Growing pains: Dirtbags playing inconsistent baseball
Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Updated: Thursday, July 12, 2012 15:07
Not since "Seinfeld" dominated the television airwaves has the Long Beach State Dirtbags had a losing record this late in the season.
Through 18 contests, the 2009 Dirtbags have posted a 7-11 record with a 3-6 record at home and a 4-5 record on the road.
And if they keep up this pace, they are in danger of becoming the first team under the Dirtbag moniker — the team name was officially changed to the Dirtbags in 1989 — to finish under .500.
The last LBSU baseball team to finish with a losing record was the 1988 crew, which finished 14-45.
What exactly is the problem for the Dirtbags, though?
So far, the offense has been the strongest asset for the Dirtbags this season, averaging six runs per contest while hitting .292 as a team.
Yet the pitching has been shaky, notching a 5.85 ERA while hurling 14 wild pitches, and so has the defense with 25 errors.
But the defense has improved as the season has gone on and the pitching staff is continuing to develop.
And they better continue to develop — sooner rather than later — because the competition won't get easier when they enter Big West Conference play.
Four out of nine teams have a win percentage of .750 or better — Cal State Fullerton (16-3), Cal Poly (13-4), UC Santa Barbara (12-4) and UC Riverside (14-3).
Each member of this group is ranked in the national top-25 — No. 1 CSUF, No. 12 Cal Poly, No. 20 UCSB, and No. 24 UCR.
Some may attribute Dirtbag pitching to the slow start and others may blame strong pitching performances from the opposition.
But the two obstacles that have really hurt this squad have been youth and lack of consistency.
The Dirtbags were likely to struggle early because 17 players out of a 35-man roster are underclassmen.
Add to that the fact LBSU lost 11 players — including ace pitcher Andrew Liebel and star shortstop Danny Espinosa — to the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft.
It is likely that any team that loses its core group of upperclassmen will struggle in the early going.
Younger players need to begin to develop and step into a contributing role, the team needs to find chemistry and team leaders must emerge.
LBSU has not had a winning streak longer than three games so far and just when it appears they will string together a long winning streak, or at least win a series, they lose.
The most recent example of inconsistency came this past weekend at Wichita State.
The Dirtbags won their third game in a row when they took the Friday game — which is when Wichita State ace Tim Kelly threw for the Shockers.
But they then dropped Saturday's contest, 7-5, and Sunday's, 6-1.
Or take an example from earlier this season.
LBSU was pounding the ball, scoring 10 runs at South Carolina. The next game, they scored 17 runs against the University of San Diego.
But when LBSU was looking to get on a three-game winning streak, it was shutout, 9-0, courtesy of Washington State.
The future looks bright for Long Beach State with sophomore pitcher Jake Thompson and freshman pitcher Andrew Gagnon — who are two out of the three weekend starters — because they will only continue to develop.
Offensively, shortstop Devin Lohman and catcher Kellen Hoime also have produced in the early going.
But if this team doesn't start to develop consistency, this season could be one that the players would like to forget.