The Cats

The Cats fall flat once again.
Photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

Another week, another series loss for the backpedaling Arizona Wildcats baseball team.

Sunday’s 8-4 loss to Stanford left the Cats with their fifth consecutive series defeat. Once again the first game of the series told the story. Arizona is now a perfect 7-0 in weekend series when it wins game 1, and a perfectly imperfect 0-7 in series after dropping the first game.

The UA offense better be careful or Kurt Heyer is going to get a divorce lawyer and sue for lack of support. The Cats have only scored 10 total runs in Heyer’s last five starts. The freshman hasn’t won since Apr. 16 even though his season ERA is still under 3.

Left On Base was the stat of the weekend for Arizona. The Cats reached double-digits in hits in all three games but stranded a combined 28 runners.

A big flaw in the UA offense is the inability to draw walks. The Cats are 9th in the Pac-10 in that department. When you don’t draw walks, and you don’t hit home runs (also 9th in the Pac) you have to string together a lot of hits to put up big innings and you’re susceptible to slumps.

Have the Wildcats slumped themselves out of the NCAA tournament? As hard as it may be to believe, the answer is: Not quite yet.

It’s true that since the Pac-10 merged divisions in 1999 only two teams have made the postseason with losing conference records (Stanford in 2006 and Oregon State in 2007). But it’s also true that the league has unprecedented depth this year.

Five remains the record for tournament teams out of the unified Pac-10 but every indication is that record is about to fall. Before this weekend, Baseball America and Rivals both had all eight of the Pac bubble teams getting in. Arizona was even in the “safely in” category.

How is that possible? How can you lose (at the time) four straight weekends and still have national writers telling you not to worry?

This will sound very familiar to UA basketball fans: Strength of schedule.

The irony is that a schedule that was intentionally toned down for a young team (25 home games to start the year) could end up being what saves that young team from its youthful mistakes.

The Cats had the 6th toughest schedule in the nation before the third Stanford game. Fullerton became Fullerton again after losing to Arizona so the Cats have a 5-6 record against the top 11 teams in the RPI. Add in New Mexico being decent and the aforementioned depth of the Pac-10 and the UA has 13 wins against the RPI top 50, third most in the Pac-10 behind ASU and Stanford. The result is an RPI in the teens before Sunday’s loss.

Can you really count on the Pac-10 getting eight bids? ASU and UCLA remain locks. Oregon is in with its 37 wins and RPI. WSU is in after clinching a winning conference record and getting hot at the right time (9-1 in their last 10 games). Stanford just needs one more win to lock up a positive conference record and move to “in” status.

That’s the standard five bids and it leaves Arizona, Cal and Oregon State trying to swim through uncharted waters. The good news for the fans in Tucson is Cal is actually fading worse than the Wildcats (seven straight losses and 11 out of 15 for the Bears). It makes the final-weekend showdown between Arizona and OSU very interesting.

If you’re the Wildcats you can’t afford to get swept. I don’t care how good your computer numbers are, finishing the season on a 5-14 skid is just begging to be left out. On the flip side if Arizona wins the series it becomes a lock with those pretty PRI numbers.

The gray area is winning exactly one game. Would a top-30 RPI and 33 wins be enough to cancel out a 12-15 league record and 6-9 road record? I don’t know. The stats say to relax but I can easily envision the Pac-10 being “shocked” by only getting six bids while an extra SEC or ACC team goes dancing.

Winning sure would make everything easier.