Before WSU traveled to Fullerton, Calif., last weekend to take on the No. 1 team in the country, the Cougars were considered a fringe top 25 team. And two days into the season, they looked the part, having split the first two against the Cal State Fullerton Titans.
Since then, WSU has lost four straight, including a two-game sweep at home this past weekend by Western Carolina. It could have been worse (or better, depending on your level of optimism right now), but snow intervened to cancel the final two games of the series.
The culprit, right now, is the pitching -- which, to put it mildly, has been an absolute disaster. Collectively, opponents are hitting .354 with a .442 on-base percentage and .467 slugging percentage. That includes 11 doubles, three triples and three homers. That works out to about three extra-base hits a game.
WSU has been outscored 57-27 in its six games. Baseball's season is long, but this has to get figured out in a hurry. It might turn out that Fullerton and Western Carolina are just that good -- the Catamounts narrowly dropped their opening series on the road at No. 2 Mississippi State. But WSU is supposed to be in that conversation. It's time the Cougars started playing like it.
What we liked
Nothing. I suppose we could talk about the team "fighting back" to make WCU nervous in the second game, but c'mon - WSU led 5-3 after two before the pitching fell apart again. The time for moral victories is officially over (if there ever was a time for it).
What needs to improve
I've harped on the pitching in general, but the starting pitching in particular must be better. Here are the team's six starts:
Of those six, only two look even remotely OK. And of those two, only Chleoborad's start against Fullerton (the team's lone win on the year) holds up as acceptable. Sure, Monda didn't give up any runs in his start against UC Riverside, but it took him 75 pitches to get through those three innings, and an already depleted bullpen was left to try and help the Cougs hang in.
Coach Donnie Marbut already is trying to push some buttons to get some better results; Joe Pistorese is scheduled to make his first start in the first game of the four-game set with Cal State Northridge that begins on Thursday. He's thrown OK in relief, giving up four runs in 8 1/3 innings. That practically makes him the ace at this point, sadly.
Pistorese was one of the team's weekend starters last year, but he fell out of favor in the offseason. Now he's got a chance to prove he belongs in that rotation again. Monda, Chleborad and Simon will fill out the rest of the weekend Friday-Sunday.
Hitter: Nick Tanielu. Again. The sophomore was 3-for-7 with a double to go .429/.500/.571 in the short series. He continues to be the Cougars' most reliable hitter, as his season mark is now up to .435/.480/.565.
Pitcher: Pistorese. He pitched five innings in relief of Chleborad on Saturday, allowing only a run with six strikeouts and a walk to keep the game close enough that WSU would have a chance. Unfortunately, the Cougs could only muster one more run.
Layne Bruner pitched 1/3 of an inning on Friday and gave up three runs. Only 13 of his 35 pitches were strikes. In three appearances spanning four innings, Bruner has given up 10 runs for an ERA of 22.50. Ouch.
The Cougars travel to Cal State Northridge for a four-game series. The Matadors are hitting just .248 on the season, so perhaps some relief is on the way.