After dropping its final road game of the season to UC Riverside 3-1, Oregon baseball (27-27, 10-17 Pac-12) returns to Eugene where it awaits the UCLA Bruins (45-8, 22-5 Pac-12), who were recently named the consensus No. 1 team nationally for the tenth consecutive week.
It’s no secret that 2019 has largely been a lost season for the program, but a win or two this weekend could be huge for the struggling Ducks. While they no longer carry the burden of their long losing streak, the struggles have continued for the Ducks as they grabble to piece together wins. Oregon is 3-3 in its last six games, yet it still sits at ninth in the Pac-12 standings.
Its opponent sits atop the league. And while just a few games above Stanford, the Bruins have proved to be one of college baseball’s biggest powerhouses. UCLA has won eight in a row and 16 of its last 17, with its lone loss coming at the hands of Cal on April 19.
UCLA can often win games on talent alone. In D1Baseball.com’s top 150 prospects list, five Bruins made an appearance: Michael Toglia, Chase Strumpf, Ryan Garcia, Jeremy Ydens and Ryan Kreidler.
If Oregon hopes to steal a game, or even two, from the uber-talented Bruins, it starts with pitching. During a recent stretch where the Ducks lost nine of 10 games, they were outscored 116 runs to a mere 56.
Since that stretch, the Ducks have only been outscored 45-38. The pitching has shown marked improvement, but despite the uptick, there’s still plenty of work to do.
UCLA is one of the better hitting teams in the nation, providing balance throughout the batting order. Toglia is a standout hitter with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs on the year; however, four other Bruins have racked up at least five home runs and 30 RBIs.
Given Oregon’s propensity for a low turnout of hits, pitching will be crucial in this series if the Ducks hope to stay within striking distance.
At the plate, the Ducks must come to play if they want to keep up with the Bruins’ high-powered offense. Gabe Matthews and Spencer Steer have been in the spotlight much of the year as they’ve carried the offense. Jonny DeLuca, Tanner Smith, and Taylor Adams will be relied on to carry their share of the production. UCLA’s balance will make it tough on Oregon, who will need some unexpected contributors in a series that’s largely stacked against them.
While the Ducks are largely out of postseason consideration, they still have something to play for. Although extremely unlikely, if they were to sweep UCLA, there is still a puncher’s chance they could continue their season or spoil UCLA’s No. 1 ranking. Two wins would also put the Ducks above .500 to finish the season.
Either way, the series will be a final showcase for Oregon’s young prospects to make one final push against the nation’s most dominant team.
The series kicks off 6 p.m. Thursday evening at PK Park, followed by a 6 p.m. game on Friday and finally a 4 p.m. game on Saturday to close out the season.