When the Arizona Wildcats open a three-game series at Arizona State tonight, the first Territorial Cup baseball game of 2019 will feature two squads whose seasons seem to be heading in opposite directions.
Picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12, Arizona (13-11, 2-4 in conference) has endured a start to 2019 that has been up and down to say the least.
The Wildcats opened the year 5-0 and have so far been one of the best offensive teams in the country, but an inconsistent defense and some downright bad pitching has seen them go 8-11 since winning their first five games.
They also come into the series against ASU reeling, after being swept by top-ranked UCLA last weekend and then dropping a one gamer at San Diego State on Monday.
The Sun Devils on the other hand have been the biggest surprise in the country.
After two seasons of finishing under .500, ASU was picked to finish two spots below Arizona at sixth in the conference and were not expected to make too much noise this year.
Instead, they started the season a remarkable 21-0 and were the last undefeated team in NCAA Division I, before Oregon beat them last Saturday.
Much like Arizona, the Sun Devils possess a high-powered offense and they come into the series against the Wildcats ranked No. 9 in the country.
While the UA has had success against ASU during Jay Johnson’s time in Tucson (they are 9-5 against Arizona State under Johnson and have won six of the last seven) this seems to be a reloaded ASU team and it could prove to be a difficult matchup for the Cats after their recent struggles and an injury to one of their best players in Matt Fraizer.
For a Wildcat team who should be desperate to get their year turned around, if they have any hope of receiving an invite to the NCAA Tournament, this rivalry series could end up being season defining.
Here is a breakdown of how the two rivals match-up against one another.
Batting Average: Arizona - .309, ASU - .344
On-base percentage: Arizona - .444, ASU - .430
Hits: Arizona - 252, ASU – 291
Runs: Arizona - 227, ASU - 226
Home runs: Arizona - 19, ASU - 27
Double + Triples: Arizona - 69, ASU - 60
Slight Edge: Arizona
While both teams are among the best offensively in the nation, the Wildcats’ numbers are even more impressive considering they play a majority of their games at Hi Corbett, one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the nation.
Last weekend in Los Angeles, Arizona was able to put some runs up against a run-stingy UCLA team - a testament to just how good their lineup is.
ASU’s pitching is solid, but not as good as UCLA’s so the Wildcats will be hoping that they will be able to replicate that success this weekend.
Runs Allowed: Arizona - 167, ASU - 79
ERA: Arizona – 5.44, ASU – 2.68
Strikeouts: Arizona - 174, ASU - 206
Shutouts: Arizona - 1, ASU - 3
Major Edge: ASU
The numbers here really speak for themselves and Arizona State’s big advantage in this category has a lot to do with how poor the Wildcat’s pitchers have been this season.
While Arizona has been at the top of nearly all offensive categories, their pitching numbers are among the worst in the Pac-12 and their performance on the mound has probably been the biggest reason for their poor start.
So far, the Wildcats have given up the most amount of hits and runs in the conference and have not really had any one pitcher who has been lights out.
They will need some arms to step up in a big way against ASU.
Errors: Arizona - 44, ASU - 24
Fielding Percentage: Arizona - .951, ASU - .977
Arizona’s defense has been better of late but there were moments this season where it struggled mightily.
Defensive mistakes have cost the Cats multiple games and has allowed their opponents to score a whopping 40 unearned runs this season (the most in the Pac-12).
The Wildcats will need to buck this trend if they hope to regroup after a disappointing trip to Southern California, and get a couple of wins against the red-hot Sun Devils.
First pitch between Arizona and the Sun Devils is scheduled for later tonight at 7 p.m. MST.