James Crabtree-Hannigan of the Oregon State sports blog Building the Dam was gracious enough to answer some of our questions heading into this weekend's baseball series between the Beavers and Sun Devils. The results of our conversation is below, and you can see my responses to his questions here.
House of Sparky: Oregon State has outscored its opponents 106-28 during its current 10 game winning streak. Is this team legit, or is that more a product of a weak schedule?
James Crabtree-Hannigan: The scoreline is a product of a weak schedule, but the win streak itself is a testament to Oregon State being legit. No, I don't think the Beavers are going to beat quality Pac-12 teams 25-3, like they did Grambling State, or 14-2, like Portland. But the four game sweep of Fresno State, which included scorelines of 2-1 (twice) and 5-2, shouldn't be scoffed at. Not all of the wins have been impressive on their own, but winning 10 straight, especially with all the newcomers Oregon State has, is impressive. To use a cliché, the 10 game win streak as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
HoS: Who are Arizona State fans going to see on the mound from the Beavers this weekend?
JCH: Oregon State's ace is junior right-hander Andrew Moore, who's been a weekend starter since his freshman year. He actually regressed a bit last year after being named to all kinds of postseason lists after his debut season. His ERA raised almost a full run during his sophomore year, from 1.79 to 2.77, but he appears to be back on track this year, after spending the summer on the USA Collegiate National Team. His ERA is back down to 1.77, and he's walked just 3 batters in his 4 starts.
The back-end of the rotation is a couple of new faces at Oregon State. Freshman Drew Rasmussen will get the start on Saturday this weekend, and junior JUCO transfer Travis Eckert will start Sunday. Eckert has started a game every weekend, but Rasmussen was in the bullpen to start this year before proving himself as a starter. Eckert has been a consistent, steadying presence for a staff with plenty of question marks, and the highly-touted Rasmussen has been as advertised, throwing hard and striking out more than a batter per inning.
The bullpen is a bit more shaky. Sometimes when head coach Pat Casey puts a reliever in the game, it's like he's wearing a blindfold and playing a game of minesweeper. Freshman Mitch Hickey has been a tile that clears half the screen, however, and he'll certainly get an appearance or two this weekend, as he's as close to a closer as Oregon State has right now. Two more freshmen, Sam Tweedt and lefty Luke Heimlich, should also throw some key innings, but other than that you never know what to expect from the relievers.
HoS: What does Oregon State have to do to get ranked in some of these polls?
JCH: Beat a good team. Preferably on the road. So basically, win this series. A sweep probably propels them into the top 20 (where they already are in Perfect Game's, for some reason) and creates the buzz that Oregon State has snuck up on everybody (except Perfect Game, I guess) and is a force to be reckoned with.
HoS: As I mentioned earlier, the offensive output from this team has been outrageous. Who is most dangerous at the plate?
JCH: Freshman K.J. Harrison has been absurd, to the tune of .441 with six home runs (tied for first in the nation) and 24 RBIs. I'll move on from him now because you will probably be hearing his name a lot going forward. Leadoff man Jeff Hendrix and "who knows where he'll be hitting today" man Trever Morrison, two of the most experienced hitters on the team, are both hitting over .350, and both have pretty good speed. Junior Gabe Clark is a name, and power bat, to look out for, and is a guy who'd be a lot better known if not for being overshadowed by the greats of the past couple Beaver teams. Clark also has 6 home runs, despite having played in just 12 games.
HoS: Any special keys to taking two or three games this weekend?
JCH: The pitching preview above gives it away, but it seems like this Beavers team, at least for now, will go as far as their starting pitching will take them. The starters don't necessarily need to be perfect, as the offense has proven they can score some runs, but they need to be efficient so that the bullpen doesn't get stretched out. Even if the bullpen only has to go 10 innings this weekend, things could start to get scary. Of course, good performances out of the 'pen are also crucial.
HoS: Finally, who do you have winning this series and in how many games?
JCH: I say the Beavers take two out of three, but this series really feels like it could go either way.