Over the weekend, California swept the Trojans baseball team at Dedeaux Field for the first time in school history. USC’s record dropped to 15-17 on the season, including a dismal 2-7 in Pac-10 play.
To make matters worse, USC coach Chad Kreuter reached a milestone no coach wants to encounter in his fifth season on the job. Friday’s 16-9 loss to the Golden Bears marked loss No. 100 for Kreuter. By the time the weekend was finished, that number had climbed to 102.
Unlike many, I don’t think finding a new coach is the team’s most pressing issue. USC has many other problems to figure out that actually take place, you know, on the field.
The Trojans desperately need to solidify their bullpen, and it would be nice to see some more consistent hitting up and down the lineup — unfortunately, there is only one Ricky Oropesa.
But I still feel the biggest need for the Trojans lies atop their rotation.
This season, USC is without a true No. 1 starter. The team has no ace, a problem for any baseball team wishing to contend in the strong Pac-10.
When junior starters Brad Boxberger and Robert Stock were selected in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft last June, the Trojans were left with gaping holes to fill at the top of their rotation.
Last season, Boxberger, whom the Cincinnati Reds selected as the 43rd overall pick in the draft, posted a 6-3 record with a 3.16 ERA. In 94 innings, he allowed only 69 hits, and he racked up 99 strikeouts as he held opponents to a .211 batting average against him on the season.
Stock was also a rock behind Boxberger. He tallied a 5-4 record with a 2.90 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 77 and two-third innings. The St. Louis Cardinals selected Stock 67th overall.
Replacing an ace at any level of baseball is hard to do, but replacing your best two pitchers in one offseason is extremely difficult.
Still, Kreuter pointed to sophomore Andrew Triggs to pick up some of the slack vacated by his anchors from the 2009 season. Heading into 2010, Triggs was tapped as USC’s ace and rightfully so.
In his 2009 freshman campaign, the right hander was a pleasant surprise for the team. He went 5-3 with a 3.96 ERA in 75 innings pitched. He allowed 79 hits and struck out 50.
But Triggs has yet to elevate his game in 2010. He hasn’t been bad by any stretch, but he hasn’t provided the Trojans with the true No. 1 starter they need.
In eight starts, Triggs has posted a 1-5 record with a 4.19 ERA. He has improved his strikeout rate, racking up 46 in only 53 and two-thirds innings, but he hasn’t been tallying up the wins for USC.
And wins are what the game comes down to.
Triggs earned his lone win of the season in the team’s first game, a 9-4 USC victory over Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. He pitched seven innings, tallied seven strikeouts and allowed four earned runs.
Hardly ace material, but a win is a win.
The problem is since that start, Triggs is 0-5. His 4.09 ERA in that span isn’t bad, but it’s not dazzling either. The Trojans need a shutdown starter, and Triggs hasn’t been that.
Starters Ben Mount and Chad Smith have better ERAs (3.57 and 3.65, respectively) than Triggs, but they haven’t pitched anywhere near the level that Boxberger and Stock did last season.
And senior Kevin Couture has been very unspectacular with his 6.99 ERA in nine games.
Without an established ace, USC has no pitcher to look to when they need a starter to throw up zeros all night and give their bullpen a rest.
A great staff has to start with a strong No. 1. There is still enough time left in the season for Triggs to emerge as that guy — or even for Smith, Mount or Couture to exceed expectations — but as of now, the Trojans are ace-less.
That’s quite possibly the worst of their many problems.
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