Beyond the Chalk

The No. 13 baseball team's 18-2 start and 1-0 record in Big 12 play is impressive, but let's not drink the kool aid just yet.

This team should have a great winning percentage with its weak schedule, and it is lucky that the snow came in last weekend against Baylor. The Sooners were on the verge of losing the second game of the series, and they did not have a consistent starting pitcher left in the rotation unless head coach Sunny Golloway was going to give senior pitcher Michael Rocha his first weekend start of the season.

Now that conference play has started, OU is going to have to mask its deficiencies that weren't exploited during the first 20 games.

Let's start with the most important position on the field and biggest inconsistency on the team, the starting pitchers.

Junior Zach Neal, the Sooners' ace, hasn't been anywhere near to what he was advertised coming into the season even though he does not have a loss this year. The Howard College transfer cruised through his freshman and sophomore years, but this season has been anything but easy.

Neal has a 6.56 ERA and is two walks away from tying last year's season total, and his biggest problem at the moment is he is having trouble locating pitches where he wants. It's a fixable problem, but he needs to fix it quickly in a hitter-friendly ballpark like L. Dale Mitchell Park.

And Neal has not been the only question mark in the starting rotation. None of the other starters outside of junior Bobby Shore has strung together multiple quality starts, and Shore was didn't look so hot last weekend against Baylor.

Shore could have received his first loss in five chances when the Sooners were trailing 5-0 in the bottom of the third inning Friday, but a snow storm came in and cancelled the rest of the series.

The only consistent shining light has been the back end of the bullpen. Senior pitcher Jeremy Erben and junior pitcher Ryan Duke have been the perfect one-two punch in relief.

The other glaring problem on this team is still looking for someone to complement sophomore third baseman Garrett Buechele at the plate. Fellow sophomores first baseman Cameron Seitzer and shortstop Caleb Bushyhead have been serviceable at the plate, and Seitzer has had the hottest bat on the team in the past few weeks.

If those two hitters can step up to protect Buechele, who has faced some struggles as of late, then the offense can start putting up some runs against quality pitching.

Still, 18-2 is very good, and it's hard to take that fact away from the Sooners. OU has to address some of these issues early on in its tough conference schedule if it wants to have any shot of finishing in the top three in the Big 12.

But if the starting pitching doesn't come around and Buechele does not get some continuous help from his teammates, then the good start will have been all for nothing.

We'll start to find some of that out this weekend, as OU hits the road for a three game series at Nebraska that starts at 6:35 p.m. Friday.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories