Baseball Preview: UNLV

After struggling last weekend in losing 2 of 3 games at Arizona and getting hammered on Tuesday by Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton returns to Goodwin Field this weekend for a series with UNLV.

Fullerton has played very well against UNLV, sweeping the last four series at home against the Rebels and going 21-3 against them in the last eight series. UNLV brought in a bunch of JC transfers this season and has gotten off to a slow start at 9-8 and won 2 of 3 in their conference opening series last weekend at New Mexico. Although UNLV's record is similar to Fullerton's, it has been compiled against a mediocre schedule (Central Michigan, Maine, San Francisco, Southern Utah, New Mexico) except for three games against Arizona and Washington State.

LINEUP

Despite fielding a lineup of mostly newcomers, UNLV has gotten off to a solid start at the plate, seeing quite a bit of below average pitching and taking advantage of playing all of their games (UNLV, Arizona, New Mexico) in ballparks that favor hitters.

UNLV's philosophy at the plate is to make contact and put the ball in play, putting pressure on the other team by stringing hits together. The Rebels are hitting .329 as a team, scoring 7.5 RPG and averaging three 2B's per game but they don't hit for much power (10 HR's, 5 by one player), don't walk much (averaging three BB's per game), don't run much (averaging one SB per game), don't bunt much (averaging under one SAC per game) and don't strike out much (averaging four K's per game).

UNLV has not been a good defensive team this season, making 29 E's in 17 games. The Rebels have some solid defensive players up the middle at C, 2B and CF but have had issues defensively at SS and their corner positions, with the left side of the infield responsible for 13 E's.

Infield

C Michael Brenly (RH – .231-0-7-0) usually hits 7th and is an average hitter (.278 last season as a starter) and a solid C, throwing out 9 of 14 baserunners. Braden Walker (.410-1-9-0) has started 5 games backing up Brenly and 5 games at 3B and is not as good defensively as Brenly, throwing out 10 of 12 baserunners. Walker hits 6th when he is in the lineup, which has been more often recently as his bat has heated up.

1B Xavier Scruggs (RH - .493-5-20-1) hits 3rd, is the power hitter in the lineup and somebody that the Fullerton pitchers will have to be careful with. Scruggs led UNLV in HR's last season and is patient at the plate, leading the team with 11 BB's.

JC transfer Bryan Resnick (RH – 309-2-9-3) has been solid defensively at 2B and usually hits 9th. JC transfer Anthony Morel (RH - .271 – 0-10-4) usually hits 8th and has good speed but has struggled defensively, making 7 E's. 3B has been a platoon between Walker and JC transfer Steve Rinaudo (RH - .447-0-12-0), although Walker has started to take over at 3B as Rinaudo has been more of a DH because Rinaudo is also one of the SP's. Rinaudo usually hits cleanup. The DH spot has been a platoon situation among several players, usually either Rinaudo or Drew Buerlein (Both - .242-1-5-1), who went 11-34 last year.

Outfield

JC transfer Jesse Wight (LH – .353-0-8-1) will be in the lineup most of the time in LF and batting 2nd unless the SP is a LHP, when Oregon State transfer Scott Berke (RH - .261-0-4-0) will be in the lineup. Leadoff hitter J.J. Sferra (LH - .277-0-4-3) was a two year starter in CF at Arizona State, hitting .311 and .323, before sitting out last season. Sferra has good range in CF. RF Rance Roundy (RH – .304-1-14-3) hit .276 in 87 AB's last season but has started every game this season

PITCHING

UNLV has struggled to find effective pitchers recently, which has been a major reason why the Rebels have struggled since last winning the Mountain West in 2003. The staff ERA's the last four seasons have been 6.16, 5.50, 6.11, 6.01 and this year it is 5.68. However, they have had some pitchers be very effective this year.

Starters

Thursday – JC transfer Corey Hales (RHP – 3-0, 1.57 ERA, 5 apps, 3 starts, 29 IP, 22 H's, 9 BB's, 21 K's) started the season in the bullpen but has quickly pitched his way into being the #1 SP. Hales has been tough to hit, allowing opponents to only hit .208 against him, and has done a good job of keeping the ball down by not allowing any HR's

Friday and Saturday – UNLV will go with two of three RHP's that have been weekend SP's for them. All of them have struggled for the most part. Matt Hutchinson (1-1, 5.40 ERA, 7 apps, 5 starts, 22 IP, 32 H's, 13 BB's, 12 K's) was a weekend SP last year (2-7, 7.10 ERA in 17 starts) and pitched his way out of the rotation, pitching in relief last weekend but pitching effectively – 4.1 IP, 4 H's, 2 R's, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K's. Steve Rinaudo (0-1, 7.11 ERA, 19 IP, 25 H's, 12 BB's, 12 K's) has started each of the last four Sundays. FR Thomas Whitsett (2-0, 7.11 ERA, 6 apps, 3 starts, 19 IP, 34 H's, 4 BB's, 14 K's) was a midweek SP until replacing Hutchinson in the rotation last weekend, allowing 4 R's and 10 H's in 5 IP.

Relievers

UNLV has been getting some good work from a couple of their relievers – closer Adam Moser (2-1, 1.13 ERA, 3 SV's, 10 apps, 16 IP, 11 H's, 5 BB's, 17 K's) and setup man Michael Goodman (LHP – 0-1, 4.59 ERA, 10 apps, 17.2 IP, 15 H's, 1 BB, 11 K's). Moser has been lights out at the back end of the bullpen and was also effective last year (5-2, 4.50 ERA, 5 SV's, 42 IP). Goodman was solid last year (1-1, 4.01 ERA, 34 IP) and had been very effective (2.76 ERA) prior to allowing 4 R's in 1 1/3 IP last Sunday. Goodman is the only LHP on the pitching staff. RHP Marc Baca was effective last year (4-3, 3.51 ERA, 5 SV's, 41 IP) but has not pitched well this year with a 7.77 ERA. The other relievers all have ERA's over 7.00.

OUTLOOK

Despite Fullerton's recent struggles during a 1-4 stretch of games, the Titans are prohibitive favorites in this series. UNLV might be able to sneak out a win on Thursday with the way that Corey Hales is pitching but if the Rebels do not win the first game, it is probable that Fullerton will sweep this series.