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Assessing the state of Arizona baseball as it prepares to host Washington

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There was plenty of optimism surrounding the Arizona Wildcats baseball team prior to the 2019 season.

Arizona had missed the NCAA Tournament last year, the first time that’s happened under coach Jay Johnson, but due to the addition of a top-10 recruiting class and some key returning juniors, the Wildcats were widely expected to enjoy a bounceback year and make a triumphant return to the postseason.

Over the course of the team’s three-week “spring training”, the team’s aspiration to get back to a NCAA Regional was apparent.

“I don’t see any reason why we would not be back in the postseason this year,” junior third baseman Nick Quintana said at the team’s media day on Feb. 13.

“I agree with Quintana,” center fielder Matt Fraizer added. “We have a lot of good arms and I think they will take us where we want to go this year.”

But at almost the halfway point of the season, Arizona—which was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 by the league’s head coaches—hasn’t come close to playing to its level of expectations.

Entering this weekend’s home series against Washington, the Wildcats are 13-14 overall and 2-7 in conference play. They find themselves in 9th place out of 11 Pac-12 teams and are among the worst in the league in nearly all defensive and pitching categories after 27 games.

Pitching wise, the Cats are bottom-three in the Pac-12 in ERA, strikeouts and walks, while being dead last in both hits and runs allowed.

The numbers don’t get any better defensively for Arizona either: it has made the most errors and has the worst fielding percentage in the Pac-12 by far.

These pitching and defensive struggles have overshadowed a superb offense, leading to a seven-game losing streak that included being swept at rival Arizona State last weekend. It was Arizona’s first sweep at the hands of the Sun Devils in 10 years.

The game-winning play of Sunday’s wild, 17-16 loss in Phoenix summed up the season as a whole. ASU won the game in walk-off fashion when Dayton Dooney made an error at shortstop for the Wildcats with two outs and the bases loaded.

To say that these are the darkest days of the Jay Johnson era wouldn’t be too much of a reach at this point.

Now, facing 14-9 Washington, the embattled Wildcats will have to try to regroup as they look at get back to .500 for the season.

While an NCAA Tournament berth might already be out of reach, Johnson and company will want to try to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible to try and finish the year above .500 overall and as close to it as possible in conference play.

The series against a pretty average Washington team is a good place for Arizona to try and start.

The keys to the series for the Wildcats are simple: give their bats a chance by pitching better and playing better defense.

First pitch of game one is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. MST.