Weekend Preview: Baseball on Pac-12 Networks
Arizona at Oregon (Friday at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks) Coming off a national title run supercharged by the nation's most productive offense, Arizona (0-3) isn't used to losing. They certainly aren't accustomed to being swept at home, but that happened to them this past weekend at the hands of blistering-hot Oregon State. Needless to say, the Wildcats' bounce-back effort in Eugene this Friday will be intriguing - and it'll be televised on the Pac-12 Networks at 6 p.m. PT. There's some uncomfortable connective tissue linking Oregon (2-1) and Arizona: the teams have both been gut-punched by Beavers' sweeps over the past two weekends of Pac-12 play. Oregon State busted out the brooms to close out the 2012 conference regular season versus the Ducks in an effort that derailed the Quack Attack's conference title hopes at the finish line; the Beavers parlayed that success into last weekend's season-opening Tucson romp. Now, both of Oregon State's victims will tangle in a pivotal series. Remember, the Pac-12 season is only 30 games long, so it's more of a sprint than a marathon. A series loss would send reeling Arizona 1-5 out of the gate, so there's plenty at stake here. Baseball purists are in luck: the Ducks lead the Pac-12 in successful sacrifices (27), while the Wildcats aren't far behind (25). Arizona loves starting runners (the club's 53 steals more than double the Pac-12's second-leading team), while Oregon prides itself on defense (the Ducks' .987 fielding percentage is the class of the conference). Oregon ace Jake Reed is tasked with keeping the pesky Wildcats off the bases, while Arizona Friday starter Konner Wade looks to bounce back against a Ducks offense that's hitting only .240 out of the gate. Run manufacturing success will go a long way in determining vital Pac-12 positioning for this pair of favorites.
USC at Washington (Friday at 6 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Los Angeles/Pac-12 Washington) USC (2-1) is still a team trying to find itself after the dismissal of head coach Frank Cruz, while Washington (0-3) attempts to discover a semblance of success with its bats. Both of these ball clubs are scuffling, so early season desperation from both sides isn't out of the question this weekend in Seattle. The Huskies' offense has run into particularly tough times. Sophomore Branden Berry was expected to be a stalwart in the middle, but an offseason injury has shelved him for the entirety of 2013. The statistical effect has not been pleasant: Washington's .237 average, .295 slugging percentage and .304 on-base percentage all are Pac-12 lows. The Dawgs have registered only one sacrifice fly in 18 games. The Trojans' Bob Wheatley is scheduled to throw against Washington's Nick Palewicz in Friday's televised game on the Pac-12 Los Angeles and Pac-12 Washington at 6 p.m. as both teams scramble to regain their footing.
[Related: Pac-12 Networks TV listings]
Arizona State at Oregon State (Sunday at 12:00 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks) Sunday's televised series finale from Corvallis should be fantastic. Both Arizona State (1-2) and Oregon State (3-0) were a whisker away from competing for last year's Pac-12 championship; the Sun Devils' motivation might have taken a hit due to their postseason ban, while the Beavers were one step shy of elite status. It certainly seems that Oregon State has taken that extra step this year. The Beavers' dominant road sweep of defending national champion Arizona to open the conference slate pushed their record to 19-1. Fantastic pitching has registered a league-leading 1.59 ERA so far, while super sophomore Michael Conforto is doing it again: his six homers, 21 RBI and .1195 OPS anchor a patient Beavers attack that has drawn 97 walks in 20 games. Oregon State will try to use that fusion of patience and power to wear out a similarly balanced Arizona State ball club. The Forks stumbled at home against Washington State to open the conference season, but their .290 staff ERA and 11 early season home runs are indicative of a typically talented ball club. Pat Casey's Beavers are the early Pac-12 front-runner, but their spot will certainly be challenged by one of the conference's traditional elites. David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He's a play-by-play voice and on-air reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.