The Arizona Wildcats baseball team traveled to Washington and won another Pac-12 series. The UA got some help from around the league and ended the weekend with sole possession of 1st place in the conference standings.
What could possibly be wrong with that?
A lingering weakness flared up on Sunday and left the weekend feeling incomplete.
First, the good news. With Arizona winning twice and both Oregon and UCLA losing twice the bottom line has improved from last week. Tied for 1st place has been replaced with Alone in 1st place. At the end of the day, that’s the only news that matters.
Pitchers Kurt Heyer and Konner Wade were tremendous in their respective starts on Friday and Saturday. If you wanted a return to the Stanford series this was it. Two complete games, two total earned runs, 12 strikeouts and just three walks.
Let’s not gloss over Heyer’s current run. In his last four starts (all Arizona wins) the junior has pitched 35 innings (three complete games), allowing just seven earned runs and five walks with 22 strikeouts. His season ERA is now below two and with ASU’s Brady Rodgers getting detonated by Stanford Heyer took a step forward in his bid for Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.
The Wildcats as a team took a step backwards on Sunday. The difference between this series and the one against the Cardinal is the bullpen only had to get three outs against Stanford. The UA relievers were entrusted with five outs against the Huskies and it proved to be too many.
The Washington rally spoiled a fine outing from James Farris. The statistical data is very clear: Every time Farris retires 14 in a row the Wildcats sweep. When he only retires 13 in a row, they don’t.
Sunday also marked the first game Joey Rickard missed in his 157-game career. The junior outfield suffered leg injuries stealing second base in Saturday’s game and will be reevaluated in Tucson.
It was one of those series where the taste left in your mouth depended on when the loss occurred. If the Cats had lost a heartbreaker on Friday and then came back to take the series (a la the Washington State and Oregon State series) then you’re pumped up about the 2-1 weekend record. But with Heyer and Wade absolutely dominating, and with the bullpen being handed a two-run lead with one out in the 8th, the two wins on the weekend don’t feel like enough.
The news around the rest of the Pac-12 couldn’t have gone any better, however. The tri-leaders went their separate ways and only Arizona survived with a series win. If you would’ve been offered a chance before the weekend to have the Cats alone atop the standings by Sunday night you jump all over it.
Bruin and Duck fans can’t even say it was “only Washington.” This same Husky team took two from Oregon, and Arizona already has series victories against the two teams that just beat UCLA and Oregon.
But…man. How great would it have been to host Oregon in two weeks with at least a two game lead in the loss column?
Now you have a freshman closer who has faced five batters in his last two games and failed to retire any of them. Mathew Troupe has lost his command and maybe his confidence.
In that regard next week is the perfect time to go out of conference and host East Tennessee State. Yes, you have to get the wins because if you factor in the midweek games – and the rankings certainly do – the Wildcats have had three straight non-winning weeks (5-6 overall record since the Stanford series). Arizona is still competing with teams nationally for hosting slots so collecting victories is essential.
On top of that you want to get Rickard healthy, you want to keep the three starting pitchers sharp and – somehow, someway – you have to get some positive innings from Troupe and the bullpen.
No question it was a disappointing way to end the road trip. I doubt there were many happy guys on the flight back to Tucson. But there were a bunch of other plausible scenarios involving that three-way tie for the Pac-12 lead that would’ve been much worse for the Wildcats.
When weighing pros and cons it’s best to start and finish with the bottom line.
The Wildcats missed a golden opportunity to make it an exceptional weekend but the series in Seattle was certainly successful. After a trip to the shore of Lake Washington the BatCats have the ship back pointed in the right direction.
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