Losing sucks. And absolutely no one likes being blown out. The USC baseball team knows this all too well.
This past weekend was exceptionally rough for the Trojans as they dropped three games by a margin of 6-42 to the No. 15 UCLA Bruins. Yes, UCLA is a great baseball team and USC is a young team that is still trying to recover from an abysmal 2017 season, but two blow out losses of this magnitude are unacceptable. Earlier this season, the rivals met at Dodger Stadium and the Trojans stole a victory with a 3-2 scoreline. This game gave me a lot of hope for USC baseball coming into this past weekend.
The team has had an interesting season so far. It has been almost impossible to predict the outcome of any of their matchups. One day they are playing a tight nine innings with No. 5 Arkansas, only to be bested a couple weeks later by UC Santa Barbara. Baseball is a variable game, and a no-name team can upset the No. 1 seed on any given day. I wrote a column praising the unpredictability of baseball, but this is not the case for USC’s team. When they win, they overcome adversity to grind out tough games, but when they lose, the games are too often blowouts.
Consistency is a difficult thing for a team to achieve in any sport — especially baseball. USC has yet to sweep a Pac-12 series and has won only two of six series. When the Trojans lose, it most often comes as a result of an early lead from their opposition. That lead then snowballs in to a bigger and bigger lead. Moreover, the Men of Troy have not won a single Pac-12 matchup in which they have trailed to start the game. Head coach Dan Hubbs and co. need to find a way to limit big innings because when the Trojans get down by a decent margin early, they are out.
The Trojans are a young team and there will naturally be some growing pains. Despite the large amount of rookies and second-years, a lot of young players have stepped up to the plate (no pun intended). Freshman pitcher Kyle Hurt has had a solid inaugural season. His 5.14 ERA isn’t particularly great, but eliminating his last two starts — which were blowouts — quickly drops his ERA to 2.81. He needs to work on limiting the amount of batters he grants base on balls as he has walked 36 batters in 49 innings pitched. As a freshman, he has a lot of time to develop and could become a lethal weapon for the Trojans in the future.
The duo of catchers, sophomore Blake Sabol and redshirt sophomore Kaleb Murphy, have demonstrated their ability to come in clutch. Sabol had a great season in 2017 and has continued his success this season. Murphy, on the other hand, was a stranger to the field in 2017 but has contributed greatly in his first season as a starter, recording the third best batting average on the team with .294. The pair split time behind the plate; when Murphy is catching, Sabol has been taking reps in left field. Sabol’s versatility and five-tool playstyle make him a significant asset to the team.
One of the things the Trojans are missing this year is the lack of bat presence from the veterans on the team. Junior outfielder Lars Nootbaar was a heavily influential bat in the 2017 season, recording a .313 average and .419 on base percentage. With a .225 batting average and .350 OBP in 2018, Nootbaar has yet to reach the level of production he exhibited last season. His talent is there and we have seen glimpses of his strong hitting capability, but much like the team as a whole, the consistency just isn’t there.
When the Trojans win, they appear to be a solid team. The key is for USC to get on their opponents early and limit big innings. Walking batters leads to putting runners in scoring position, which ultimately leads to runs. By no means are these tasks easy to accomplish, but they will help make significant strides toward finding consistent play.
Sam Arslanian is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” ran Mondays.