Preview: CSF vs. LBSU

After Fullerton had their sixteen series winning streak snapped by being swept at East Carolina, the Titans split midweek games against Pepperdine and San Diego last week. The Titans were off last weekend and are looking to get back to their winning ways against another team looking for revenge after being swept by Fullerton last year, Long Beach State.

That sweep kept the Dirtbags out of the post-season for the first time since 2000.

Long Beach is 12-7 on the season and has gone 6-1 at Blair Field, although the Dirtbags haven't played there much lately after splitting weekend series at Arizona State (2-1) and Wichita State (1-2) the last two weekends. Long Beach has played one of the toughest schedules in the country and has won series with USC (2-1) and Texas (2-1) and lost their series at Rice (1-2). It is worth noting that 6 of 7 losses for Long Beach have been by 1 run, which means that they have been in almost every ball game that they have played this year. The Dirtbags have also won five games in their final at bat.

LINEUP

Long Beach's lineup has been more productive this year than it was last year when they relied on one player (Evan Longoria) to hit nearly half of their HR's for the season. Long Beach has scored 7 or more runs in 8 of their 20 games (counting the midweek game with Pepperdine that will be completed later in the season). However, except for the offensive explosion in the desert at ASU when they scored 30 runs against a suspect pitching staff in a hitters ballpark, Long Beach has been averaging just over 4 runs per game and has scored 2 runs or less six times. Long Beach doesn't run much (10-23 SB's), bunts about as much as they did last year (averaging one SAC per game) and has a little more power in the lineup than last year (12 HR's so far; 24 total last year). Long Beach's lineup is pretty experienced and one of their newcomers has replaced Longoria as the main HR source.

C - Travis Howell (RH), Kip Masuda (RH) and Brian Capon (RH) share the catching position. These three have been splitting the position pretty evenly as the the Long Beach coaches wait for one of them to step forward. Whoever starts usually bats 7th or 8th. All have struggled with the bat as they have combined to hit .129 with 0 HR's and 6 RBI's, which is a little surprising for Masuda after he hit .314 in 51 AB's in '06. They have combined for 6 SAC bunts. They have done a good job defensively in allowing only 8 WP's and have done ok against baserunners (16-25 SB's).

1B - Brandon Godfrey (LH). Godfrey is a 3 year starter and has been one of the leaders for Long Beach. He doesn't hit for much power for a 1B (0 HR's the last 2 years) or for somebody who usually hits 3rd in the lineup but has done a good job of hitting for average to keep rallies going. Godfrey is a good defensive player who made only one error prior to struggling with the astroturf in Wichita, making a couple of errors over the weekend. '07 stats - .340 - 0 HR's - 8 RBI's - 0 SB's; '06 - 0 - 21 - 0.

2B - Matt Cline (RH). Cline is in his 2nd year as a starter at 2B. Cline leads the team with 6 SAC bunts. He does a decent job with the bat, usually batting 9th, but is in the lineup for his defense at 2B (only 10 errors over the last 2 years). '07 stats - .283 - 0 - 6 - 2; '06 - .308 - 0 - 14 - 5.

SS - Danny Espinosa (Both). Espinosa looks like the latest in the long line of high profile players to play SS at Long Beach. He is having an outstanding season in his 2nd year as a starter. Espinosa usually hits 5th. He hit well last year (although not for much power) but made too many errors (19). This year Espinosa is hitting for power and fielding much better, making his first error of the season over the weekend on the astroturf at Wichita. '07 - .338 - 3 - 16 - 2; '06 - .281 - 0 - 23 - 8.

3B - Jason Tweedy (LH), Taylor Krick (RH), AJ Pinocchio (Both). Tweedy has been the starter for most of the season due to being a LH hitter and a good fielder (0 E's) but he hasn't hit much (.214, 0 HR's, 5 RBI's). Krick has primarily started against LHP's and hit well against them (11-24 this year) but isn't as good defensively as Tweedy. Pinocchio started the last two games of the Wichita series so it wouldn't be much of a surprise if he was in the lineup at 3B this weekend. '07 stats - .261 - 0 - 3 - 3; '06 - .339 - 1 - 11 - 2.

LF - A bunch of guys have played here, primarily Steve Tinoco (RH) and Allen Woods (LH). Tinoco provides some pop at the plate (.333 - 2 - 8 - 0) but Woods has more speed and is better defensively (.280 - 0 - 5 - 1).

CF - Robert Perry (LH). Perry is Long Beach's leadoff hitter and is starting in CF for his 2nd season. Perry is having a very good season, has good speed and also has some pop with the bat. He led the team with 10 SAC bunts last year so he also has the ability to leg out bunts for hits. Good defensive player. '07 stats - .342 - 1 - 11 - 0; '06 - .309 - 3 - 33 - 9.

