(Photo: Blaine McCormick/WCSN)
It is a fact that Arizona State is a college baseball powerhouse. The program has had 54 consecutive 30-win seasons dating back to 1963.
This season, however, getting to the 30-win mark will be tough.
Coming into the 2017 season, Arizona State landed one of the consensus best recruiting classes in the nation.
Young talent is good, but experience is important as well. Especially in a great conference like the Pac-12.
It’s hasn’t been an easy going for the Sun Devils in 2017, as the team struggled in its first 30 games going 12-18 with a 2-10 Pac-12 record.
ASU head coach Tracy Smith explained that part of the reason the team has struggled is because its a very young team.
“You could say youth blended in a little bit, like when you’re talking about four, sometimes five, freshman playing,” Smith said. “When you have a young team or a team that’s trying to find itself, maybe you get a couple losses early, there’s that confidence piece where you learn how to win you learn how to lose and when we ran some into the teams we did early on, I think guys started questioning the confidence a little bit and when you do that, this game becomes very, very difficult.”
However, since ASU got swept against Cal on the road, the Sun Devils have won six of its past eight, including a sweep of Pac-12 opponent, Washington State.
Before taking down WSU in three consecutive games, the Sun Devils had not won any Pac-12 series on the year.
After the rough stretch to begin the season, the team has looked more confident as ASU is within two games of .500.
“I think we just got over that hump,” senior catcher Zach Cerbo said. “We had a little bit of a rough stretch and it was kind of one of those things were you get a win here or there and things tend to get rolling. I think we got over that hump in the season and we’re just going out everyday and trying to get a win and trying to build off that.”
Gage Canning, the Sun Devils starting right-fielder, has been an X-factor during that stretch, winning Pac-12 Player of the Week during ASU’s 4-0 week in which they beat UNLV in a midweek matchup before sweeping the Cougars.
With their two wins against CSU Bakersfield this past weekend in a three game series at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the Sun Devils clinched their second consecutive series victory for the first time in 2017.
“I think we’re swinging the bats a little better,” Smith said. “We’re cutting down our walks a little bit too, so when you do that you give yourself a chance to win. I think our approach at the plate has been a little better.”
ASU head coach Tracy Smith described his main goal as the head of the Sun Devil Baseball program in a recent interview, saying he came to ASU to get the program a national championship and he isn’t as focused on preserving streaks.
It’s been a very tough season for the Sun Devils baseball program. What’s also true is that this team has used grit to get close to .500 with the final stretch of the season on the way.
The Sun Devils have dealt with major injuries to the pitching staff this year including Zane Strand, Spencer Van Scoyoc, Fitz Stadler and Chris Isbell yet kept fighting.
ASU’s recent success has come against teams weaker than the majority of Pac-12 and things will not get any easier for the team down the final stretch.
The Sun Devils have five consecutive series against Pac-12 opponents to close out the regular season against the No. 4 through 8 Pac-12 teams, including in-state rival Arizona and 2016 Pac-12 champion Utah.
Getting to that 30-win mark and keeping the streak going will be a very tough task for the Sun Devils, but you better believe that Tracy Smith will have his troops ready and this team will grind until the last out is made.
When ASU sat at 12-18 with a 2-10 Pac-12 record, it seemed very bleak that the Sun Devils would even make the final stretch exciting.
Volunteer assistant and third base coach Michael Earley mentioned how Smith’s approach is the same day in, day out.
“That’s just Skip’s personality, he doesn’t quit,” Earley said. “We can be undefeated right now and it would be the same mood as we have now, as far as working and getting better. It’s just his personality and that’s the personality you put on to the team. We could be in the last game of the year, we’re not quitting.”
Give the team some credit and give Tracy Smith and the coaching staff some credit.
The team has 17 remaining regular season games, needing to win 12 to keep the 54-year streak alive. While it’s unlikely that the team goes 12-5 against some tough Pac-12 opponents, there is a chance.
Tracy Smith has put his team in a position in which there is at least a possibility to get to 30 wins and potentially even go to the postseason. A month ago, it didn’t even seem like there would be a conversation about if the team could get close to 30 wins.
Rob Werner is an ASU Baseball beat writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on twitter @robwerner28.