon rotated through five pitchers throughout the night. The Ducks were handled by the Rice Owls 11-4 at PK Park on Monday, June 3, 2013, ending Oregon's hopes for advancement to the NCAA Super Regional play in Corvallis, OR. The Ducks trailed the Owls all nine innings, giving up seven runs in the first three innings alone. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Oregon head coach George Horton, left, Ducks pitcher Jimmie Sherfy (#30), and the Oregon outfielders gather on the pitchers mound during the top of the eight inning. Oregon rotated through five pitchers throughout the night. The Ducks were handled by the Rice Owls 11-4 at PK Park on Monday, June 3, 2013, ending Oregon's hopes for advancement to the NCAA Super Regional play in Corvallis, OR. The Ducks trailed the Owls all nine innings, giving up seven runs in the first three innings alone. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Posted by Emerald Sports on Friday, Feb. 21 at 9:30 am.

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 Chris Mosch and Andrew Bantly discuss the Ducks’ four-game sweep over Hawaii and their upcoming series against Loyola Marymount.

1) What should be Oregon’s biggest takeaway from its sweep of Hawaii this past weekend?

Flores — The starting pitching. Jordan Spencer struggled a bit in his start, giving up two runs, three walks and five hits in 3.1 innings, but everyone else was excellent. Besides Spencer, only Jeff Gold gave up an earned run, and it literally was just one earned run. Tommy Thorpe was solid and freshman Matt Krook was electric. It’s still way too early to tell, but the season-ending injury to Cole Irvin might not be as costly as some imagined.

Mosch — Matt Krook appears to be as good as advertised. Despite being a bit erratic at times (seven wild pitches), Krook was electric in his first collegiate start, striking out eight batters and allowing just five hits in seven innings. Krook and Thorpe should make for a strong 1-2 at the top of the rotation. The bullpen also had an impressive showing, as Darrell Hunter, Jake Reed and Porter Clayton all pitched multiple innings without giving up an earned run. And don’t worry about Garrett Cleavinger. His three-run outing in game two was merely a hiccup. He’s still one of the best relievers in the Pac-12.

Bantly — Despite playing a Hawaii team that will be one of Oregon’s weaker opponents of their season, the Ducks should be happy with the way they fought through tough situations. Matt Krook made his first start on Sunday and the defense wasn’t there to back him up. However, he continued to fight through the defensive struggles to pitch a solid game. And the offense found a way to win on Sunday. It’s no secret that the Ducks’ may struggle on offense, but Sunday they found a way to win not only due to the defense but the Ducks were down two runs to open the ninth inning and they found a way to tie the game and then win the game in extras.

2) The Ducks stole 13 bases (on 17 attempts) against Hawaii. How important is the running game for this team?

Flores — The key stat is the 17 steal attempts. If the Ducks can consistently swipe bases at such a high rate (76.5 percent), they should continue to run on a regular basis. So the running game is important, but only if they run often and do so at an elite rate. Considering how devoid they are of power hitters, getting runners in scoring position for free would significantly help this offense. It’s a much more effective strategy than continuously bunting, thus giving up outs, in order to move runners up.

Mosch — Given Oregon’s dearth of power hitters, the best bet to score runs will be to play small ball. The Ducks managed only five extra base hits during this past weekend’s four-game series, so their offensive production will be contingent on their success on the basepaths. This can be either by being successful on steal attempts or by taking the extra base (going from first to third on singles). The caveat is that this strategy can only work if Oregon maintains a strong success rate on the basepaths. They can’t be giving away crucial outs.

Bantly — It’s simple, really. The Ducks will play a — get him on, get him over, and get him in — type of offense. If they can find a way to put additional pressure on the opposition’s pitcher, that will allow not only for base stealers to get into scoring position, but also more hittable pitches for the batter. Pitchers will want to throw more fastballs and won’t focus as much on location when their mind is preoccupied with the runner on base. If the Ducks can be consistent with their running attack and gain a reputation it will help the offense score dramatically. 

3) Which area do the Ducks need to improve the most?

Flores — Other than the first game of the series, Oregon’s relievers gave up at least one run in each game. In game three, Garrett Cleavinger gave up three runs in the eighth inning, turning a 3-2 lead into a two-run deficit. Luckily for the Ducks, the offense scored three more runs in that game and produced throughout the series. But the offense isn’t always going to be this good, so the bullpen can’t afford to give up late leads.

Mosch — The defense got off to a rocky start in Hawaii, as Oregon defenders committed nine errors during the series. I don’t expect defense to be a long-term problem, as part of the problem this past weekend was just a lack of focus, as evidenced by when shortstop Kevin Minjares dropped a routine pop up in the first game. The Ducks were lucky that Hawaii’s defense was even more sloppy, but they won’t continue to win close games with this many errors.

Bantly — Defensively, Oregon can’t play like they did in Hawaii. LMU and many of their opponents they will face this season will take advantage of the miscues. The Ducks had nine errors in Hawaii, which averages to more than two per game. Though that doesn’t sound too terrible, it’s going to lose games. The left side especially needs to improve. Third baseman Scott Heineman and shortstop Kevin Minjares played poorly in Hawaii. The two combined for six errors on the weekend and those two are considered to be locked-in starters, at least for now.

4) Who will win this weekend series?

Flores — Loyola Marymount is better than Hawaii but, like the Ducks, the Lions are without one of their best pitchers this season due to Tommy John’s surgery. Trevor Megill underwent the surgery last spring. Loyola Marymount has plenty of talent but many of their best players are young and unproven. Plus, the team is still well behind Oregon in most facets. The Ducks will drop the first game to Lions ace Colin Welmon but will bounce back and win the final two.

Mosch — Oregon was able to take two of three from Loyola Marymount last season in Eugene, and I expect a similar result this time. Loyola Marymount’s top two pitchers, Colin Welmon and Patrick McGrath, should give Oregon more trouble than anybody Hawaii was able to throw at them. Oregon should ultimately win this series, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions are able to steal a game.

Bantly — I’m not too comfortable to say that Oregon is going to win the series. I think Oregon has the better chance of the two to win the series but Oregon’s defense seems to be an issue early. In facing LMU, miscues need to be to a minimum and the Lions’ pitching staff won’t let Oregon get away with the errors as Hawaii did. This series will be the first real test of the season for the Oregon offense so it will be interesting to see how they perform especially if the Ducks are struggling on defense. Oregon wins the Sunday game to take the series 2-1.

Follow Victor Flores on Twitter @vflores415
Follow Chris Mosch on Twitter @chris_mosch
Follow Andrew Bantly on Twitter @abant3