It has been an awfully long time since the Cincinnati Bearcats have played in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. They did not receive a particularly easy draw with their first bid in nearly half a century, as they will contend with the defending national champion Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis, Oregon on Friday night.
While there will be plenty of learning opportunities for the Bearcats as they compete in this tournament, we tried to learn a little bit about Oregon State baseball before Friday by talking to Joe Londergan from Building The Dam. Here’s what we found out.
After winning the College World Series last season, what went right and what went wrong during Oregon State’s title defense?
Joe Londergan - Right: Adley Rutschman’s last audition for the pros has gone well...especially at the plate. (17 homers, 56 runs, 75 hits)
JUCO transfer shortstop Beau Phillip has proved to be an admirable replacement for Nick Madrigal both offensively and defensively.
The pitching staff and defense as a whole was actually pretty good with the second lowest team ERA in the nation at 2.98
Wrong: A LOT of really talented guys went to the pros...Nick Madrigal, Cadyn Grenier, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach...and that’s not even all of them!
Injuries...namely Kevin Abel. The team (and arguably the country’s) best pitcher went down for the season with an injury that required Tommy John surgery.
Finally, Oregon State looked like two different teams at times... On weekends they were typically pretty strong, but they dropped the majority of their weekday games. Part of that you can blame on young pitchers having to step up before they were ready due to injuries, but there’s no excuse for the offense which was head-scratchingly bad in a lot of those games.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your confidence level in advancing past the Corvallis Regional? Why?
JL - Probably around a six? I just don’t have confidence in our more inexperienced pitchers right now and, frankly, this team is just cold right now. They sputtered badly in their last series dropping two of three against a USC team that could be described as “average, at best” and didn’t look much better in the series prior to that. Plus there’s some really quality talent in this regional. With that said, they’re still the defending national champs so anything can happen.
Adley Rutschman is having an incredible season. Is there an any way to pitch to him other than to just walk him and hope for the best against the rest of the lineup?
JL - The kid is incredible. Honestly, walking might be the smartest strategy as demonstrated by the fact that he’s been walked 73 times this season. That’s more than anybody in the nation by a decent margin. Don’t let his baby face fool you.
Speaking of the rest of the lineup, who should the Bearcats be most worried about this Friday?
JL - Adley, of course. But other than him, Beau Phillip is the only other Beaver hitting above .300 and leads the team in doubles with 14. Alex McGarry can absolutely crush a ball when he gets the right pitch, but also strikes out quite a bit. So it’s a toss up with him, I suppose.
How healthy is the pitching staff right now?
JL - They’re not. As I mentioned, they lost their strongest guy in Kevin Abel early in the year. Mitchell Verburg, who has been one of the more dependable relievers this season, is done as of last week. Brandon Eisert, a reliever turned starter with some really great performances over the course of his college career, is a big question mark. At some point, it’s going to fall to some of the freshman and sophomores, most of whom simply need some more practice.
Which pitcher would you want on the mound if you needed to get three outs?
JL - Probably OSU’s closer Jake Mulholland or Brandon Eisert. Eisert’s dealing with some injury issues of his own and it’s uncertain if we’ll see him this weekend. But both have a real knack for getting out of innings.
Who wins Friday’s matchup and why?
JL - I think Oregon State does. Oregon State’s offense, in theory, should be able to outpace the Bearcats. Plus, Cincinnati is likely going to face Bryce Fehmel: Oregon State’s most experienced and least injured starting pitcher on Friday, which is a good thing for the guys in orange.
BONUS QUESTION: What did you think of the final season of Game of Thrones?
JL - I thought it was weird when Khaleesi married Jack Sparrow. Man, that show really went off the rails at the end.