Baseball Preview: Arizona

The Cal State Fullerton baseball team is coming off a 2-1 series road win over the UNLV Rebels. Next up for the 5-1 Titans is a three game homestand this weekend against the Arizona Wildcats at Goodwin Field.

It was another successful weekend for Fullerton as the Titans went on the road and won 2 of 3 games at UNLV, although the players and coaches have to feel that they let one get away on Sunday. The Titans were not being able to close the door on the Rebels to finish off the sweep in Fullerton's first loss of the season as UNLV won the game in the bottom of the 9th.

The hitting for Fullerton has been outstanding with the Titans averaging nearly ten runs per game and hitting .346 as a team but the pitching has had more questions than answers after Wes Roemer and Adam Jorgenson, with the staff ERA an ugly 6.20.

Arizona is coming into this weekend on a roll, having won their first eight games this season (all at home) and 13 straight going back to last season, when the Wildcats won their final five Pac 10 games to end up finishing in 4th place in the conference at 12-12 but failing to qualify for post-season play at 27-28. Arizona has a young lineup (4 FR, 3 Sophs) but an experienced pitching staff, returning all three weekend SP's and their closer. Arizona is starting to get some notice nationally and would like nothing better than to make their mark by becoming the first visiting team to win a regular season series at Goodwin Field since 2004.

LINEUP

Despite fielding such a young lineup with only 2 upperclassmen, Arizona does have four established players returning. 1B Bill Rhinehart, LF Brad Glenn, CF T.J. Steele and RF Jon Gaston all started last year for the Wildcats. Rhinehart and Steele both hit over .300 last year and Rhinehart was 2nd on the team in RBI's. Glenn led the team last year with 10 HR's. DH C.J. Ziegler is a JC transfer and the other players around the infield are FR - 2B Kevin Rodland, SS Robert Abel, 3B Erik Castro and C's Dwight Childs and Daniel Butler. The lineup for Arizona is primarily RH - Rhinehart, Gaston and Castro are the only LH hitters.

Arizona has been scorching the ball this season, hitting .367 as a team (with 7 of the 9 spots in the lineup hitting .360 or better) with a .445 OBP and a .622 slugging percentage. Four players have already driven in ten or more runs this season - Ziegler, Rhinehart, Glenn and Steele. Rhinehart already has four HR's and Glenn had a 3 HR game against Utah Valley State. Arizona will play some little ball depending on the situation, having 10 SB's on the season (5 by Abel) and 9 SAC bunts (3 by Abel).

With all of the gaudy numbers that Arizona has put up, it must be noted that they were done against questionable competition - Gonzaga, Utah Valley State and New Mexico. Also, those numbers were all put up at Sancet/Kindall Field, where the ballpark improves offensive totals by 20% (according to the Boyd's World calculations for ballpark effects). Arizona's offense hit 40 points better and averaged 2.5 more runs per game at home last year than on the road.

PITCHING AND DEFENSE

Arizona has an experienced pitching staff and they have pitched like it, having an ERA of 2.00 in allowing 18 runs total in their first 8 games, with opposing batters only hitting .183. Even against the below average competition, the fact that they have pitched that well at Sancet/Kindall Field is impressive. The Wildcats have played solid defense, with their infield only committing five errors and they have only allowed 3 SB's as the P's and C's have done a good job of controlling the running game. It will be interesting to see how the FR around the infield handle the pressure that the Fullerton offense puts on infielders to make plays.

STARTERS Fri SP - Preston Guilmet, RHP (1-0, 1.88 ERA). Guilmet was only 3-7 last year as a FR but he had solid control and showed his potential by averaging nearly a K per IP. This year, he has taken a step forward. He nearly no-hit Gonzaga in his first start, not allowing a hit until the 9th inning. Hitters have only hit .125 off of him in his two starts. In his start against Fullerton last year, he allowed 4 R's on 8 H's in 6 1/3 IP.

Sat SP - Brad Mills, LHP (2-0, 1.32 ERA). Mills is a SR and was ranked as the #7 prospect in the SR class by Baseball America. He stepped up as the staff leader last year after injuries to Arizona's two best pitchers, Eric Berger and Mark Melancon, leading the Wildcats with 6 wins. He has pitched very well, holding hitters to a .163 average in his two starts. Fullerton has seen Mills quite a bit over the years, including a start last year in which he pitched well, allowing 2 R's on 6 H's in 6 IP.

Sun SP - Mike Colla, RHP (1-0, 2.08 ERA). Colla is a hard throwing RHP who struggled as a FR last year but has looked better this year. He had a solid outing in relief against Gonzaga but only pitched 4 innings (allowing 2 runs) in his start against New Mexico. Hitters are hitting .156 against Colla.

BULLPEN Arizona has quite a few options in the bullpen, including David Coulon, LHP (2-0, 1.80 ERA), who was their other weekend SP last year. Coulon pitched six innings in a midweek start last week and followed that up by pitching four innings in relief on Sun. Coulon has struggled with his control during his career but has averaged nearly a K per IP over the past two seasons. Fullerton has also seen Coulon several times. In four relief appearances against the Titans, he has allowed 6 R's (4 ER) on 10 H's in 8 IP.

Arizona has several other options in the bullpen - RHP Cory Burns, RHP Brett Lorin, RHP Jason Stoffel and LHP Paul Bargas. Those four have combined to pitch 20 innings with an ERA of 2.70, allowing 7 R's (6 ER's) on 20 H's with 4 BB's and 20 K's.

OUTLOOK

Arizona is the best team that Fullerton has played yet and the Wildcats are playing confidently. If Fullerton doesn't play well in all facets of the game for nine innings, Arizona has a good chance of taking this series. Fullerton went 7-2 against Arizona the last two seasons but just about every one of those games was hard fought, such as the 17-15 series winner and the three Regional games in '05. Fullerton swept Arizona last year in Tucson but each of those games was decided by two runs with scores of 6-4, 5-3 and 5-3. Fullerton has to pitch better and more consistently than the team has the first two weekends of the season to win this series. If Fullerton's pitchers after Roemer and Jorgenson step up and the team continues to hit like they have, Fullerton should be able to win a tough series at home.