The WSU baseball team (13-15, 3-5) is looking to bolster their postseason credentials against the Portland Pilots (16-7, 3-3) as they travel southwest to Portland, Ore. Tuesday at 3 p.m.
Fresh off a series win against Seattle University, Head Coach Donnie Marbut said the Cougars have shown the ability to play with any team in the country. Despite positive signs, Marbut said his team still hasn’t displayed the ability to play consistent baseball.
After a 2-1 victory Thursday night against the Redhawks, Marbut’s squad put on a hitting clinic Friday, winning 19-1. With the chance to sweep Saturday afternoon, the same bats that had recently come to life fell silent.
“We just fell asleep again,” Marbut said. “I’d like to tell you that we are close. I’m tired of telling everybody, including them, how close we are.”
Junior pitcher Kyle Swannack, slated to start Tuesday against the Pilots, has experienced the same mixed results as his team in 2012. In eight starts, Swannack is 2-3 with a 6.46 ERA. Opponents are hitting .331 against the Bellevue College transfer in his nine appearances. Marbut said Swannack is still adjusting to facing better competition.
“Most first-year college pitchers struggle,” Marbut said. “They’re not used to the types of players in this conference and they’re not used to the aluminum bats.”
Despite a handful of poor performances, Swannack has shown flashes of brilliance. Marbut said he is confident his hard-throwing right-hander will settle in as the season progresses. Like the rest of his team, he said stringing together wins will be the key to Swannack’s development.
“When he gets more consistent he’ll have more belief, and when he has more belief he will have more success,” Marbut said.
Swannack will need to improve on his performance in last week’s 9-3 loss to Gonzaga for the Cougars to compete with the Pilots. Portland’s pitching staff features a combined 2.23 ERA in 2012. Opponents are hitting just .211 against a rotation that has offset an offense struggling to score runs. As a team, the Pilots are hitting just .247 and averaging just over four runs per game.
“Their pitching is tremendous and that’s what wins games for them,” Marbut said. “It doesn’t look like their offensive numbers are overwhelming, but you can look at teams that have overwhelming offensive numbers but bad pitching numbers and they are just okay teams.”
The same can’t be said for teams with dominant pitching, according to Marbut.
“You look at a team that really pitches well but doesn’t swing the bat at a high, high clip- they can still win a lot of games,” he said.
Portland’s pitching staff, while dominant, likely hasn’t faced any hitters as formidable as WSU right fielder Derek Jones. In 2012, Jones is hitting .408 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs. The Snohomish native has already belted 10 doubles en route to leading the team with a .796 slugging percentage.
A win Tuesday night against the Pilots would bring the Cougars a victory closer to returning to an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2010. Marbut said WSU must double their fifteen victories and finish around .500 in conference to have the chance to receive a postseason invitation. With three Pac-12 teams currently ranked among the top-10 in the country, the conference could receive as many as eight postseason bids. At 3-5, WSU is currently 10th in the Pac-12 standings.