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Oregon State Braces For Pac-12 Stretch Run

Luke Heimlich is part of what could be an interesting Oregon State pitching staff this weekend.
Luke Heimlich is part of what could be an interesting Oregon State pitching staff this weekend.

Oregon State finds themselves right where we so often find so many Beaver, and other conference teams for that matter, as they head into a big weekend (4 games in 5 days), and a the stretch run of the Pac-12 baseball season, right smack in the middle of what could soon enough be dog-eat-dog conference slug out.

At more or less the mid-way point in the Pac-12 race (the Beavers and 5 other Pac-12 teams are 15 games through the conference schedule, with 5 other teams at 18 games played, but still with a non-conference weekend to go), 10th ranked Oregon State (26-10, 8-7) sits in 4th place, but just 1 game behind conference co-leaders Utah and Washington, with 24th ranked Arizona, the only other Pac-12 team in the top 25 (and with 20th ranked UCSB, one of only 3 ranked teams in the west), wedged in between.

But California, UCLA, and Arizona State are only a half game further back, in a log-jam for 5th through 7th, with USC, Stanford, this weekend's opponent at Goss Stadium, and Oregon tied for 8th through 10th, just 2 games out of first place.

Every one of those teams except ASU, who is playing their non-conference weekend series, could have a share of the league lead come Sunday night. Or find themselves with no one but Washington State clearly behind them.

And because the conference is at its beat itself up self again, the non-conference games, like Wednesday night's Civil War battle in Eugene between the Beavers and Ducks is also vitally critical, as all the teams are also jockeying for position come selection day, whether it be for seeding for Utah and probably USC, who are likely only getting in with the conference's automatic berth (but as what seed?) or those vieing to even get an invite, and hopefully a 2 or 3 seed instead of a 4.

Pac-12 fans have seen plenty of good football teams find themselves outside the BCS/now CFB Playoffs, or struggling to get into the top 25, after the meat grinder that the last half of the season in this conference can be. And while that kind of competition produced 3 women's basketball teams in the Elite 8, and 2 to the Final Four, this year, beating each other up could also be a factor in why the conference's 7 teams in the top half of the NCAA Men's basketball bracket collectively flopped, seemingly running out of gas in many cases.

And with 4 critical games to play in 5 days, Oregon State, and a pitching staff minus Drew Rasmussen and Sam Tweedt, and Christian Martinek still limited, head coach Pat Casey and pitching coach Nate Yeski this week worked Caleb Hamilton, Steven Kwan, and Andy Atwood, all recently active position players, as pitchers in practice. Just in case.

Travis Eckert and Luke Heimlich will be counted on to go 8-9 innings if possible again, as they both did in Salt Lake City, but it could get "interesting" at some point this weekend. The first complete game of the season wouldn't bother Casey a bit.

And though the Oregon State offense has been potent, they will face a Stanford staff that has the best ERA (2.92) in the conference.

It could be as decisive 5 days as Beaver baseball has faced in the regular season in years. Or we could all be in the same place, the middle of the fight, a week from now.