Baseball Preview: UCSB

Cal State Fullerton (27-15, 11-4) has won six straight series and 18 of 25 games overall heading into another important Big West series this weekend at UCSB (29-12, 8-4), who is tied in the loss column with the 1st place Titans.

UCSB is playing with a great deal of confidence and coming off of a series win at Cal Poly where the Gauchos rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the 9th inning on Sunday to win the series deciding game 5-3 on a two out grand slam. UCSB also has series wins over Northridge (3-0) and Pacific (2-1) with their only Big West series loss at home to UC Davis. UCSB has been outstanding at home this season in going 19-3 at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, although part of that record was built up against a soft schedule (11-1 at home against teams with RPI’s over 100 and 2-0 against Westmont).

LINEUP

UCSB returned most of their lineup from last year and has the best hitting team in the Big West, leading the conference in BA (.323), R’s (7.6 RPG), HR’s (44 – 15 more than the next team – after they only hit 35 all of last season) and SLG % (.488 – 30 points more than the next team). UCSB’s relatively soft schedule and a ballpark that favors hitters, especially when the weather warms up, have contributed to UCSB’s lofty numbers but there is no mistaking that the Gauchos are a good offensive ball club. UCSB isn’t that patient at the plate in drawing BB’s and will swing for the fences and ring up some K’s, ranking in the middle of the conference in both of those areas. The Gauchos will only bunt a little bit, depending on the situation, but will definitely hit and run to get runners moving and steal bases. UCSB is 3rd in the Big West (and not far behind Fullerton and Irvine) with 71 SB’s (in 88 attempts – an outstanding 81% success rate), with 40 by the top two hitters in the lineup. The pitchers for both teams will be kept busy this weekend holding runners.

UCSB has been solid defensively and leads the Big West in fielding % at .969, although their defense has slipped up some in Big West games (18 E’s in 12 games). UCSB has good speed in the OF and their defense at SS and 1B has been good, with their only areas of concern being 2B and 3B. Their catchers have been very good at blocking pitches, allowing only 18 WP’s/PB’s, but below average against baserunners, allowing the 2nd most SB’s in the conference.

Infield

C Chris McMurray (RH - .314-6-32-6) is in his third year behind the plate and does an outstanding job of blocking pitches. Last year he was much more successful against baserunners (38-69 SB’s) than he has been this season (23-30 SB’s). McMurray has been hitting for power this season after not having much pop in his bat last year with only 1 HR. He is 2nd on the team with 6 HR’s and usually hits 6th or 7th. He also runs very well for a catcher (6 SB’s this year, 7 last season) and is also a good bunter, leading the team with 5 SAC’s. Backup C Matt McColgan (RH - .286-3-16-0) has started each of the last three Sundays and has some pop in his bat but struggles stopping baserunners (20-21 SB’s).

JC transfer 1B Eric Oliver (RH - .315-2-28-1) has done a solid job after having some big shoes to fill in replacing all Big West 1B Robbie Blauer. He has been hot in Big West games, hitting .360, and has done a good job of keeping rallies going hitting behind the two speedsters at the top of the lineup and in front of the power hitters behind him. Oliver is 7th in the Big West in R’s and 9th in BB’s and has been solid defensively.

JC transfer 2B Steve Cook (RH - .277-3-12-1) moved into the lineup right before conference play started due to a season ending injury to Matt Valaika. Cook will bat 8th or 9th has held his own at the plate but has struggled defensively, making 6 E’s in 11 Big West games.

SS Shane Carlson (RH - .378-4-38-1) is in his 3rd year as a starter and has been the best all around player among the infielders. Carlson hits 5th and is 6th in the Big West in RBI’s, which is unusual for a SS. Carlson was playing 2B prior to Valaika getting hurt and has been solid defensively, making only 5 E’s, and has improved quite a bit after making 19 E’s last season. Carlson went 4-9 at Fullerton last season.

SR 3B Patrick Rose (RH - .326-0-20-8) is one of the team leaders and a hardnosed ballplayer. He has been red hot in Big West games, hitting .385. Rose usually hits 6th or 7th, has good speed but doesn’t’ have much power and strikes out quite a bit (30 K’s). He is a good bunter with 5 SAC’s (7 last year) and will put a bunt down to beat out a hit. Rose has good range but has struggled defensively, making 9 E’s (4 in Big West games). Rose went 5-13 at Fullerton last season.

The DH position is being shared by JC transfer John De Alba (LH - .315-1-14-4) who can also play OF, has good speed and usually hits 6th or 7th and Gunnar Terhune (RH - .347-0-6-4) who usually hits 8th or 9th and has been red hot in Big West games (10-18). Terhune can also play 2B if UCSB decides they want more offense in the lineup.

Outfield

LF Mike Zuanich (RH - .312-12-45-2) is the cleanup hitter, leads the Big West in HR’s, is 3rd in RBI’s, is one of the biggest power threats in the conference and must be pitched to carefully. Zuanich has been delivering in Big West games, hitting 6 HR’s. He has been solid defensively and hasn’t made an error this season. Zuanich went 1-10 last year at Fullerton.

CF Chris Fox (LH - .360-4-33-17) bats 2nd and is one of the table setters at the top of the lineup. Fox has very good speed (leads the Big West with four 3B’s) and has been very productive the last two seasons (.328-3-30-14 last year). He is also a good bunter so he will try to put one down in a SAC situation or to get on base. Fox went 3-11 at Fullerton last season.

RF Brian Gump (LH - .372-4-31-23) is the leadoff hitter and has been one of the best all around players in the conference this season. He is second in the Big West in SB’s and also has power at the plate, as he showed by hitting the game winning grand slam last Sunday at Cal Poly. Gump is 2nd in the Big West in H’s, R’s and total bases. He is also very good defensively and has played CF often this season. Gump’s only drawback is that he leads the conference in strikeouts (38 K’s).

