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Arizona baseball: Wildcats in good position halfway through Pac-12 schedule

Near the top while playing the top? That’ll work

Cesar Salazar celebrates after a double vs. Oregon
Rachel Huston

After taking two-of-three from the Oregon Ducks over the weekend, the Arizona Wildcats find themselves halfway through the Pac-12 schedule with a 9-6 record, which puts them in a tie for second, five games behind conference-leaders Oregon State.

“This league is unreal. Everybody’s good,” head coach Jay Johnson said after Saturday’s 18-4 destruction of the Ducks. “Somebody made a comment like are you happy that Oregon State’s out of the way and I’m like what are you talking about; everybody in the league is in the top 90 of the RPI.”

“I’m pleased that we won some series against really good competition both at home and on the road,” coach continued. “We’re just going to keep about improving.”

“I’m proud of our team,” sophomore DH/outfielder/pitcher Alfonso Rivas added. “We’ve played really well so far and even after that tough series at Oregon State, we knew we were going to do real well after that.”

“I feel really comfortable about our team,” sophomore catcher Cesar Salazar tacked on. “We’ve shown a lot of competitiveness just bouncing back from tough losses. It’s a really nice team, and I really like a lot of what I see.”

“It’s good,” freshman third baseman Nick Quintana said. “There’s a few games that got away from us here and there that we could’ve definitely won, but we’re halfway and I think that we’re getting in a good groove of things.”

When you look at the current standings though, Arizona has already taken on Oregon State (1st), UCLA (T-2nd), Oregon, USC, and Washington State. So you could say that they’re second in the conference after taking on all the postseason-bound teams with the exception of Washington.

But they’re not going to look at it that way.

Pac-12 Baseball Standings

Team Conference record Overall record
Team Conference record Overall record
Oregon State Beavers 27-3 46-4
Stanford Cardinal 19-9 38-14
UCLA Bruins 18-10 29-24
Arizona Wildcats 15-12 36-17
California Golden Bears 13-14 23-28
Washington Huskies 13-15 27-25
Utah Utes 12-15 24-24
Oregon Ducks 11-17 29-24
Washington State Cougars 10-18 24-27
Arizona State Sun Devils 8-19 23-29
USC Trojans 7-21 20-33

“That has nothing to do with anything,” Johnson explained about the relative strength of schedule they’ve faced so far this year. “I don’t look at our schedule and go that’s a win, that’s a loss; we don’t play at a university that allows for that. This isn’t 1980 anymore, everybody’s good. People are investing more money in baseball. You can’t go out in the summer and evaluate players without another coach from the Pac-12 where you’re at.”

“It’s a bloodbath and it’s not going to change.”

“It’s cool that we faced the top talent and best teams early on to see what we were in for,” Quintana added. “Now we’ve got Utah next weekend so that’s going to be exciting, but I feel like it helped us prepare ourselves for the rest of the season.”

As it stands right now, the Pac-12 is looking at four guaranteed NCAA Tournament bids, with a potential fifth hanging there in either UCLA or Stanford. Last year, the conference got four teams in.

“It’s been about the same,” Rivas said of the relative competition level from this year to last. “Pac-12 is known as a pitching conference, so you’re always going to get those good pitchers, but we’ve played some really good teams so far and we’re proud that we’ve beaten most of ‘em.”

“Nothing is easy,” added Salazar. “As you can see we could have a weekend like Oregon State or we could have a weekend like USC or put up 18 runs in a game. No teams are easy, and we just treat it one game at a time. We don’t look at opponents, we just play to the best of our ability.”

Quintana has reached base in every Pac-12 game this season. He’s hitting .317 in conference play with a team-high four home runs.

“I’m not trying to chase one game at a time,” Quintana said. “Mostly it’s just trying to help my team win. It’s cool that there’s consecutive game stuff, but it’s really just trying to help the team win, simplify things, and get base hits.”

“I feel like it’s been all that I’ve expected,” he continued about playing in this conference. “All the guys always talk about ‘Ah Pac play, your freshman year you’re gonna get scared’ and stuff like that, but it’s been awesome. To me it’s no different than when we play midweek, non-conference games, because we try to take every game the same way. But it’s been fun.”

No matter how you slice it, Arizona is certainly in good position coming into the home stretch. Their toughest remaining series (Utah, Washington, and Cal) are all at Hi Corbett, and in reality, this team is chasing a national seed in the postseason, not a Pac-12 Championship.

So if the Cats are able to improve on their 19-1 home record this year, you can bet on more home games following that last weekend of the regular season.