Baseball Preview: Northridge State

Cal State Fullerton is playing their best baseball of the season after winning three straight weekend series and 9 of 12 games overall (each loss in extra innings), including an important series win last weekend at #5 UC Irvine.

This weekend, the Titans welcome Cal State Northridge (13-14, 3-3) to Goodwin Field. Northridge was predicted to finish at the bottom of the Big West conference standings but are coming into this series playing well after sweeping Cal Poly at home and losing 6-5 to UCSB on Tuesday.

LINEUP

Northridge has had constant roster turnover over the last six years, which has contributed to the struggles the program has gone through since the Matadors won the Big West conference in 2002. This year is no exception, although Northridge brought in a large group of freshmen in the offseason to try to bring some stability to the program instead of using quick fixes by going to the JC route.

Northridge is second in the Big West in batting average, hitting .325 as a team and averaging 7 RPG, although part of that can be attributed to a soft schedule to start the season with nine games against La Salle, Northwestern and Liberty. The Matadors are hitting .292 and averaging just over 6 RPG in two Big West series against UCSB and Cal Poly. Northridge’s hitting approach is similar to UNLV’s – hit line drives and put pressure on the defense, not much power, not much bunting or running. Northridge has hit only 13 HR’s (5 by one player) despite playing in the best hitter’s park in the conference with 29 SAC’s (10 by one player) and 22 SB’s (9 by one player).

Another reason that Northridge has finished around the bottom of the Big West standings the previous five years is poor defense and that has been the case again this year. Northridge is solid up the middle at C, 2B and CF but the Matadors have made 55 errors with 24 coming from the right side of the infield and have allowed 40 unearned runs.

Infield

C John Parham (RH - .388-5-21-0) has been one of Northridge’s best players this season. Parham usually bats 3rd and is one of the few sources of power in the lineup. When Parham is the DH, the C will be FR Chris Hannick (RH - .200-2-12-0), who is not nearly the hitter that Parham is but also provides solid defense. Baserunners are 16-24 against Parham and 9-14 against Hannick and the catchers have allowed only 19 WP’s.

1B Richard Cates (LH - .402-2-30-1) is the cleanup hitter, leads the team in RBI’s and is second in the Big West in batting average. He has also been hot in conference games, going 9-24 the past two weekends. Cates hit .302 last season and was one of the better hitters on the team. Cates also plays LF and FR Dominic D’Anna (LH – 9-22) has started getting some playing time recently at 1B, going 4-11 the last two weekends. Jowen-James Murray-Thornton (LH - .333-0-8-0) has also seen some time at 1B and DH. He hit .296 last season.

FR 2B TS Reed (LH - .377-0-17-9) is the leadoff hitter and the engine that makes the offense go, leading the team in R’s and SB’s. Reed has only made 2 E’s and been solid on defense. He has cooled off a little the past two weeks, going 6-23.

FR SS Justin DeMarco (Both - .280-0-16-2) usually hits 8th or 9th and leads the team in SAC bunts with 10. DeMarco has made 14 E’s and struggled defensively.

FR 3B Ryan Pineda (RH – .346-0-11-0) usually hits 5th or 7th and has been solid offensively but has struggled defensively, making 10 E’s. Pineda is going to be tested by Fullerton’s bunting game and his defense could be a key factor in the series.

Outfield and DH

Northridge has been using a large number of OF’s and DH’s this season. Cates has played some LF. Billy Swanson (LH - .362 – 0-8-1) recently returned to the lineup and has started in either LF or RF in all six conference games, going 8-26. CF C.J. Belanger (LH - .256-0-11-2) is one of the faster runners on the team and has good range defensively but has struggled offensively and usually hits 8th or 9th. FR Drew Muren (LH - .288-1-10-1) has been seeing regular playing time in LF, RF and at DH.

PITCHING

Poor pitching has been another reason that Northridge has struggled the past six seasons and this year is no exception. Northridge has a team ERA of 5.08 and allowed five or more runs in 21 of 27 games this season, although the Matadors were able to hold Cal Poly to only five runs in the last two games of their series.

