The Arizona Wildcats baseball team had a stretch this season where it lost seven of nine games with the tying run coming to the plate in the ninth inning in five of those seven losses. A lot of fight, a lot of close games, but it’s still seven losses in nine games.
This UA squad exhibits the football team’s “60 Minutes of Arizona” attitude except the wins haven’t been coming at the end.
Things seem so much different than last season on the diamond. One year ago the baseball program was counting down the innings until the end of a woeful 22-33 season. The 2014 squad had little fire and no chance.
This season’s BatCats have cleaned up their image. They play hard and battle to the final out. You want them to win but they haven’t been able to put it all together.
The Cats have certainly been competitive. The UA has played five teams in the RPI top 50 (USC, Arizona State, Rice, Oregon State and Cal) and 11 of the 17 games against those teams have been decided by three runs or fewer. The six games with Rice and OSU were decided by 12 totals runs. There were two one-run losses to ASU.
The problem is Arizona is only 4-13 (.235) against those good teams. The Wildcats are 5-10 (.333) overall in games decided by two runs or fewer and just 2-9 (.182) against the RPI top 50 when the final margin is no more than three runs.
The frustrating part is the team has had streaks where it gets hot at the plate and stretches of solid pitching but the hotness hasn’t overlapped. The Cats scored 23 runs against Utah (average of 7.7 a game) but lost the series. Arizona scored 18 in Phoenix against ASU (six runs per game) but loss that series as well. Then in consecutive series against OSU and Cal the UA hurlers allowed a total of 24 runs (four per game) but suffered a scoring drought and went 1-5.
This past week summed up this team’s inconsistency. The Wildcats scored 17 runs in the final non-conference game against ASU and 14 in the first game versus Washington State then turned around and scored five total runs in the final two games with the Cougars. It took 11 combined shutout innings from Bobby Dalbec and Tyger Talley (plus plating two runs on a dropped fly ball) on Sunday to escape Pullman with a series win against the eighth-place team in the Pac-12.
The UA is 0-4 in series (3-11 in games) against teams above it in standings and 3-1 in series (9-3 in games) versus teams below it. That’s how you end up smack tab in the middle, sixth place in an 11-team league.
It’s not due to a lack of effort or desire. All the close games attest to that.
It’s not due to a complete lack of talent. When Dalbec isn’t throwing eight shutout innings he’s leading the conference in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. Second baseman Scott Kingery leads the league in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, and total bases. Shortstop Kevin Newman is being discussed as a first-round draft pick.
But the team doesn’t have a true ace starting pitcher. The bottom half of the lineup could use one more weapon. The 2015 Wildcats just haven’t had that extra gear to get past good teams.
Arizona’s NCAA Tournament chances have long since moved from slim to none with an RPI worse than 100 but the Cats have won three of their last four games and have 10 games left to try and build on this mini-run. There is one last shot to take down an excellent team with a series at top-five UCLA in two weeks.
I know this team will continue to fight until the final pitch is thrown. Hopefully it will be rewarded with a few more wins.
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