The Dave Serrano era at Cal State Fullerton has gotten off to a good start thus far with a series win at TCU followed up by a midweek win at home against LMU. Next up for Fullerton is a trip to their house of horrors – Stanford – where the Titans have gone 1-14 against the Cardinal since 1998.
Stanford missed out on regional play last season for the first time since 1993 and is looking to bounce back this year with a very experienced team. Stanford (3-2) has played all of their games at home thus far, going 2-1 against Nebraska and splitting midweek games with St. Mary's (loss) and Nevada (win).
Stanford has an experienced lineup, losing only three major contributors from last year's team – OF Michael Taylor, IF Adam Sorgi and C Brian Juhl. Stanford's offensive approach is to swing away (averaging fewer than 3 BB's per game last year) and play for the big inning and not to manufacture runs by playing small ball. The Cardinal only had 27 SB's and 21 SAC's last season with 31 SB's and 45 SAC's in 2006. Despite having that approach at the plate, Stanford hasn't had much power recently with 43 HR's last year and 40 HR's in 2006. The dimensions at Sunken Stadium are pretty standard (335 down the lines, 375 to the power alleys and 400 to CF) and the park effects on scoring significantly favor pitchers (according to Boyd's World) due to the weather usually being cool and damp in Palo Alto, although the weather forecast for this weekend is favorable for all three games. Stanford has hit 5 HR's in 5 games (4 by two players) and 2 SB's. After exploding for 17 runs on opening night against Nebraska, Stanford has struggled to score runs in their last four games, scoring 12 runs in splitting those four contests.
Stanford was poor defensively in 2007, having the worst defense in the Pac 10, which contributed to their downfall from their usual standards. This year the Cardinal has been better defensively due to more stability in the middle infield.
The C and 1B positions are shared by Jason Castro (LH - .167-1-14-1 last year; .412-2-6-0 this year) and Brent Milleville (RH - .273-1-25-2 last year; .364-0-1-1 this year), with Castro catching 4 of 5 games thus far. Castro is a talented player who hit .283 as a FR but struggled with a hand injury last year before getting healthy during the summer and having a good season in the Cape Cod League. Castro is the cleanup hitter and has been hot at the plate to start the season. Milleville is big (6'4", 245 lbs) and a pretty good athlete for somebody his size. Randy Molina (LH - .295 in 45 AB's last year; .364 this year) will also get playing time at DH and 1B and hit in the middle of the lineup. He also struggled with injuries last year after hitting .308 as a FR.
2B Cord Phelps (Both - .301-0-23-0 last year; .400-2-4-2 this year) made 16 E's and struggled defensively as he was moved back and forth between 2B, SS and 3B. This year, he has settled in at 2B and the leadoff spot and played well. Phelps is 6-15 in his career against Fullerton. FR Jake Schlander (RH - .313-0-3-0) is the SS, bats 9th and his defense has helped to solidify the infield. 3B has been a platoon position between Austin Yount (LH - .231 in 39 AB's last year; 1-5 this year), FR Colin Walsh (Both – 1-5 this year) and FR Zach Jones (RH - .294-1-3-1). Yount is 7-20 with 6 RBI's in his career against Fullerton.
Stanford traditionally does a solid job against the running game, allowing 52 SB's last year and 34 SB's in 2006. This will be a key area to watch this weekend with the Fullerton coaching staff's approach to aggressively running the bases already producing 17 SB's in 4 games.
CF Sean Ratliff (LH - .339-12-45-10 last year; .200-0-2-1 this year) is coming off of an excellent 2007 season when he was the best player for Stanford and 1st team all Pac 10. Ratliff is an outstanding athlete with good speed and a strong arm (he also pitched in 2006 but has only played OF the past two seasons) and bats 3rd but has gotten off to a slow start thus far. He is 5-15 in his career against Fullerton. LF Joey August (LH - .343-2-27-3 last year; .200 this year) was a part-time player early last season before settling into a regular role during conference play, when he responded well to more playing time by hitting .388 in Pac 10 games. He is 3-9 in his career against Fullerton. RF is handled by Jeff Whitlow (.276 in 58 AB's this year; 4-11 this year), who was a part-time player last year and has good speed, leading the summer league where he played in SB's. Brendan Domaricki (LH - .310-1-20-0 last year; .300-0-2-0 this year) and Toby Gerhart (RH -.289-2-12-3 last year; 1-9 this year) will also get some playing time at DH and in the OF.
