After a 3-0 start, Pac-12 play has not been kind to ASU baseball

ASU currently sits in ninth place in the Pac-12 Baseball standings at 6-9

Around March 18, Sun Devil Baseball had to be feeling great. ASU just came off a sweep of the Oregon Ducks to open the Pac-12 Conference schedule and were two games above .500 at 11-9. 

Since then, the Sun Devils are 3-13, with two non-conference losses each to UNLV and Cal State Fullerton. During this stretch, ASU also suffered five one-run losses, and three of those came at the hands of Pac-12 teams.

“We're two consistent arms from being a top-15 team in the country,” ASU head coach Tracy Smith said.

Right now, ASU is 14-22, sitting at ninth in the Pac-12 with a 6-9 conference record.

Late-Game Collapses

One area where the Sun Devils have struggled as of late is closing out a game in the late innings. Late-game meltdowns can be attributed to multiple areas. The bullpen, inexperience and trying to do too much at one time have, in one form or another, hampered ASU's chances of victory. 

Take, for example, ASU’s April 3 home game against Cal State Fullerton. The Sun Devils led 4-2 with one out in the ninth inning, however, two singles, a walk and a throwing error resulted in a tied game, 4-4. 

A pitching change was made as junior relief pitcher Connor Higgins entered for sophomore Chaz Montoya. Three more unearned runs would score on two singles and a wild pitch. The Sun Devils would ultimately lose the game 7-6. 

“You just have to execute at the end of the day,” sophomore outfielder Hunter Bishop said after the April 3 loss. “At the end of the day, it’s up to the players.”

In several games this season, ASU has maintained a lead of some kind, only to see it slip away.

Eleven days later, ASU found itself in a similar scenario at No. 2 Stanford. The Sun Devils had a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning, and junior starting pitcher Sam Romero was holding the Cardinal offense at bay. 

With one out, the game began to unfold. After a pitching change to replace Romero, a walk and a single resulted in a 4-3 game, and ASU went to the bullpen once again. A fielding error on the next batter resulted in a tied game, then two batters later, Stanford hit a grand slam to left center field for an 8-4 advantage. 

The Cardinal tacked on three more runs to make it a nine-run eighth inning, and the new score showed: Stanford 11, ASU 4.

The Sun Devils lost that game 11-6.

“We’re going to keep looking (for a consistent bullpen arm), but whether it be this year or through recruiting, we find those six outs, I think we’re on pace to do what we said we were going to do,” Smith said. “I think, positionally, we’re going to stack up with every team in the country, but it needs to get better on the mound.” 

Leading the Pac

The No. 2 Stanford Cardinal lead the Pac-12 with a 27-5 overall record and a 9-3 conference mark. They are closely followed by No. 13 UCLA and Washington, both with four conference losses. No. 7 Oregon State boasts a 26-6 record; however, the Beavers are fourth in the Pac-12 at 7-5. 

“There’s no standout team talent-wise,” senior pitcher Eli Lingos said. “Last year, Oregon State … they stood out above the rest. This year, it’s about the consistency.”

ASU has already seen both Stanford and UCLA this season. Both series were on the road, and the Sun Devils went 1-5 combined. ASU still has upcoming series against Oregon State and Washington remaining on the 2018 schedule, with OSU on the road and UW at home back-to-back weekends. 

“You want to get better,” Smith said. “We’re building toward what are the pieces that aren’t working right now … then get better in the areas that are absolutely not working for us.”

ASU’s in-state rival, Arizona, currently ranks fifth in the Pac-12 Conference at 6-6. However, the Wildcats fared better in non-conference play, going 17-6 as opposed to ASU’s 8-13 non-conference mark. ASU and Arizona will play a three-game series May 17-19 in Tucson. 

“We’ll be in a position to win those games,” Smith said. “Now it’s just learning how to win and close the door.”

What’s Next for ASU

The Sun Devils welcome the Utah Utes to the Valley for a three-game weekend series beginning Friday. 

This would be an ideal opportunity for ASU to pick up some conference victories, as the Utes currently sit in last place in both overall and conference record, respectively at 9-25 and 4-8. 

First pitch Friday and Saturday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., while Sunday’s finale is slated for a 12:30 p.m. start. 


Reach the reporter at michael.baron@asu.edu or follow @Michael_Baron96 on Twitter.

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