Starters

Northridge’s rotation has been a bit of a mess all season with the only somewhat consistent SP being Phil Hann (RHP – 1-3, 3.40 ERA, 7 starts, 42 IP, 50 H, 9 BB, 27 K). Hann’s ERA has been aided by 13 of the 29 runs he has allowed being unearned. He held down Cal Poly last week (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R) but was hit hard in his two previous starts against UCSB and LMU (5 2/3 IP, 10 H, 7 R in each of those games). Hann has good control but has been around the plate too much, allowing batters to hit .292 with 5 HR’s. Hann has started the 2nd game of each series this season. He was a middle reliever last year, going 0-2, 3.50 ERA in 27 apps and 46 IP.

The other SP’s most weekends have been Jimmy Jolicoeur (RHP – 1-3, 7.12 ERA, 6 starts, 30 IP, 44 H, 15 BB, 13 K) and Davin Tate (RHP – 2-0, 8.49 ERA, 7 apps, 6 starts, 23 IP, 38 H, 7 BB, 16 K), although Jolicoeur was removed from the Fri SP role in the rotation last weekend and did not pitch against Cal Poly. Jolicoeur was also the Fri SP most of last season (5-3, 4.65 ERA in 11 starts) and pitched well last year against Fullerton (7 IP, 1 R). Tate has been pulled early in each of his last three starts, going no further than 3 1/3 IP in any of them, and has allowed 8 HR’s. Tate was 1-1, 6.89 ERA in 10 apps and 16 IP last season. FR Paul Tremlin (RHP – 0-0, 8.03 ERA, 8 apps, 12 IP, 17 H, 4 BB, 6 K) made his first start of the season against Cal Poly last week but only pitched 1 2/3 innings, allowing 3 R’s. The only other pitcher to make a weekend start has been Billy Ott (0-2, 4.30 ERA, 8 apps, 2 starts, 15 IP, 20 H, 9 BB, 9 K), who allowed 3 R’s in 1 2/3 IP in his start at UCSB.

Relievers

Because Northridge’s SP’s have often struggled, rarely gone longer than 5-6 innings and often only a few innings, the relievers have gotten quite a bit of work and were a big reason why Northridge was able to sweep Cal Poly.

Closer Edwin Quirarte (RHP – 2-2, 1.42 ERA, 3 SV’s, 13 apps, 1 start, 25 IP, 16 H, 11 BB, 21 K) has easily been Northridge’s most effective pitcher. He has struggled with his control but has been tough to hit for opposing batters, allowing them to only hit .174. Quirarte came up big against Cal Poly with a win and a save in shutting out the Mustangs and allowing only 1 H in 4 2/3 IP. He is one of the hardest throwers on the staff and the most experienced pitcher, making 21 apps (10 starts) last season with 62 IP and 18 apps (13 starts) with 78 IP in 2006.

The only LHP’s on the pitching staff are JC transfer Bryce Schoening (1-0, 4.09 ERA, 10 apps, 11 IP, 12 H, 4 BB, 8 K) and FR Peter Mendez (1-0, 6.19 ERA, 10 apps, 16 IP, 22 H, 9 BB, 7 K). The other relievers have been Ott, who threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings last week against Cal Poly; Eric Billings (RHP – 1-1, 4.15 ERA, 7 apps, 1 start, 9 IP, 12 H, 2 BB, 6 K); P.J. Rousey (RHP – 2-0, 4.50 ERA, 10 apps, 14 IP, 14 H, 3 BB, 11 K); FR Drew Muren (RHP – 1-2, 4.70 ERA, 4 apps, 2 starts, 15 IP, 14 H, 5 BB, 5 K); FR Ryan Juarez (RHP – 1-1, 6.94 ERA, 6 apps, 1 start, 12 IP, 12 H, 8 BB, 3 K) and Tremlin.

OUTLOOK

Despite playing their best baseball of the season in sweeping Cal Poly last weekend, things do not look favorable for Northridge this weekend. Northridge is only 2-7 in road games and both of those wins were neutral site wins against below average Liberty. Fullerton has been very strong at home, going 10-2 at Goodwin Field and winning all three series played there, sweeping two of those series. Fullerton has been playing much better lately and is playing their best baseball of the season in all areas. Fullerton has beaten Northridge like a drum recently, winning 15 straight times these teams have played. Fullerton is a prohibitive favorite in this series and Northridge might be able to sneak out a win because they are a solid hitting team and have usually gotten solid relief pitching but it would not be much of a surprise if Fullerton swept this series.