Stanford traditionally has been known for having strong pitching staffs but the wheels fell off last year when the Cardinal had their worst team ERA ever at 6.01, including a team ERA of 7.10 in conference games. Stanford's pitching is looking to rebound with a new pitching coach, former Stanford All-American Jeff Austin. Stanford's pitching staff is very experienced, losing only one pitcher from last year (SP Nolan Gallagher).
Fri SP Jeremy Bleich (LHP – 2-8, 5.56 ERA, 16 starts, 98 IP, 60 K's last year) underachieved last year as most of the Stanford pitchers did and a big part of his problem was allowing hitters to tee off (30 2B's, 9 HR's, .299 BA). Bleich was 4-4, 4.05 ERA in 60 IP as a FR. Bleich pitched very well last Fri against Nebraska, throwing 6 shutout innings, allowing 1 H. He has pitched well against Fullerton, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief in 2006 and allowing 1 R in 6 IP last year before tiring and leaving with the bases loaded in the 7th, with the bullpen allowing all 3 runners to score.
The other two SP's are Erik Davis and Jeff Inman. Davis (RHP – 4-2, 5.29 ERA, 18 apps, 6 starts, 51 IP, 42 K's last year) primarily pitched out of the bullpen before moving into the rotation during Pac 10 games late last season. Davis led the staff last year with a .263 BA allowed. Davis did not pitch well last Sat against Nebraska, allowing 7 R's in 2 2/3 IP. Inman (RHP – 4-4, 5.74 ERA, 15 apps, 13 starts, 74 IP, 62 K's last year) had an up and down FR year but was Stanford's most effective SP during the conf season with a 4.78 ERA during Pac 10 games. Inman does a good job of keeping the ball down, allowing only 3 HR's last year. The Nebraska series was supposed to be a 4 game series last week but rain shortened it to 3 games so Inman pitched out of the bullpen, throwing 4 innings and allowing 1 run. Inman threw 3 scoreless innings in his first college start last year against Fullerton before tiring and allowing 5 R's in his next 1 2/3 IP.
The reliever that Stanford will rely on most is David Stringer (RHP - 3-2, 4.70 ERA, 7 SV's, 61.1 IP, 41 K's last year.) Stringer has allowed 1 R in 6 IP in 2 apps this year. Stanford's #4 SP/midweek SP is Max Fearnow (RHP - 2-3, 7.71 ERA, 2 SV, 26 IP, 23 K's last year), who has pitched much better in two abbreviated starts (one by rain, one by pitch counts in the middle of the week), allowing 3 R's in 8 IP.
Other relievers for Stanford include Yount (RHP - 3-1, 6.21 ERA, 1 SV, 42 IP, 21 K's), Blake Hancock (LHP - 1-0, 6.41 ERA, 1 SV, 20 IP, 13 K's), Tom Stilson (LHP - 2-1, 6.55 ERA, 22 IP, 13 K's), Andrew Clauson (RHP - 2-0, 5.93 ERA, 14 IP, 11 K's), Cory Bannister (0-0, 6.75 ERA, 13 IP, 9 K's), Brandt Walker (RHP - 0-1, 7.30 ERA, 12 IP, 13 K's ) and FR's Alex Pracher and Drew Storen. Pracher has been the most effective thus far, allowing 1 R in 5 IP in 2 apps.
This is another road series that won't be an easy spot for Fullerton due to the terrible history the Titans have at Stanford. The opening game of this series between two good pitchers (Kaplan and Bleich) will set the tone for the weekend. With both teams struggling to score runs, this figures to be a closely contested series in all three games.