The Daily Evergreen

Cougars’ mistakes piling up in early part of season

Inability to practice outdoors, sloppy play resulted in slow start

Then-sophomore+infielder+Andres+Alvarez+follows+through+with+his+swing+%0Aduring+a+game+against+Utah+Valley+on+March+12+at+Bailey-Brayton+Field.
Then-sophomore infielder Andres Alvarez follows through with his swing 
during a game against Utah Valley on March 12 at Bailey-Brayton Field.

Then-sophomore infielder Andres Alvarez follows through with his swing during a game against Utah Valley on March 12 at Bailey-Brayton Field.

JESSICA HARJA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

JESSICA HARJA | DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Then-sophomore infielder Andres Alvarez follows through with his swing during a game against Utah Valley on March 12 at Bailey-Brayton Field.

RYAN BLAKE, Evergreen columnist

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WSU baseball cancelled its four-game opening homestand against Sacramento State slated for the weekend due to inclement weather, and that’s probably for the best.

The Cougars began their season with a two-week road trip, travelling from Arizona to Alabama. It didn’t go how WSU hoped. The Cougars currently hold a 2-6 record, including a three-game sweep at the hands of University of Alabama last weekend.

During that stretch, the Cougars were outscored by their opponents 60-28. Their victories were not easy, either. Both of their wins were by only one run and both required a late-inning comeback.

Baseball is a game of luck, based on the idea that failure is inevitable. Batted balls for the most part are random and uncontrollable. Roughly 30 percent of balls put in play will fall for a hit. That number is mainly static and universal, regardless of talent.

What sets the best teams apart is the ability to limit mistakes. The best teams are still unlucky, but are able to manage their misfortunes and keep them to a minimum.

WSU failed to do that in the first two weeks of the season.

The Cougars’ woes have been mostly self-inflicted. They are last in the Pac-12 in runs allowed, with 60. Of those runs, only 42 were earned. WSU is tied for third in the conference with 11 errors allowed. They’ve also allowed the most passed balls, the second most hit-by-pitches and the most hits in the Pac-12.

But self-inflicted mistakes are fixable, and there is reason to believe the team can improve defensively as the spring progresses.

However, WSU is at a marked disadvantage as a baseball school. They began the season on the road in Arizona and Alabama for a reason the same reason they cancelled this weekend’s series: weather.

Pullman averages 36 inches of snowfall per year, 10 inches more than the national average, according to usclimatedata.com. That’s the second highest average among Pac-12 baseball cities, behind only Salt Lake City.

While teams from California are outside practicing throughout the winter, the Cougars are often forced into the Indoor Athletic Training Facility, limiting their ability to practice.

Head Coach Marty Lees said being able to practice on a field is important for working on defense and tracking balls out of a pitchers hand at the plate.

“I would compare not being able to be outside to [men’s basketball Head Coach Ernie] Kent working out all fall on half court and not being able to use a full court until he played the first game,” Lees said. “It would be kind of tough to run a full-court offense and defense.”

Not being able to work on base running and defense is crucial and hinders the Cougars, especially in the early part of the season. In 2017, WSU dealt with similar struggles due to poor winter weather. They began last season 3-4 before hitting their stride and winning seven straight games.

The Cougars struggled offensively in the first two weeks of last season as well, but results-based analysis is not predictive of anything — especially with such a small sample size — because luck is such a big factor in baseball. Strikeouts and walks are among the few things players can actively do well while luck is not on their side.

WSU ranks sixth in walks, with 33, and sixth in offensive strikeouts, with 54. Despite ranking second to last in batting average with .255, the Cougars rank sixth in on-base percentage with .354. This suggests that once the hits begin to fall, the Cougar offense will pick up and be an average to above-average offense, capable of at least keeping up with their Pac-12 competitors.

Maybe the Cougars will continue to struggle this season; only time will tell. But they are far too talented to continue playing as poorly as they did the first two weeks of the season. As players adjust, WSU should climb out of this early-season slump and be in the thick of the race for the Pac-12 title.

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Cougars’ mistakes piling up in early part of season