Baseball Preview: Cal Poly SLO

Cal State Fullerton (30-16, 13-5) is coming off of a big series win at UCSB and has now won seven straight series and 21 of 28 games overall heading into their final Big West home series this weekend against Cal Poly SLO (22-24, 7-9).

The Mustangs were predicted to finish 3rd in the Big West with a good chance of playing in a regional but got off to a terrible 9-17 start and bottomed out when they were swept at Northridge and started Big West play at 1-5. Since then Cal Poly has gone 13-7, winning series with Pacific and UC Davis, nearly winning the UCSB series before giving up a 9th inning grand slam and sweeping UNLV last weekend.

LINEUP

Cal Poly returned most of their lineup from last year except for Big West MVP Grant Desme and have a solid hitting team, ranking 1st in the Big West in 2B’s and 3B’s, 2nd in SLG (.450), 3rd in HR’s (31) and 4th BA (.300), OBP (.386) and R’s (6.8 RPG). The Mustangs have hit much better in non-conference games, hitting .311 and averaging 7.8 RPG, but in Big West games they have slowed down, hitting .275 and averaging 4.7 RPG and have scored 4 R’s or less in 10 of 15 conference games.

Cal Poly is patient at the plate in working counts and drawing BB’s, ranking 2nd in the Big West in walks, isn’t afraid to have players take HBP’s, ranking 3rd in the Big West, and has several players who are good at driving the ball for extra base hits. The Mustangs will bunt when the situation dictates, ranking in the middle of the conference with 32 SAC’s – 11 by one player, and will put runners in motion on hit and runs and to steal bases with 47 SB’s on the season. Cal Poly did suffer a key loss to their lineup last weekend when DH and leadoff hitter Luke Yoder was injured.

Cal Poly has been solid defensively and ranks 2nd in the Big West in fielding % at .968. The Mustangs have good speed in the OF and have been solid in the infield. The one weakness is going to be catching because Cal Poly’s starter was injured two weeks ago so they are using a backup. The Mustangs have by far been the worst team in the conference at blocking pitches, allowing 54 WP’s/PB’s, and below average against SB’s (43-61).

Infield

C Josh Thomas (RH - .239-2-13-1) had been the starter most of the season prior to getting injured a week ago. Backup Justin Hensley (RH - .194-0-5-0 in 31 AB’s) has started the past six games, going 4-20 and hitting 9th.

1B Wes Dorrell (LH - .329-5-47-0) was one of the catchers last season and played there some earlier this year but has been playing 1B exclusively the past two months to keep him focused on hitting. Dorrell is 3rd in the Big West in RBI’s and 10th in SLG (.555). He doesn’t walk much (only 6 BB’s) but doesn’t strike out much for a power hitter (only 11 K’s). Dorrell doesn’t have much speed but does hit for power (2nd in the Big West in 2B’s) and usually hits 4th or 5th. Dorrell went 1-7 last year against Fullerton.

2B Pat Pezet (LH - .254-3-24-2) is a scrappy player who is going to do whatever he can to help the team, whether it is a BB or a HBP or laying a bunt down (11 SAC’s – 4th in the Big West). Pezet is solid defensively and usually bats 8th. He went 2-8 last year against Fullerton.

SS Kyle Smith (RH - .248-2-24-7) struggled defensively earlier in the season but has been much better recently since returning from an injury after missing the Irvine and Northridge series. Smith has struggled offensively this season after hitting .279 as a FR and is in the lineup primarily for his defense and usually bats 7th. He went 4-9 last year against Fullerton.

3B Brent Morel (RH - .376-7-53-7) has been one of the best hitters in the Big West this season, leading in RBI’s and total bases and ranking 2nd in 2B’s, 3rd in H’s, 4th in SLG (.592) and HR’s, 5th in BA and 8th in R’s. He usually bats 3rd or 4th. Morel is solid defensively and has only made 5 E’s this season. He went 2-10 against Fullerton last season.

DH Luke Yoder (LH - .357-7-30-11) has also been one of the better hitters in the conference, ranking 3rd in SLG (.597), OBP (.471), R’s and BB’s. However, he broke his big toe last weekend and is out indefinitely. Cal Poly has used four different players in his place the last four games, none of whom have played much – Phillip Ortez (Both – 3-22), Ricky Rossman (RH – 2-20), David Van Ostrand (LH - .219) and J.J. Thompson (RH - .196). Obviously, losing Yoder is a major blow to the Cal Poly offense.

Outfield

LF Adam Melker (LH - .298-0-16-1) usually bats 7th and doesn’t have much pop in his bat but does a good job of making contact (only 11 K’s) and plays solid defense. He is also willing to take a HBP (10 – 3rd in the Big West). Melker went 2-7 against Fullerton last year, including the key bases loaded triple in Cal Poly’s Friday night comeback win.

CF Logan Schafer (LH - .360-6-42-6) is one of the better all around players in the Big West when it comes to offense and defense. He has outstanding range in CF. Schafer is also a very good hitter and ranks 3rd in the Big West in total bases, 6th in H’s, 7th in SLG (.558), 8th in HR’s and RBI’s and 10th in BA and OBP (.432). He usually bats 2nd or 3rd but can also bat leadoff, as he did much last season. Schafer went 3-10 against Fullerton last season.

RF Ryan Lee (RH - .342-0-16-12) has probably been Cal Poly’s most improved player, going from a reserve last year to their leading base stealer this season and a key part of their lineup. Lee has been hitting 6th most of the season but after Yoder’s injury was batting leadoff last weekend.