The 4th OF is FR Mark Haddow (RH - .224-1-8-2), who has started 5 of 12 Big West games (when Fox was the DH) but hasn’t started the past two weekends against Cal Poly or USC.

PITCHING

UCSB’s pitching has been greatly improved this season, lowering the staff ERA by about 1.5 RPG, and a major reason why the Gauchos have gone from a sub .500 team to a contender for the Big West title. The bullpen has been decent but the biggest improvement has come with the starting pitching, where three workhorses have carried the pitching staff.

Starters

Fri SP – Mike Ford (RHP – 5-3, 2.84 ERA, 10 starts, 70 IP, 60 H, 30 BB, 59 K, .233 BA) has been tough all season, not allowing more than 4 ER in any start, and has been getting better as the season has gone on, throwing 8+ innings in each of his last three starts against 3 of the 4 best teams that UCSB has played thus far. He lost 3-2 at Cal Poly last week on a squeeze bunt in the 9th inning, beat USC 6-4 in a CG (7 H, 2 BB, 8 K) and beat UC Davis 9-2 (8 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 5 K) in UCSB’s only win of that series. Ford is a hard thrower who has K’d 8+ hitters four times but has sometimes had trouble with his control, issuing 4+ BB’s four times and allowing 14 BB’s in 28 IP in four Big West starts. He has been 3rd toughest pitcher to hit against in the conference, allowing hitters to hit only .233 and baserunners are 8-12 against him. Ford allowed 7 R’s in 6 IP in his start at Fullerton last year.

Sat SP – Mario Hollands (LHP – 5-2, 3.12 ERA, 10 starts, 61 IP, 66 H, 17 BB, 46 K, .276 BA) was a medical redshirt last year but pitched well in the summer and has kept throwing well this spring. The UCSB coaches don’t let Hollands go as long into games as Ford and 6-7 innings is the max that he will usually go. Although hitters have the highest average against Hollands of the three SP’s, because he is a ground ball pitcher he has done the best job of keeping the ball in the ballpark by allowing only one HR this season. He has been pretty consistent but his two worst starts have been his last two home starts – vs. Northridge (6 IP, 7 H, 5 R) and UC Davis (5 1/3 IP, 8 H, 6 R). Baserunners are 8-13 against Hollands.

Sun SP – Chuck Huggins (LHP – 7-1, 3.38 ERA, 10 starts, 64 IP, 53 H, 18 BB, 65 K, .226 BA) has pitched well in almost every start and has given UCSB an advantage over most other teams Sunday SP’s. Huggins has allowed 4 R’s or less in 9 of 10 starts, including a CG SHO against USC (5 H, 3 BB, 7 K). The only bad start that he has had all season was against UC Davis (5 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 6 ER) when the temperatures soared all over southern California a few weeks ago and teams were playing 17-15 and 18-14 types of games. He struggled with his control last season (33 BB in 54 IP) but has been much sharper this year and has allowed only 6 BB’s in his last 5 starts, although he has “selective control” and has 8 HBP’s. Huggins has been especially tough on LH hitters, who are hitting well under .200 against him, and has been the 2nd toughest pitcher to hit in the Big West. A weakness that Huggins has is holding baserunners, who are 14-17 against him.

Relievers

Because UCSB hasn’t played many close games (only 14 of 41 were decided by 1 or 2 R’s) and their SP’s have usually been able to pitch deep into games, they haven’t really established a closer. The Gauchos have several relievers that they will go to, depending on the situation and who has already pitched in the series. The situational LHP is Kyle Brown (3-0, 1.69 ERA, 1 SV, 15 apps, 16 IP, 13 H, 9 BB, 15 K), who has been especially tough on LH hitters. The RHP’s most likely to pitch in a close game are Michael Martin (4-2, 4.44 ERA, 1 SV, 16 apps, 8 midweek starts, 51 IP, 49 H, 15 BB, 29 K), who will pitch inside (13 HBP) and got the win last Sunday at Cal Poly; Clayton Edwards (0-1, 5.28 ERA, 17 apps, 3 SV, 15 IP, 18 H, 4 BB, 13 K) and Zach Samuels (2-2, 5.49 ERA, 1 SV, 17 apps, 20 IP, 15 H, 9 BB, 14 K). The other RHP’s likely to see action are Patrick McIntryre (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 9 apps, 7 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 4 K); Matt Wade (0-0, 6.75 ERA, 12 apps, 11 IP, 14 H, 5 BB, 9 K) and Jason Roenicke (0-0. 6.75 ERA, 1 SV, 10 apps, 9 IP, 14 H, 6 BB, 9 K).

OUTLOOK

UCSB is on a roll after sweeping USC two weeks ago and winning an emotional series at Cal Poly last week. The Fullerton pitching staff is going to have to find a way to control the offense of the Gauchos, much like Cal Poly did until the 9th inning last Sunday, in order to win this series. And, the Fullerton offense is going to have to manufacture runs in order to give the pitchers a chance. Overall, Fullerton has not played well on the road at 11-9 but most of those struggles were early in the season and the Titans have won their last two road series and 6 of 8 games away from Goodwin Field. UCSB has played very well at home this season but in the biggest series they have played thus far, the Gauchos did lose the series to UC Davis. There is quite a bit of pressure on UCSB this weekend to prove they are one of the best teams in the Big West and if Fullerton continues to hit and pitch like they have been doing most of the time and eliminates the mental mistakes on defense, the Titans have a solid chance of winning 2 of 3 games.