Baseball Preview: Northridge

After going through a 1-4 slide, Fullerton won the series at Blair Field last weekend to improve the Titans record against Long Beach State to 15-4 over the last 19 games. Fullerton gets Big West conference play started this weekend with a series at Cal State Northridge (12-16).

Northridge started the season well at 10-6 but have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Most of the games during Northridge's losing skid were on the road and the Matadors have gone 6-4 at home this season.

LINEUP

Northridge has struggled to score runs during their 2-10 skid, scoring two runs or less in five of those games. However, Northridge is the best hitters park in the Big West and the Matadors have averaged over 7 runs per game at home so something has to give. Northridge has decent power (13 HR's on the season), isn't that patient at the plate (averaging 3 BB's per game), doesn't bunt much (11 SAC's) and will run the bases (32 SB's with 26 of those by three players). Northridge has struggled defensively this season, making 58 errors that have contributed to 50 unearned runs, so they have shuffled their infield around in an attempt to solidify their defense.

C - John Parham (RH) and Jowen Murray-Thornton (LH) share the catching position, with Parham getting about 2/3 of the starts. Parham has been one of their best run producers, leading Northridge with 3 HR's and 18 RBI's, but hits for a low average (.257). Murray-Thornton has done a decent job at the plate (.289) but doesn't provide much power (11 of 13 H's are singles). They are below average defensively in allowing 22 WP's and 6 PB's and have allowed 35 SB's in 44 attempts (25-31 vs. Parham, 10-13 vs. Murray-Thornton).

1B - Jorge Andrade (RH). Andrade was solid offensively last year and has been even better this year as one of the Big West leaders in batting average. He usually hits 3rd and is definitely somebody that has to be pitched to carefully. Andrade is tied for the team lead in HR's and 2nd in RBI's. He is average defensively, making 4 E's. '07 stats - .385 - 3 HR's - 16 RBI's - 0 SB's; '06 - .320 - 3 - 19 - 3.

2B - Jonathon Sakurai (RH). Sakurai is in his 2nd year as a starter. He is the leadoff hitter and makes the offense go with his
outstanding speed (2nd in the conference in SB's). Sakurai led the team with 8 SAC bunts last year but doesn't have a SAC bunt this year, focusing on getting on base to set the table. He struggled at SS earlier this year (14 E's in 20 games) but hasn't committed an error in 8 games at 2B. '07 stats - .336 - 0 - 12 - 14; '06 - .295 - 1 - 19 - 14.

SS - Jason Dabbs (RH). Dabbs was inserted into the lineup when Northridge shuffled things around with their middle infield, when Todd Shelton (22 starts) was benched. He has some pop in his bat but not much speed and has struggled defensively, making 8 E's in 15 starts. '07 - .270 - 2 - 10 - 1.

3B - Richard Cates (LH) and Alex Bardeguez (Both). Cates and Bardeguez have been splitting 3B evenly and both were part-time players last season. Cates is the better hitter but both have struggled defensively, combining to make 11 E's so look for Fullerton to be putting some bunts down this weekend. Cates - '07 stats - .281 - 1 - 6 - 1; '06 - .255 - 1 - 8 - 2. Bardeguez - '07 stats - .120 - 0 - 2 - 1. '06 - .196 - 0 - 4 - 1.

LF Anthony Reed (RH), CF Amiel Traynium (RH), RF C.J. Belanger (LH). All 3 are newcomers and have been solid defensively. Reed has struggled offensively while Traynium and Belanger have been solid at the plate on the bases (combining for 12 steals). Reed '07 stats - .156 - 0 - 6 - 1. Traynium - '07 stats - .292 - 2 - 13 - 7. Belanger '07 stats - .286 - 0 - 12 - 5.

DH - Kris Kasarijian (LH). Kasarijian is a solid hitter and is in his 2nd season as a regular. He doesn't have much speed or he would probably be one of the starting OF's (has played OF on a limited basis). '07 stats - .271 - 1- 15 - 0; '06 - .295 - 0 - 19 - 2.

