USC heads out to Arizona State for weekend series

It’s been a frustrating season for USC baseball, despite the team boasting a 14-11 winning record.

Sophomore infielder John Thomas has struggled with hitting, like the rest of the lineup. Sunny Dong | Daily Trojan

After capturing 11 of their first 17 games, the Trojans cooled off as they opened Pac-12 play. This has been especially prevalent in the lineup’s performance, which has simply not provided the pitching staff with the run support necessary to consistently win games against high-level competition.

However, head coach Dan Hubbs and his staff hope that Tuesday’s 9-run road win against UC Santa Barbara wakes the bats up for the Trojans, as the team enters the last two months of the season starting with this weekend’s series at Arizona State.

Arizona State, at 13-16, is another middling team, similar to USC. The Sun Devils don’t get too high or too low; their longest win and loss streaks stand at three. Both teams have little reputation for playing well against top teams; the only top-25 competition they’ve faced was UCLA, both losing two out of a three-game series. The Sun Devils are coming off two straight losses to Cal State Fullerton earlier this week. This should be a well-matched series between two squads struggling to find consistency.

Arizona State’s greatest strength is hitting. The Sun Devils rank fourth in the Pac-12 with a .292 batting average and are second in the conference with 22 home runs. They also have a .436 slugging percentage, ranking behind only California and Oregon State.

Arizona State receives contributions from the entire lineup, but there are two hitters who stand out. First is freshman infielder Spencer Torkelson, who is hitting .284 and has 14 home runs on the year, tied for most in the conference. Torkelson is liable to go yard on any pitch. Unsurprisingly, Torkelson’s .743 slugging percentage is second in the Pac-12.

The other star is outfielder Gage Canning, whose .431 batting average ranks second in the conference. He sits right behind Torkelson with a .740 slugging percentage, since he leads the Pac-12 in doubles (11) and triples (9). Aside from the two stars, the Sun Devils have five other hitters with double-digit RBIs in 2018, so the Trojan pitching staff will be in for a tall order in Tempe.

The Sun Devils are dangerous at the plate, but their lackluster record is due in part to their irregular pitching performances. Arizona State has a solid starter in Eli Lingos, who is 5-1 with a 2.02 ERA and 44 strikeouts. Other than Lingo, they have no consistent starters with ERAs below 2.93. The team has given up the second most earned runs in the conference (120), due to a lack of bullpen depth.

One key to look for in the ASU-USC series is walks. Arizona State has walked 123 batters in 2018, most in the Pac-12. USC, while not ranking very high in walks, is known to be patient at the plate. If the Trojans keep a good eye, they could score runs without needing to smack the ball around.

Arizona State’s biggest weakness is fielding. They rank last in the Pac-12 in fielding percentage and first in errors and stolen bases against. They have two fielders with five errors and three with six. Similar to Arizona State’s propensity to walk batters, USC might not have to do much to win the series.