USC falls to Arizona in sweep to end the season


That’s how many wins the USC baseball team finished their season with, after being swept by Arizona to end their season over the weekend, the least by any Trojan squad since 1957. That team was 18-4.

Veteran · Junior infielder James Roberts went 2-4 with a double in USC’s final game — a 7-1 loss to Arizona. A steadying presence in the middle of the lineup, Roberts hit .320 this season with a team-leading four home runs. - Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

Veteran · Junior infielder James Roberts went 2-4 with a double in USC’s final game — a 7-1 loss to Arizona. A steadying presence in the middle of the lineup, Roberts hit .320 this season with a team-leading four home runs. – Ralf Cheung | Daily Trojan

So needless to say, this could be considered another throwaway season for USC baseball, their eighth straight without a winning record. From the time USC joined a conference in 1927 until their last winning season in 2005, the Trojans had eight total seasons without a winning record.

There was no remarkably bad stretch of play in 2013, such as when the Trojans went 1-15 to close out the season last year. USC’s longest losing streak was five games, experienced on two occasions throughout the season. They were only swept in weekend series three times, but actually won four series of their own.

What there was was youth, and lots of it.

Youth manifests itself in many ways on a baseball field, as any member of the 2013 Trojans (with 16 true freshmen on their roster — roughly half the team) could tell you. But there is probably no bigger sign of youth than impatience.

“We were really, really young,” USC coach Dan Hubbs said. “We lost a lot of close games. We struggled to close out games. We struggled to get the big hit.”

And there is plenty of hard evidence to back that claim for these 2013 Trojans. USC tied for last in the Pac-12 in walks taken with 132. Conference champion Oregon State took 236, while UCLA led the conference with 249. Coveted bases-on-balls come only with having the experience and the confidence at the plate to wait for the right pitch to hit, and to simply not swing and take base if that pitch doesn’t come.

One look at USC’s stats will back that up. Only four Trojans finished with more than 10 walks on the year; three were upperclassman, and the lone sophomore — catcher Garrett Stubbs — has started almost every game in his two years with the program.

On the mound, walks reflect the inexperience as well. USC issued 241 free passes this year, 35 more than next-worst Arizona State and 99 more than the aforementioned champion Beavers.

“We knew this year was going to be a struggle,” Hubbs said. “We had our ups and downs and inconsistency, but the program will be better off for it.”

The youth did show promise, and a good bit of it too. And for that, Hubbs understandably would not call this season a “throwaway.” The Trojans will lose only two starters next year (although it could be three if junior third baseman James Roberts decides to sign with a professional team). On the mound, they lose just one relief pitcher and return the entire starting rotation, all of who made great strides throughout the year.

“There’s a lot to be excited about, especially with our starting pitching,” Hubbs said. “We showed a lot of promise there.”

So while it will be a very similar Trojan roster that takes to Dedeaux Field next spring, it will be a very different Trojan team. Four current freshmen — shortstop Blake Lacey, outfielders Bobby Stahel and Timmy Robinson and pitcher Kyle Twomey — will all have a year’s experience as starters under their belt. The weekend rotation is in good hands with the likes of Twomey, current sophomore Wyatt Strahan and current junior Bob Wheatley, with the latter two finishing the year with sub-2.80 ERAs.

“The culture of this program is changing,” Hubbs said, echoing the comments made by players throughout the year. “Guys are working extra on their own now. The kids have bought into the work ethic. It’s 35 guys invested in winning. And with another year’s experience and comfort, we’re gonna see a difference.”

The big question will be the bullpen. Six true freshman saw significant action out of the ’pen this year, with tremendously varying results. All dazzled at times, and all had their fair share of forgettable outings. Hubbs once memorably likened picking relievers to “flipping a coin” because there was simply no way to know who would have it on any given day. Next year, Hubbs wants to have a set group of a few core guys out of the bullpen — five or less, ideally, as is commonplace with the Pac-12’s top teams.

It’s clear that Hubbs isn’t concerned about the Trojans’ disappointing play this year, and expects a dramatic improvement from his team next year.

“Let’s say we win 23 games (instead of 20), well, we’re still not in the postseason,” Hubbs said. “We need to focus on what we need to do to make this program viable again long term. If we look like this next year, then it’s a lost season.”