PITCHING

Because Northridge is the best hitters park in the Big West, that means that their pitchers pitch in a difficult environment. Northridge has allowed an average of a little over 6 runs per game at home this year. Opposing batters have hit .292 and combined with the team making 2 errors per game and the pitchers allowing about 5 walks per game, that has resulted in lots of baserunners. The team ERA is 4.49 (not much behind Fullerton's) but with 50 unearned runs allowed, Northridge is giving up close to six runs per game. The first two SP's for Northridge have been solid and have kept them in most of the games they have pitched.

Friday SP - Joe Rocchio (RHP, 1-3, 3.19 ERA, 3 saves). Rocchio was Northridge's closer last year (6 saves) and earlier this year but was moved into the weekend rotation four weeks ago. In his four starts, he has been going allowed 18 runs (11 ER) on 25 H's in 24 IP (4.13 ERA). Rocchio has had good control, allowing 2 BB's in each of his starts, and has only allowed 1 HR in 31 IP. Rocchio has struggled against Fullerton in his 3 appearances (2 starts), allowing 13 R's on 19 H's in 10 IP.

Sat SP - Jimmy Jolicoeur (RHP, 4-2, 3.86 ERA). Jolicoeur has been Northridge's most effective starter, holding opponents to 3 runs or less in 5 of his 8 starts. He has allowed 65 H's in 51 IP (.307 avg) but 27 of those hits were given up in two starts.
Jolicoeur has also had very good control, allowing only 12 walks but he has hit 8 batters. He has given up 3 HR's and allowed 15 extra base hits. Jolicoeur allowed 3 R's on 3 H's in 1 1/3 IP last season against Fullerton.

Sun SP - Chuck Fick (RHP, 0-4, 6.12 ERA). After being solid last year (6-7, 4.48 ERA, 90 IP, .237 BA), Fick has struggled this season, especially with his control (23 BB's in 32 IP) and that has helped to keep him from going longer than 5 2/3 IP in any of his starts. He has also allowed 16 extra base hits and hitters have a .301 average against Fick. If Northridge decides to use a different SP on Sunday, it is likely to be Edwin Quirarte (2-3, 4.01 ERA), who was also a SP last year. Quirarte was in the rotation the first four weekends before being taken out when Rocchio was put into the rotation. Quirarte has also struggled with his control (17 BB's in 33 IP) and also allowed hitters to hit for a .301 average but he has only allowed 4 extra base hits (0 HR's). Quirarte was ok last year (4-7, 4.50 ERA, 78 IP, .274 BA). Fick allowed 6 R's on 9 H's in 4 2/3 IP against Fullerton last year and Quirarte pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Relievers - Northridge has used quite a few relievers this year with the starters going over six innings in only 4 of 28 starts. The two LHP's that have been used out of the bullpen are Jared Miller (8 apps, 7 2/3 IP, 1.17 ERA) who has pitched well but been wild, allowing 5 BB's, and Bobby Paschal (12 apps, 13 IP, 0-1, 7.62 ERA), who has had terrible control (15 BB's). The primary RHP's that have been used out of the bullpen have been Phillip Hann (13 apps, 19 IP, 1.42 ERA) who is a ground ball pitcher with very good control (only allowed 2 extra base hits and 1 BB); Mark Haderlein (3-2, 2.04 ERA, 12 apps, 17 2/3 IP), who has been tough to hit (.206 BA) but has had control issues (7 BB, 9 HBP) and Quirarte (9 IP in 6 relief apps, 2 R's allowed), along with several others with 5-7 IP.

OUTLOOK

Northridge has played pretty well at home this year, winning series with UNLV and nationally ranked Oklahoma State and losing the series to Washington State. But, all of those series were played before the downward spiral that Northridge went into on the road in losing 2 of 3 at Texas Tech and getting swept at UCSB and Washington. None of those teams are expected to finish in the top half of their conferences. Fullerton has won the last twelve games against Northridge, with seven of the games decided by at least five runs. The Titans shook out of the doldrums against Long Beach last weekend and have to be riding a good amount of momentum after scoring 4 runs in the 9th inning on Sunday to pull out the game and the series win. Unless Fullerton's pitchers struggle with getting outs in a hitters park (something that they struggled with at East Carolina, in addition to the hostile crowd), the Titans should take at least two games this weekend, if not sweep all three games.