Inconsistency leaves ASU baseball in tough position

The Sun Devils are near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings with 19 games remaining

ASU baseball started 3-0 in Pac-12 play after completing a sweep of Oregon on March 18. However, inconsistency has derailed what could have been a giant step forward from a 2017 campaign that saw its first losing season since 1985.

Following the sweep of the Ducks, the Sun Devils suffered a 10-3 loss to the UNLV Rebels which snapped their win streak at three games. Since that defeat, ASU is 3-13. At 14-22 overall and 6-9 in the conference, head coach Tracy Smith’s team is ninth out of 11 teams in the Pac-12 standings (Colorado doesn't have a baseball team).

“This is a fast-paced conference," head coach Tracy Smith said after a recent loss to USC. "It is a good conference, and, in fact, it is one of the best conferences in the country, and it can be tough to learn on the fly. But, it still comes down to that consistency will not come until we do a better job of catching and throwing the baseball.”

When you are starting five or more freshmen on a nightly basis, Smith said mistakes come with the territory. ASU’s roster is comprised of 16 freshmen (two redshirt), eight sophomores, five juniors and five seniors.

However, ASU sophomore outfielder Hunter Bishop refuses to use youth as an excuse for poor performance.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the players. It’s on us,” Bishop said.

Defense

The Sun Devils own the worst fielding percentage (.962) and have committed the most errors (52) in the Pac-12.

On multiple occasions this season, ASU has committed errors on back-to-back plays or has had multiple errors in an inning – playing themselves right out of the game.

“You cannot let the nervousness creep in and let that affect your play,” Smith said. “I’m upset with the fact that we let that stuff affect our next play, and that’s where we have to grow as a ball club.”

The Sun Devils often fail to make the routine play and have not done their pitchers any favors. ASU has allowed the second most runs (202) in the conference, but 40 of those are unearned – the most in the Pac-12.

But, the team has also played great defense in spurts. When senior Eli Lingos shut out Washington State, he raved about the plays made behind him.

“It is great when you have our defense like that,” Lingos told the Pac-12 Network. “It was a highlight reel throughout the game ... You knew if they were putting (the ball) in play, your defense had your back.”

This performance sheds light on the team's inconsistency in all parts of the game.

Pitching

ASU's pitchers have also been inconsistent this season as well. 

The Sun Devils have allowed the second most hits (320), the second most earned runs (162) and the third most walks (146) in the Pac-12.

In particular, the bullpen has let the Sun Devils down in recent games. ASU was swept by Stanford over the weekend and on Saturday junior Sam Romero allowed three earned runs in 7.1 innings while ASU had the lead. However, the bullpen gave up seven runs, including a grand slam.

In a loss to USC, Romero worked only 4.1 innings, but the bullpen could not pick him up, turning a close game into an 8-4 loss.

The bullpen and the rotation have showed flashes of dominance but all too often when one unit thrives the other falters.

“Unless we clean that up, wins are going to be tough to come by,” Smith said. “We’ve got to understand it is a game of catching and throwing and competing on the mound.”


Hitting

The offense has rarely been at fault this season, even during its current stretch.

Junior center fielder Gage Canning and freshman Spencer Torkelson have been two of the best hitters in the country. Senior Taylor Lane has driven in runs and the other freshmen bats have hit consistently for most of the season.

The one knock on the offense has been their inability to consistently get timely hits.

ASU has hit .283 as a team this year with the second most hits (344) in the Pac-12. But somehow, the Sun Devils have only scored the sixth most runs (181).

Hitting with runners in scoring position has been an issue. ASU also leads the conference in strikeouts (280) and caught stealings (19), both of which have hurt their ability to have big innings.

All of this has often made the difference in one or two run games as ASU has lost seven games by one run this year.

“We just have to find a way to win,” Smith said. “I don’t know how many one-run losses we have had to this point, but I think it is a lot, and that just speaks to not learning how to win yet.”


Reach the reporter at jpjacqu1@asu.edu or follow @joejacquezaz on Twitter.

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