PITCHING

The Mustangs poor start was primarily due to poor pitching that allowed 7+ runs in 15 of their first 26 games. Since then, the pitching has stabilized, allowing 5 runs or less in 14 of the past 20 games. The staff ERA is 5.52 in non-conference games but has come down nearly 1 1/2 runs in Big West games to 4.08. The SP’s have been keeping the Mustangs in games and they have been getting good work out of their bullpen except for a disastrous 9th inning in the Sunday game against UCSB. The SP’s have good control but the relievers have walked a ton of guys, resulting in the Mustangs leading the Big West in BB’s. Most of the pitchers throw hard and Cal Poly is 2nd in the conference in K’s.

Starters

Fri SP – Eric Massingham (RHP – 2-4, 5.70 ERA, 11 starts, 71 IP, 92 H, 14 BB, 38 K, .316 BA, 10 HR’s) has been up and down all season, pitching well at USD (7 shutout innings before giving up a 3 run HR to Josh Romanski) and at Washington (CG, 2 R’s) while getting bombed by Alabama and UCLA. Much like most of the pitching staff, Massingham turned things around after the Northridge series, throwing well in three straight outings against Pacific, Davis and UCSB (2 ER’s allowed in each game, 20 H’s in 19 IP). He is a control pitcher who is usually around the plate and tries to keep the ball down and when he gets the ball up is prone to giving up hits and HR’s. Last week against UNLV, Massingham gave up 3 HR’s in allowing 7 R’s and 10 H’s in 5 1/3 IP. He has been very good at holding baserunners, only allowing 2-8 SB’s. Massingham won the Friday night game against Fullerton last year, allowing 8 H’s and 3 R’s in 7 IP.

Sat SP – Jared Eskew (LHP – 4-2, 4.03 ERA, 14 apps, 6 starts, 51 IP, 64 H, 17 BB, 34 K, .308 BA, 2 HR’s) has only been in the weekend rotation for the last three series after being a midweek SP and weekend reliever most of the season. He had mediocre results in allowing 10 R’s (8 ER) and 15 H’s in 10 2/3 IP in his starts against UC Davis and UCSB before pitching better last week against UNLV, allowing 1 R and 3 H’s in 5 1/3 IP. Eskew won’t strike out too many hitters (3 in all 3 starts) and is a ground ball pitcher who has allowed only 2 HR’s in 51 IP. He has trouble holding baserunners, allowing them to go 8-10 on SB’s. Derrick Saito (LHP – 1-2, 6.48 ERA, 10 apps, 7 starts, 33 IP, 34 H, 29 BB, 39 K, .279 BA, 1 HR) was the Sat SP before Eskew but his wildness and ineffectiveness resulted in Cal Poly moving Saito into long relief.

Sun SP – Steven Fischback (RHP – 5-3, 4.39 ERA, 11 starts, 70 IP, 69 H, 15 BB, 63 K, .251 BA, 3 HR’s) has been the best SP and much like last season when Cal Poly left their best SP (Thomas Eager) in the Sunday SP spot after starting out there, they have done the same thing this season. Fischback throws hard and is 7th in the Big West in opps BA and K’s. He has also been up and down, allowing 2 R’s at Alabama and 1 R at Washington with 19 K’s in 13 IP but allowed 5 R’s in his starts against UCLA and Irvine. Fischback turned things around in pitching a CG at UC Davis, allowing 2 R’s and 7 H’s, and shutting out UCSB for 8 innings, allowing only 4 H’s. For a hard thrower, Fischback has good control but it is “selective control” because he is 4th in the Big West with 10 HBP’s. He has struggled with holding baserunners, allowing them to go 9-12 on SB’s.

Relievers

Cal Poly does not have a deep bullpen, especially after Eskew was moved into the rotation. The bullpen consists of primarily two relievers on weekends with DJ Mauldin (RHP – 4-5, 4.06 ERA, 4 SV, 18 apps, 2 starts, 51 IP, 52 H, 23 BB, 46 K, .261 BA, 3 HR) and Brian Grening (3-3, 4.96 ERA, 2 SV, 18 apps, 3 starts, 49 IP, 50 H, 23 BB, 47 K, .263 BA, 6 HR) making 10 apps and throwing 27 innings in Big West games with the other relievers combining to allow 7 R’s in 7 apps in 6 1/3 IP in conference games. The other RHP’s are Kevin Castner (1-2, 4.88 ERA, 1 SV, 18 apps, 1 start, 28 IP, 21 H, 24 BB, 39 K) and Mark DeVincenzi (1-1, 2.35 ERA, 10 apps, 15 IP, 12 H, 9 BB, 22 K, .226 BA, 1 HR). All four of the RHP’s throw hard but Castner and DeVincenzi have had control issues so Cal Poly has been reluctant to bring them into close games. Grening has allowed only 2 R’s in his last 12 IP out of the bullpen. Mauldin had been nearly perfect in Big West games before blowing a 3-0 lead against UCSB and allowing a 9th inning grand slam. Grant Theophilus (1-2, 9.82 ERA, 14 apps, 4 starts, 22 IP, 41 H, 17 BB, 14 K, .402 BA, 4 HR) and Saito are the LHP’s in the bullpen and Cal Poly doesn’t have much confidence in either of them due to both having issues with their control.

OUTLOOK

After playing poorly in the first half of the season, Cal Poly has played much better in the second half of the season as they have played closer to the level of their ability and isn’t playing like the 7th best team in the conference. But, the Mustangs do have several things going against them this weekend. They have not played well in going 8-14 on the road this season. Also, their lineup is missing one of their best hitters and they have often struggled to score runs against the better pitching staffs in the Big West. And, Fullerton is playing very well and has been dominant at home, going 17-6. The Titans have been playing like a team on a mission and as long as they continue to play like they have been, Fullerton should win this series.