Baseball Preview: Southern Cal

After losing a series at Goodwin Field for the first time in three years, the Titans face a program that has won more national championships than anybody else - the USC Trojans (19-14).

After losing a series at Goodwin Field for the first time in three years, a Big West series at home for the first time in five years and a series to UC Irvine for the first time since their program was brought back in 2002, there isn't much time for Cal State Fullerton to sit back and lick their wounds as the next challenge on the Titans schedule comes in a midweek game against a program that has won more national championships than anybody else - the USC Trojans (19-14). USC got off to a strong start this season in winning 5 of their first 6 series but has lost their last two series against two of the best teams in the western region - Arizona State and Oregon State - although in both of those series the deciding game was settled by one run.

LINEUP

USC has struggled at times with run production this year, scoring 4 runs or less in just about half of their games (17 of 33) and the Trojans are averaging just over 5 runs per game. USC is an average hitting team in terms of team batting average (.279) and power (19 HR's) but is pretty patient at the plate, averaging 5 BB's/HBP's per game. USC rarely plays little ball (only 14 SAC bunts) but will steal bases (39-56). USC's youth was displayed by a little shaky fielding earlier in the year (33 E's in the first 22 games) but that has improved lately, with 9 E's over the last 11 games.

C's - USC has two players who have split this position pretty evenly, FR phenom Robert Stock (LH - .279 - 3 - 12 - 0) and SR Johnny Bowden (.283 - 1 - 5 - 0). Stock left HS a year early and likely would have been a 1st round pick in this June's draft. He starts against RHP so he will be in the lineup against Fullerton. Both C's are good at blocking pitches and Bowden is a little better at throwing out baserunners. With longtime MLB catcher Chad Kreuter coaching the team, you know the C's are going to have good fundamentals behind the plate.

Infield - 1B J.J. Owen (SR, RH - .300 - 3 - 22 - 2), 2B Matt Cusick (JR, LH - .313 - 0 - 19 - 8), SS Grant Green (FR, RH - .300 - 2 - 18 - 3) and 3B Hector Estrella (SR, RH - .260 - 2 - 18 - 4) are the primary infielders. Owen has provided some pop after being moved to 1B. Cusick is USC's best all around player and hit .369 last year. Green has solidified things in the middle infield and has a bright future. Estrella was the SS last year.

Outfield/DH - LF Lucas Duda (JR, LH - .283 - 5 - 22 - 2) and CF Nick Buss (Soph, LH - .296 - 1 - 9 - 5) have been in the lineup just about every game. Duda is the most dangerous power threat in USC's lineup and must be carefully pitched to. After struggling with injuries for two seasons, he is getting a chance to show everybody what he can do. Buss gives USC good defense in CF and has very good range. RF has been a platoon position, primarily between Roberto Lopez (JR, RH - .283 - 0 - 5 - 3) and Michael Torres (Soph, LH - .281 - 1 - 7 - 2). Kreuter often subs out one of the regular position players to DH and has also used Darren Gemoll (JR, Both - .293 - 0 - 5 - 2) often at either 1B or DH.

PITCHING

With USC between Pac 10 series, the Trojans aren't likely to play around with their pitching staff too much for a midweek game. The likely SP against Fullerton will be LHP Tommy Milone, who has been a regular SP for the past two seasons. Milone is 2-2 with a 6.53 ERA in 8 starts (41 IP, 55 H's, 12 BB's, 26 K's, .320 BA). Last year, he was 7-4 with a 4.94 ERA in 16 starts (98 IP, 126 H's, 21 BB's, 55 K's, .314 BA). Milone has good control but isn't a hard thrower and is prone to getting the ball up and giving up HR's (5 this year, 16 last year). He pitched 2 innings against Fullerton last year, allowing 2 R's on 3 H's (one an HR).

Relievers - USC has been getting good work out of their bullpen, with their relievers combining to go 9-3 with 14 saves. All of the relievers who will be used against Fullerton are likely to be RHP's. The closer is SR Paul Koss (2-2, 1.93 ERA, 12 saves) who has rebounded from a disastrous JR season when he went 0-8 with a 6.28 ERA after pitching well as a Soph (14 saves). The primary middle relievers have been Kevin Couture (2-1, 4.84 ERA, 16 apps, 22 IP), Hector Rabago (2-0, 4.87 ERA, 11 apps, 20 IP), Shawn Olsen (1-0, 6.55 ERA, 10 apps, 11 IP; 4-6 last year with a 4.85 ERA in 78 IP) and Stock (2-0, 3.00 ERA, 8 apps, 12 IP) when he doesn't catch.

OUTLOOK

Both teams are looking to get back in the win column after disappointing results last weekend, although for USC it wasn't expected that they would go up to Corvallis and win the series against the defending national champions. RHP Mike Morrison will likely be the SP for Fullerton and he was pitching well prior to the start of conference play, when he hasn't been used. If Morrison can get off to a good start to set the tone for the team and the Titans can shake off the disappointment of the Irvine series to get their bats going against Milone early then Fullerton has a good shot of pulling the game out against USC.