As we now move into the postseason for Oregon State baseball I wanted to take some time looking back at what was an impressive and surprising season and one that ended on a very disappointing note.
We came in with some big questions about a team that looked on paper inexperienced and young overall. There seemed to be a lot of potential, and I really felt that Coach Casey was projecting a good deal of confidence on his team this year. But with some rough off and on seasons over the last three years it was difficult to gauge what this team would bring. Would it be a team that would perform better, about the same, or worse? For almost 85% of the season they were impressive and a pleasure to watch, and what I would say was an improvement over the last few seasons. That said, what did happen at the end when the team went 1 for 7 in its last games? Did inexperience catch up with the team? Did the underdog team chemistry go away when we got Susac and Rodriguez back from injuries? What happened to the stellar pitching?
I personally was kind-of expecting some of the flashes of dynamic play we saw at times, but what I did not expect was the incredible balance and maturity this team brought to field for much of the season. There were some off early games that showed the team's overall inexperience, such as the last UCSB game, the second mid-week UO one, and yes the Pac-10 opener loss to UA (I'm going to come back to that UA one in a bit). At the same time the way different players stepped up when others were struggling or out of the line-up due to injuries was impressive. At the end though we saw some extremely flat performances against UW, USC, and UO. This all happened against three of the bottom half of the conference teams at a crucial time when the Beavs basically needed to win only one more of those final seven games to win the conference.
The non-conference part of the season was pretty solid, but also with playing teams like Hartford it seemed a bit difficult to truly gauge how good this team would be going into Pac-10 play. There were solid wins over Gonzaga, Connecticut, and Indiana where the team seemed to show potential. This all came crashing down though with that first loss to Arizona. A loss that seemed surreal at the time with Sam Gaviglio on the mound, and looking back in many ways doesn't seem part of the overall season. The turnaround though was pretty incredible, first it was coming back and taking that series against UA, next we had the highlights of sweeping Arizona State and Stanford, to finally the solid series win over UCLA with Josh Osich's amazing no-hitter .
After an ok, but not overpowering, series win over the last place Huskies we then came the second to last conference series against a red-hot USC team. In this series it seemed to be where the team really started to go flat, which then led to a completely lackluster and unfocused series loss to the UO. It was indeed a surreal season overall in many ways. The season went from a fairly unknown team showing such a high level of resolve and bounce back it became one of the better OSU sports stories of the last few years in my opinion, but then to squander all that hard work and effort in the end was heartbreaking. Personally after all this team went through I guess it wasn't 100% surprising they would have a slump, but the timing of it was so bad I do have a hard time understanding how they could have loss the games to UW, USC, and UO in the manner they did.
That said I also really want to emphasize we can't lose focus ourselves, as fans, of how much this team has accomplished this season. We were given some truly magical moments this season: The multiple come from behind victories (and from a good amount of runs behind) over UT-San Antonio, Long Beach State (game two), and UCLA (game one); Sam Gaviglio's almost near perfect game performance against Long Beach State in game one; Josh Osich's incredible no-hitter performance (first one since 1947 for an Oregon State pitcher) against UCLA in game two; and finally to Ryan Dunn's hitting for the cycle against Portland.
After the break I look at the preseason questions I posed back when, and to conclude here will add with how much this team has done this year I think it is still important to really support their postseason regional in Corvallis. Yes the team is playing under its potential right now, and I'm not quite as "it is a new season" as others, but with what this team has shown earlier this season there is reason to believe they can bounce back and play some really good baseball (remember we never thought this team would make a run at the conference title after losing their first Pac-10 game 18 to 0!). Go Beavs!
1. Will this OSU baseball team return to tradition and small-ball dominance? I don't how to really call this one to be honest. For part of the season this team displayed a very strong head-on-its-shoulders approach to the offensive side of things, but at the same time it just doesn't feel like they have totally taken the small ball play to next level throughout the entire season. With some good team speed we have seen at times some excellent bunting pressure, base running and stealing, and overall making things happen. I think since the team has excelled at times coming from behind they haven't been called on to execute the small-ball quite as much overall. Some examples for instance would be in tighter full game situations or where they are leading and needed to get a run here and there as insurance. What I have noticed have been some missed hit and runs for sure this year, a few badly placed bunts, and some bad decisions on the bases. I wonder if these were signs of inexperience that then came back to haunt the team offensively at the end of the season where the aggressive batting and base running seemed missing all together?
