For the first time since opening day, the Trojans have fallen below .500 on the year. Following their home 5-8 defeat at the hands of the Long Beach State Dirtbags on Tuesday, the Trojans now stand at 18-19. It’s been a disappointing stretch for the Trojans, as they’ve lost five of their last six games, all of which have been decided by at least 3 runs.
The Trojans have the chance to get back on the horse with this weekend’s road series against Oregon. As evidenced by their 19-18 record, the Ducks are also a middling team in search of answers. Similarities abound between these teams; the Ducks have lost seven of their last eight games and hold a 6-12 conference record, identical to USC’s.
The comparisons don’t end with the records. Like USC, Oregon struggles mightily at the plate; the Trojans are the only team whose .243 batting average ranks below Oregon’s (.248). There’s little to no separation in hitting statistics between the teams, as both their on base and slugging percentages are within .015 of each other.
If Oregon had an offensive strength, it would be on the base paths. The Ducks rank third in the conference in stolen bases, although they also rank third in attempts. USC, meanwhile, ranks second to last in the Pac-12 in stolen bases allowed. The Trojan pitchers must keep the opposition off base to negate this disadvantage.
Oregon’s best hitter is redshirt junior catcher/outfielder Jakob Goldfarb, whose .523 slugging percentage and 5 home runs lead the team. Goldfarb also ranks second on the team with a .313 batting average. The Ducks don’t have a player in the top 10 in the conference in any hitting statistic, so the Trojan pitchers will have little excuse for poor performances.
Oregon’s pitching isn’t significantly better than their hitting; their 3.87 earned run average ranks sixth in the Pac-12. However, the Ducks strike out a lot of hitters (319) and limit home runs (19), ranking second and tied for third in the conference in those respective areas.
The strength of Oregon’s staff is in the bullpen tag team of junior Parker Kelly and sophomore Kenyon Yovan. Kelly’s 1.67 ERA and Yovan’s five saves lead the team. Yovan and junior starter Matt Mercer are tied for second in the Pac-12 with 60 strikeouts each.
The Ducks’ pitchers are definitely hittable, but with USC’s struggles at the plate, there’s no guarantee the Trojan bats will find any traction this weekend. The X-factor for the Trojans this weekend will be junior left fielder Lars Nootbaar.
Nootbaar ranks second for the Trojans in homeruns on the year (5), but he hit two homeruns last week, one against LMU and the other against UCLA. Prior to the start of the season, there were high expectations for how Nootbaar would help the team following his impressive last season, in which he batted .313 and had 7 home runs as a sophomore.
But, Nootbaar has failed to live up to those high expectations this season as he has struggled at the plate, batting .226 on the year. If Nootbaar plays like he did last season and keeps his hot home run streak going, his presence would likely help propel the Trojans to victory this weekend.
The Trojans struggled on the mound last weekend against UCLA, letting up a combined total of 42 runs against the Bruins. Freshman pitcher Kyle Hurt, junior pitcher Solomon Bates and junior pitcher Quentin Longrie all started on the mound over the weekend. Collectively, the Trojans have a 5.56 ERA, the second-worst in the Pac-12, and both the starters and the bullpen have struggled on the mound recently.
Oregon’s fielding leaves a lot to be desired, as the Ducks rank third to last in the conference with a .973 fielding percentage. They’re also the only team that allows a higher percentage of successful stolen base attempts than USC; the Ducks allow a .769 success rate compared to USC’s .767.
The games will take place at PK Park in Eugene, Ore., this weekend. Game one will be played on Friday at 6 p.m. and game two will take place on Saturday at 2 p.m. The series’ last game will take place Sunday at noon.