The Arizona State baseball schedule is packed with challenging series, thanks to being a member of the Pac-12 conference. But none will be greater than the three-game home stand against the Oregon Ducks (46-19 in 2012) in early April.
Sure the rivalry with the Wildcats will be dramatic as always, but U of A is no where close to having the same team that won the College World Series last June. The Ducks, on the other hand, will have a nearly identical roster to last season with some quality additions.
Oregon is ranked in the top 10 of the 2013 preseason polls by both Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball. The Ducks return seven position starters, three starting pitchers and All-American reliever Jimmie Sherfy. The honored closer finished last season with a 2.20 ERA, 19 saves, held opponents to a .172 batting average and hurled 93 strikeouts in just 61 innings pitched. On top of that, the team from Eugene reloaded the depth charts with six freshman arms.
Oregon also has a difficult non-conference schedule with a series against Vanderbilt and Cal State Fullerton so they should already be battle tested by the time they visit Tempe.
The reason this should be such an entertaining series is that Oregon proved to be a pitching dominant and defensive minded team that played very good small ball. Now the attention may be shifting to the team's lineups where they will look to find a hot bat. Both juniors Ryon Healy and Kyle Garlick surpassed the 40 RBI mark.
Last season, ASU was swept by Oregon on the road and they only managed to muster four runs of offense all weekend. Former ASU second baseman Joey DeMichele was the only offensive hero against the Ducks considering he hit one homerun and accounted for three of the team's four runs scored. ASU will need someone to rise to the occasion against the tougher Pac-12 foes like Oregon.
So maybe a good old pitching duel in the middle of the season will be a good time to see how the Sun Devils stack up against the conference. If the Sun Devils can keep up and paddle with the Ducks, they should have no trouble competing with anyone else. Besides, ASU still needs to finalize their starting rotation. Preseason All-American Trevor Williams is the only Devil who will throw every weekend.
There will be some time to shape up the pitching staff, however, if Arizona State does not have a consistent rotation by the time they play Oregon, there could be bigger problems in the desert.