It’s pretty much now or never for Arizona baseball in 2019.
The Wildcats have boasted one of the most potent offenses in the country so far this season, averaging 9+ runs per game, but an inconsistent defense and some down-right laughable pitching has seen the Cats stumble out to a merely average 18-16 record with the halfway point of the year now long gone.
For a team who had NCAA Tournament aspirations prior to the season, it simply has not been good enough.
“We haven’t won as many games as we’d want to,” UA head coach Jay Johnson said after last Sunday’s 4-2 win over Cal, “I’m the guy who believes there’s no reason why you can’t win every game. Obviously, we have not pitched well enough or played enough defense to do that.”
The season has been the definition of up and down and after not receiving an invite to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Johnson last year, the likelihood that it could be two years in a row without postseason play has been growing larger and larger with every passing week that Arizona has continued with their inconsistent performances.
To put things in perspective, last season, in a year that they were among the “first four out” of the NCAA Tournament, the Cats were 22-12 through 34 games – four wins better than this season at the same point in time.
Last year’s final record of 34-22 also included only six more losses than Arizona’s current record has, and that’s with a whopping 22 games left this year.
That means the Wildcats will have to play better than .700 baseball (16-6) the rest of this season just to equal their record from 2018 – again, a season in which they didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament.
To finish this year with a better record than last (seemingly improving their postseason chances), the Cats would have to win more than 75% of their remaining games.
These are ominous stats for an Arizona team that opens a three-game road series against the No. 2 team in the country, Oregon State, on Thursday night.
The marquee matchup of two of the Pac-12’s historical powers will feature a battle of the Wildcat’s explosive offense against OSU’s dominant pitching staff.
Arizona currently ranks top two in the Pac-12 in every offensive category (save home runs) while Oregon State, the defending national champions, are top three in the conference in every pitching stat.
The series will be a huge test for the Wildcats, who will need to exorcise the demons that have haunted them throughout 2019 if they have any chance of claiming what would be some massive victories against the Beavers.
It’s vital that the Cats, who are still among the Pac-12’s worst both on the mound and on defense, receive better pitching than they have gotten all season and play solid enough defensively to give their bats any chance to pick up some wins against OSU.
Any amount of victories over Oregon State would help to turn around both the season as a whole and the team’s poor road record. The Wildcats are just 3-9 away from the friendly confines of Hi Corbett Field this year.
For a squad who really has no margin for error if they still want to receive an invite to the NCAA Tournament, it is hard to understate the importance of the three games against the highly-ranked Beavers this weekend in Corvallis.
Randy Labaut (3-3) is scheduled to get the start on the mound for Arizona in Thursday’s game one.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m. MST.