Drukarev: Despite impressive start, questions surround Oregon baseball

The surprising early-season success of Oregon’s baseball team has been well-chronicled. With a roster full of underclassmen, the Ducks have rolled to a 12-3 start, surpassing relatively modest preseason expectations that were placed on the team after seven players from last year’s squad signed with MLB teams. @@[email protected]@

Oregon’s nonconference success has been remarkable for a number of reasons. Despite losing potential No. 1 starter Christian Jones for the year with Tommy John surgery a few days before the start of the season, the Ducks rolled off a 10-game winning streak early in the year, taking three of four from Hawaii before sweeping Vanderbilt, Belmont and Long Beach State — no easy feat against a respectable slate of teams. @@[email protected]@

The series sweep over Long Beach State was particularly memorable. All three wins came on walk-offs, and in his first year on the team, former track star Vernell Warren scored the winning run in each game.

Those were a magical few days at PK Park.

But while Oregon’s record and resolve have been impressive, it might be a while before we find out if the Ducks are true contenders for a Pac-12 title and a possible trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series, or merely an average team, like they were in 2011.

While the team’s pitching has been strong, Oregon’s offensive production is still lacking.

The Ducks have the third-most wins in the Pac-12, but the second-worst batting average and on-base percentage in the league. Several players in Oregon’s everyday lineup are hitting better than .300 and getting on base at a nearly 40-percent clip, but except for sophomore Ryon Healy, and to a lesser extent freshman Shaun Chase, the Ducks don’t have any dependable run producers or intimidating presences at the plate.

And while the pitching has been quite strong (Oregon has the third-best team ERA in the Pac-12), and I expect the Ducks’ pitching staff to continue to perform at a high level as the season progresses, I’d be surprised if they don’t regress a little. @@[email protected]@

The young pitchers will be tested by Pac-12 hitters. Previously unproven hurlers like Jimmie Sherfy, Jake Reed, Brando Tessar and Jeff Gold have been phenomenal, but how will they respond when the scouting report gets out? How effective will the underclassmen pitchers be in May, when they’ve thrown more innings and fatigue begins to set in? @@[email protected]@

I don’t mean to sound negative about the Diamond Ducks — to the contrary, I wrote at the beginning of the season that I thought Oregon would exceed expectations, and I still think they will. Moreover, judging by the performance of the freshmen and sophomores, Oregon’s future is as bright as any team in the country.

It just might take some time before we get a true indication of how the Ducks stack up in the conference and the nation.

Although the Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in the nation, Oregon’s league slate starts with series against Utah and Washington — two of the three worst teams in the Pac-12 — and a two-game road trip at Texas State before the Ducks get into the meat of their conference schedule.

We’ll get a sense in the next few weeks, but the true test of Oregon’s mettle will come in a two-week stretch in early April when the Ducks face perennial powers Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford.

Until then, the Ducks’ start should be celebrated, the team’s obviously improved chemistry commended and the fast-maturing underclassmen lauded, but we should also acknowledge that we won’t really know much about the Oregon baseball program until they have a chance to prove their ability against Pac-12 competition.

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