Lately, the UCSB baseball team has exhibited more personalities than Norman Bates.
For instance, there’s the pitching staff that at times has displayed all the rhythm and grace of an epileptic marlin. The Gaucho pitching has compiled a bloated 6.11 ERA, second worst in the Big West. The staff surrendered a ghastly 31 runs in three games to Cal State Northridge two weekends ago.
However, last weekend, the pitching staff looked phenomenal, holding UC Irvine to just 10 earned runs in three games.
Then there’s the defense that has been as impenetrable as it has been porous, like the time when it committed just one error over a three-game series only to blunder six times in the following game.
And, of course, there’s the offense. After a Stevie Wonderesque three-hit performance against Irvine, Gaucho hitting bashed 17 runs on 17 hits the next day to poach the Anteaters, leaving baffled fans wondering, “Which team are the real Gauchos?”
This strange duality has plagued UCSB all year long. The team has been feckless yet explosive, overpowering and underachieving; the only sure thing about Santa Barbara this year is that it is consistently inconsistent.
So who are the Gauchos?
Ask senior pitcher James Garcia, who has just two wins this year after a team-record 10 last year, and he’ll shrug and give you a look of bewilderment.
“Guys just haven’t been themselves this year,” Garcia said. “It’s inexplicable – I have no idea why we’re struggling.”
Ask sophomore pitcher Matt Vasquez and he’ll tell you about a team that is easily discouraged by its own mistakes.
“We’ll shoot ourselves in the foot and then give up,” Vasquez said. “It’s like, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ Everyone gets down and the team unravels. We lose against ourselves instead of the other team.”
Garcia agrees that the greatest obstacle the team has to overcome is a lack of confidence because he knows something about a lack of confidence himself.
“I don’t think some of the guys are confident,” Garcia said. “It seems like the breaks go the other team’s way. It seems to snowball the other way.”
“I started off this year not throwing well and then I got hurt,” Garcia said. “I’ve always been a durable player so it bothers me more than anyone can understand. I felt helpless – it was really frustrating.”
Injuries have aggravated UCSB. Ask UCSB Head Coach Bob Brontsema, and he’ll tell you that his worn-out bullpen and his team’s missing aplomb have been detrimental to the team.
“We lost a lot of close games,” Brontsema said. “We’ve given up a lot of big innings. We have to start believing; our confidence has been shaken.”
Now, more than ever, the Gauchos have to find that swagger. Entering the weekend 2-4 in conference play, UCSB faces its toughest opponent yet in Long Beach State. The No. 14 49ers boast the Big West’s only undefeated record.
“They’re a typical Long Beach State team,” Garcia said. “Good pitching, good defense and a scrappy offense. I think we’re just as good on the mound and better offensively. We’re at a huge point in the season, but I like our odds. It’s a real test.”
This weekend and next weekend against Cal State Fullerton will prove crucial in determining the final placement in the Big West standings. If UCSB can win both conference series, they will have survived the toughest part of their schedule on the upswing.
“Last weekend, we were one play from winning all three games,” Garcia said. “We’re not playing our opponent, we’re playing ourselves. If we start off with the top four teams and go 6-6, we have a chance of being one of the top three teams and getting a regional bid. We just need to get gelled together – I think we can do that.”
When you’re two-faced, you’re your own worst enemy and your own best friend.
The Gauchos know that if they can unite as a team, the possibility of a postseason won’t be mind-boggling.