RF - Jason Corder (RH). Corder bats in the cleanup spot and has provided most of the power to the lineup with Longoria's departure and much more power than the corner OF's in previous seasons. '07 stats - .303 - 5 - 11 - 0.

DH - A bunch of guys have also played here, primarily Shane Peterson, who hit very well last year (.339 - 1 - 11 - 2) but has struggled this year (3-36). Other DH possibilities include Kyle Morgan (LH), Tinoco or whoever isn't playing 3B.

PITCHING

Long Beach has long been known for their pitching and this year is no exception. Long Beach has allowed 3 runs or less in 12 of 20 games, including 5 of 7 games at Blair Field, which is one of the best pitchers parks in the country. Long Beach has been getting good work out of their first two SP's and outstanding relief work from their set-up man and closer.

Friday SP - Shane Worley (RHP, 1-0, 3.38). Worley was in the weekend rotation during the non-conf part of last season before coming out of the bullpen during Big West play. His record in '06 was 4-7 with a 3.82 ERA in 21 apps (8 starts). Worley has dominated some teams (allowed 1 run against USC, Cal and Wichita) and has also struggled a couple of times (allowing 5 runs against Texas and ASU, two of the better offensive teams in the country). He has good control and good stuff (37 IP, 9 BB, 29 K, opps BA is .250) and will usually keep the ball down to get ground balls, although he has allowed 3 HR's this season. Worley allowed 4 R's on 7 H's in 4 2/3 IP in 4 apps against Fullerton last year.

Sat SP - Omar Arif (LHP, 1-3, 3.81). Arif is a transfer from TCU and is the typical "crafty lefty". He usually doesn't pitch much more than 5-6 innings and hasn't gotten past the 4th inning in 3 of his 6 starts, with the Long Beach coaches relying on their deep bullpen to finish the game. Hitters are batting .282 against Arif, who has 12 BB's and 18 K's in 28 IP over 6 starts.

Sun SP - JC transfer RHP Manny McElroy was supposed to be the other weekend SP for Long Beach but has been out with an injury for the last month after starting the first two weekends. The other six times that Long Beach has needed a SP they have used either LHP Shane Peterson (0-1, 3.75, 12 1/3 IP) or RHP Andre Lamontagne (1-0, 7.59, 10 2/3 IP). Each one will usually go 2-3 innings and then the other will go 2-3 innings to get them to the middle relievers and/or set-up man. Neither has pitched longer than 3 1/3 innings over their 10 appearances. Both pitched a little last year (Peterson 13 IP in 11 apps, Lamontagne 12 IP in 7 apps).

Relievers - Long Beach has a deep bullpen led by returning set-up man RHP Andrew Liebel (3-1, 0.74 ERA, 24 IP in 10 apps) and returning closer RHP Bryan Shaw (2-1, 2.12 ERA, 5 saves, 17 IP in 10 apps). Both were solid last year (Liebel 2-1, 3.00 ERA and Shaw 1-2, 2.25 ERA, 4 saves) but have been outstanding this year. Liebel will go usually go a 2-3 innings to get the ball to Shaw. Liebel has had very good control (3 BB's in 24 IP) and been tough to hit (.214 BA). Shaw usually pitches the 9th innings, although he pitched 4 2/3 innings in the 13 inning marathon in Wichita on Sunday. Shaw has been tough to hit (.197 BA)
although he has struggled with his control (10 BB's in 17 IP) after having good control last year (3 BB's in 24 IP). Long Beach has had six pitchers make at least four appearances, with 3 LHP's (Adam Wilk, Jason Markovitz and another Brandon Godfrey) and 3 RHP's (Dustin Rasco, David Roberts, Daniel Wolford). All except for Godfrey pitched once last weekend at Wichita.

OUTLOOK

After not playing well at all in flying across the country to play ECU, Fullerton will be playing in another hostile environment although this one will be much more familiar.

Long Beach has been playing well all season, even in their two series losses in similarly hostile environments, and are playing more like the Dirtbags did prior to 2006.

The pitching for Fullerton from the 3 SP's and the primary relievers used on the weekends has usually been pretty consistent. The key to this series will be which Fullerton team shows up - the one that scored 6 or more runs in 13 of the first 17 games or the one that struggled offensively the last 5 games. Fullerton will also need to play much better defensively than the team did the last 5 games in which they made 9 errors.

If Fullerton struggles in either or both areas, Long Beach will come away with the series win. If Fullerton hits like they did earlier and plays defensively like they did in winning the first five series of the season, Fullerton will win the series.