ASU baseball opens critical season with 46-run series


There was some concern about whether the Arizona State baseball team can put together a pitching staff for this season that will enable the Sun Devils to turn things around after two straight losing seasons.  Last year there was too much inconsistency on the mound and not enough help from the bullpen.

Judging by the results of their opening weekend home series against Notre Dame, the pitching has become less of a concern.  Not so much because it was superlative, but because there appears to be plenty of offensive firepower to support the pitching staff.

The ability to score 46 runs over a three-game series, sweeping a major college program like the Irish, provides a certain sense of reassurance.  It was the second-most runs scored in a three-game season opener in school history.

And it has got to be especially comforting to ASU head coach Tracy Smith, who is unquestionably sitting on a hot seat right now.

This year’s team is just three games into the 2019 season, but we’re in crunch time already.  Actually, this entire season will be crunch time since a lot is riding on its outcome.

It’s past time to give the fans an opportunity to be able to follow their Sun Devils to Omaha.  It has been nine years since an ASU team made it to the College World Series in Nebraska.  The last couple of years the Devils haven’t even been able to get out of Tempe.  They posted identical 23-32 records the last two seasons.

This is a proud, tradition-rich program that had gone to the CWS four out of the five years previous to 2010.

That means that Smith’s job is on the line going into the 2019 season.  He’s just four years into the job after being hired in June of 2014 to replace Tim Esmay.  The former college and professional player came to ASU from Indiana University where he led that program to a couple of Big Ten Conference titles, was named national Coach of the Year, and twice selected as Big Ten Coach of the year.

But Smith hasn’t been able to duplicate that success in Tempe.  All four seasons under Smith have been disappointing in the postseason.  The first two years, ASU lost in the regionals, and the last two years they didn’t even make it into the postseason.

The 2017 season marked the first time in 55 years that an ASU team finished a season with fewer than 30 victories and last year was an even bigger nightmare.  That season was the first time in school history that an ASU baseball team had back-to-back losing seasons.

But the Sun Devils showed some improvement by winning 13 games in the rugged Pac-12 Conference, an increase from nine the year before.  And that helped to buy Smith another season to try to turn things around.

It also helped that Smith has rounded up recruiting classes the last two years that were ranked among the top five in the nation.  His boss, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson, is looking down the road to what that talent will hopefully begin to produce.

But that road is getting shorter with each passing season.  This is the time Smith needs to begin cashing in on his recruiting successes.

And maybe sweeping the opening series from Notre Dame is a sign that that is beginning to happen.  ASU’s power at the plate simply overwhelmed the Irish as the Sun Devils racked up wins of 10-1, 20-7, and 16-5.

Sophomore infielder Spencer Torkelson and junior outfielder Hunter Bishop led the barrage of hits.  Torkelson stacked up nine hits on 14 trips to the plate during the series, with nine RBIs.  Bishop went 8-for-14 and accounted for seven runs.

Tonight, San Diego comes to Phoenix Municipal Stadium to take a try at cooling off the Sun Devil bats.