2. Pitching? Gaviglio, Osich, Wetzler, Nygren, Schultz, Boyd, and Bryant are the key names this season and they delivered some impressive games and moments. From Gaviglio's (1.95 ERA, 11-2) near perfect performance (one hit away) versus Long Beach State to Osich's (3.57 ERA, 6-4) historic no-hitter versus UCLA to Boyd (1.55 ERA, 0-0) and Bryant (1.59 ERA, 3-2) finishing off games with a combined 14 saves this season's pitching has been what we have expected from Oregon State pitching.
I guess if I had anything critical to say to about the pitching is that:
First I wish we had a little more presence in the middle relief. Freshman Scott Schultz (2.82 ERA, 3-0) has stepped into this role nicely at times, such as his performance against Washington in game one of that series, but I wish we had one or even two more really solid people here. I think Nygren (3.18 ERA, 8-3) has the potential but with giving up 65 hits in relation to his 52 strikeouts he has been too off and on. Wetzler (4.66 ERA, 6-3) also had his moments of either being solid or being off in his pitching, but with being a freshman I feel he will continue to improve in the upcoming seasons.
Second, and maybe more concerning going into the postseason, I do hope that Gaviglio and Osich can find some more of their early and mid season form. Neither has been terrible at the end of the season for sure, but we don't seem to be getting them quite as deep into games
as we did earlier in the season. Gaviglio also seems to be lacking that strikeout presence he had early on. With 102 total strikeouts this season you just expect closer to ten K performances on a regular basis, but he only had 16 total for his last three starts, which isn't terrible but still isn't quite what we have come to expect from our ace pitcher who in the stretch against ASU, Stanford, and WSU had 22 total.
All in all why I think these two areas are important to bring up is that both will be important as the Beavs move through postseason play. But I will add that it is a tough challenge in Pac-10 conference play. The OSU pitching staff is now up against teams that have really scouted up our pitchers along with our upperclassmen facing conference batters that have dealt with them before over the previous seasons. One thing now is that most postseason teams will be getting new looks at our pitching staff. My feeling is that with what we have seen this season at times I still have confidence in the pitchers. I am looking for Sam and Josh to crank it up a notch.
3. On the field leadership? On the defensive side I have liked the play of Carter Bell in the infield and Parker Berberet behind the plate, as not only solid defenders but as a leaders on the field. I also felt that other players like Jake Rodriguez , Ryan Dunn, Danny Hayes, and Jared Norris all seemed to be in good control of the infield schemes. Another player was of course Brian Stamps and the energy he brought to the game on both sides was a pretty refreshing thing to see on what is kind-of a quiet team.
But to be a bit of broken record here really it was a full team effort this season. You had people like Tyler Smith stepping it up offensively early in the conference play then Brian Stamps got his bat going near the end. Parker Berberet stepped into a solid catching role when Andrew Susac went out with the injury. Basically it was like whoever was put into the outfield seemed to make spectacular catches at key times (Michael Miller, Brian Stamps, Max Gordon come immediately to mind) and so on.
4. Is the Pac-10 as good as people say? And what does this mean for the Beavs? Funny how the Pac-10 turned out this year. Some disappointments for sure with teams like Stanford and Arizona being pretty inconsistent but played well enough to move into the postseason, and other teams like Oregon and Washington State playing under their potential. Then you have a team like California that seems to have glimpses of being dangerous in the postseason, but again has underperformed overall. Arizona State played about at the level one expects for most of the season but tanked a bit at the end, but will finish in the top ten of the RPI standings. Then you have Oregon State performing much better than people expected but like ASU tanked at the end. Finally there is the strange case of UCLA who ends up winning the conference after underperforming for much of the year. Overall I think the conference as a whole underperformed a bit, but have a feeling certain teams can still make some postseason noise, just not sure who (!).
Upcoming in Part Two
In my next installment of the "2011 Regular Season in Review" I will be breaking down some of the key stats and will wrap up my general thoughts about the season.
Photos (from top to bottom)
Sam Gaviglio pitching, OSU versus California, Game 1, May 7, 2011
Brian Stamps on base, OSU versus USC, Game 1, May 20, 2011
James Nygren pitching, OSU versus UC Santa Barbara, Game 3, March 27, 2011
Josh Osich pitching, OSU versus UC Santa Barbara, Game 2, March 26, 2011
Max Gordon laying down a bunt, OSU versus VMI, Game 2, March 13, 2011
Tony Bryant pitching, OSU versus VMI, Game 2, March 13, 2011
Sam Gaviglio pitching, OSU versus USC, Game 1, May 20, 2011
Ben Wetzler pitching, OSU versus UC Santa Barbara, Game 3, March 27, 2011
Carter Bell fielding, OSU versus VMI, Game 2, March 13, 2011
Ryan Barnes hitting, OSU versus Seattle, Game 2, March 23, 2011
Carter Bell laying down a bunt, OSU versus California, Game 1, May 7, 2011