The matchup between Arizona and Arizona State this weekend will be played for more than just bragging rights, as this also marks the beginning of conference play for both squads.
The No. 15 Wildcats (16-5) come into the series winners of three in a row and seven out of their last ten ball games. But the No. 6 Sun Devils (16-5) have their own impressive resume, also having won seven of their last ten, which includes a series win over No. 22 Auburn, a series sweep over No. 9 Oklahoma, and a series split with No. 13 Cal State Fullerton.
This marks the beginning of a conference schedule in which Arizona will face six Pac-10 teams currently ranked in the Top 25, but this might be as tough a start as it could have asked for. Recently Packard Stadium hasn't been the easiest place for the Wildcats to play. Arizona is 2-8 in its last 10 games played there and hasn't won a series at ASU since the 2005 season.
As for the 2011 edition of the Duel in the Desert, the Sun Devils are a veteran group led by Preseason All-Americans Zack McPhee and Deven Marrero, but like Arizona's leaders, Jett Bandy and Steve Selsky, the two haven't quite got things together yet offensively. McPhee and Marrero have the two lowest batting averages on the team and have combined for only one homer and 17 RBIs; miles away from their combined .393 average, 15 homer, 106 RBI performance from a season ago.
However, ASU's offense hasn't missed a beat with the unexpected performances of Riccio Torrez (leads team in homeruns and RBIs), Austin Barnes (.436 average), and Joey DeMichele (.412 average) doing most of the heavy lifting.
If there is one chink in the armor for Arizona State, it's the starting pitching. Arizona State throws three righties in junior Kramer Champlin, Brady Rodgers, and Jake Barrett. The three starters combined this year are 6-3, but they boast a very average ERA of 4.13. The Sun Devils also lack a true closer and have closed by committee so far in 2011. Four different Arizona State relievers have recorded a save for the Sun Devils this season.
Keys to the Series
1. Arizona Stars need to Shine: This by far is undoubtedly the biggest series Arizona has played so far this year and it's going need everyone if it expects to get out of Tempe with a series win. Selsky and Bandy are going to have to deliver and show why they're top major league prospects. Without them, Arizona is going to find it very difficult to keep up with a very high-octane and balanced ASU offense.
2. Throw Strikes: Heyer and Simon need to keep their stuff in the zone and use their defense that has a Pac-10 leading .979 fielding percentage this season. The two need to set the tone early, keep the pitch count down and go late into the ball game. This isn't a series where the Wildcats can afford to test their inconsistent bullpen.
3. Taking advantage: Arizona will have times during this series where it will have runners in scoring position with one out or less. Instead of getting the sacrifice fly that scores one run, the Cats need to come through with base hits that score multiple runs. The Wildcats won't outslug ASU, but they won't have to if they just take advantage of the opportunities they're given.
Arizona vs. Arizona State Series History
First Meeting: 1907
All-Time Series: Arizona leads 233-198
Last 10 meetings: Arizona 2-8 in last 10 meetings
2010 Results: April 20 Arizona 4-2, May 4 ASU 13-1, May 15 ASU 12-4, May 16 Arizona 12-4, May 17 ASU 4-2
Series Preview: UA vs. ASU
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