(photo by Craig Jackson, @leftfieldlounge)
They’re 56-4. They’ve run off 23 straight wins – twice this season. And they’re one win away from the College World Series Championship Series.
Oregon State’s Beavers have been damn near unbeatable in 2017. Four teams – four – have claimed wins over Oregon State so far: Ohio State, Washington, UCLA and USC. The remaining teams in Omaha, starting with LSU today, will need to figure out a way to beat the Beavers twice if they are to capture college baseball’s national title.
So, if you’re LSU, TCU or Florida, how do you beat the Beavers? (Admittedly, when a team has lost four of its first 60, you’re kind of grasping at straws.)
- The magic number seems to be six. Teams that scored more than six runs against Oregon State went 3-3, with the Buckeyes scoring six and the Bruins and Trojans scoring seven. Of course, that’s easier said than done against a team that has an ERA of 1.84 and limits opponents to a .195 average. Six times all season a time has scored six or more runs against OSU (in contrast, TCU has allowed six or more 21 times, and LSU and Florida 19 apiece).
- The other magic number is two. Teams that limited OSU to two or fewer runs went 3-3, with Ohio State, Washington and UCLA earning wins. Sound impossible? Consider that the Beavers have 19 more wins when they have scored four or fewer runs, so it’s very possible for the remaining teams to find themselves in a low-scoring game. That said, Oregon State is averaging nine runs a game in the NCAA Tournament, with a low of six and a high of 13 against the aforementioned Tigers.
- Contain leadoff man Nick Madrigal. Madrigal went a combined 3 for 12 against Ohio State, UCLA and USC, going 1 for 4 each game. He went 3 for 5 with the only two runs in the loss to Washington. Again, easier said than done: Madrigal is hitting .388 with an on-base percentage of .451 and 40 RBI.
- Get to Bryce Fehmel early. Fehmel was the starter in three of the Beavers’ four losses: OSU, UCLA and USC. The Buckeyes scratched for seven hits and three runs, including a first-inning run, in five innings early in the season. Fehmel was up in the zone when UCLA rattled him for seven hits and six earned runs in 1.1 innings, including four runs in the first. And USC touched him for six hits and four runs (two earned) in five innings. Of course, Fehmel has handcuffed Vanderbilt and LSU his past two starts, working 17 innings with seven hits, two earned runs and 13 strikeouts.
The Tigers, Horned Frogs and Gators should take solace in that the Beavers play a lot of close games. In fact, 28 of their 60 games have been decided by three or fewer runs. Yet, the Beavers are 26-2 in those games (13-1 in one-runners, 5-1 in two-run games and 8-0 in three-run games).
“When all is said and done, they feed off your mistakes,” said Lindsay Meggs, whose Washington club played three tight games against Oregon State. “You have to play a very clean game to be successful. They do not make mistakes.”
Added Ohio State coach Greg Beals, whose Buckeyes split a pair of games against the Beavers early in the year: “What Oregon State does better than anyone in college baseball is they don’t beat themselves. They are really, really good at the little things.”
The little things, like throwing a ton of strikes, putting the ball in play.
“It’s not rocket science, but they flat out execute at a higher rate than anyone else in college baseball this year,” Beals said.
The key to the Buckeyes’ 6-1 win was pitchers Yianni Pavlopoulos (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 K) and Seth Kinker (3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER). According to Beals, Pavlopoulos used his 88-to-91 mph fastball and pounded the bottom of the zone, mixing in a two-seam fastball and a curve for strikes. Kinker, a sinker-slider guy with three-quarters action, also worked down in the zone.
“If you try to overpitch them, nitpick them, they’re going to wear you out,” Beals said.
“They’ve got something about them,” USC skipper Dan Hubbs said. “I honestly believe Madrigal doesn’t let them lose.”
The Trojans scored a run in the eighth and Cris Perez delivered a two-run single in the top of the 10th in a 7-5 win in Corvallis, the only home loss for the Beavers in 32 games at Goss Stadium.
“They’re so disciplined,” Hubbs added. “They don’t really chase, so you have to make pitches. It’s hard to lay an egg when you have a 1 ERA.”
Meggs, whose Huskies handed Oregon State a 3-2 loss to drop the Beavers to 28-2 on April 13, shared that sentiment.
“You can’t overpitch them. They do a great job of separating balls from strikes, so trying to be too fine early in the count is a mistake. They will take those pitches early, and you will be in negative counts all game. You must force them to swing early in the count.”
In the win, Noah Bremer entered in the second inning and ended up tossing eight innings with nine hits, a run and nine strikeouts.
“You have to force them to get three hits in an inning to score,” Meggs said. “Like all good teams, they take advantage of their opponents’ errors, the walk and the hit by pitch. The free bases will kill you.
“You have to keep the leadoff man from getting on. They are so skilled and disciplined at the plate, they can really apply the pressure when the leadoff man gets on.”
Offensively, Meggs believes you have to play for the big inning early – something Cal State Fullerton was able to do in Omaha with a three-run first and a two-run fourth – because of the Beavers’ tremendous pitching depth.
To state the obvious, LSU has its work cut out for it. The same could be said for Florida or TCU if Oregon State continues its winning ways.
“It is really, really unprecedented for 19 to 22 year-old young men to execute and play as cleanly as they do,” Beals said. “They play with an identity and stick to that plan.”
“It’s just insanity what you’re seeing out of them,: Hubbs said. “They just expect to win every time…I’ve never seen anything like 56-4.”