Baseball Preview: UC Riverside

Cal State Fullerton returned home last weekend after an 8-1 road trip and swept three games from Oral Roberts to improve their record to 16-3 and move into the #1 spot in the rankings in Baseball America.

But, all of what the Titans have accomplished is in the past now that the conference season is starting with the first Big West series in a location where the Titans have had nothing but misery and failure – Riverside.  Fullerton is 1-8 in three previous trips to UC Riverside since the Highlanders joined the conference.

UC Riverside won the Big West championship in 2007 but lost many of the contributors to that title run, including almost the entire pitching staff.  The Highlanders got off to a terrible 6-12 start in 2008 going into their first conference series, also against Fullerton, and didn't play well in non-conference games after that series, losing 11 of 12.  But, it was another story during the conference season as the Highlanders finished tied for 3rd place at 14-10 and won series with regional participants Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UC Davis and split marathon extra inning games (28 innings in those two games) with Fullerton before losing the third game at Goodwin Field.

UC Riverside brought an experienced team into this season both on the mound and at the plate and the results have definitely shown that.  The Highlanders have gotten off to a red hot 15-4 start, including 8-1 at home, and are ranked #22 by Rivals.com College Baseball and #24 in the USA Today Coaches poll.  In the computer rankings at Boyd's World, Riverside has an RPI of 22 and an ISR of 2.  Riverside started their season with a 2-1 series win at California, went 3-1 against San Francisco, 3-1 at the Palm Springs Tournament (beating Texas Tech and Gonzaga, splitting games with Oklahoma State and Oregon State) and swept three games from Columbia.  Most recently, the Highlanders split two games at UCSB last Sunday and Monday.  The ballpark at Riverside is pretty neutral offensively, according to Boyd's World.  The dimensions are 330 down the lines, 380 to the power alleys and 400 to center.  The fences are normal heights except for the batter's eye in center, which is 20+ feet high and can turn potential HR's into 2B's.  Another quirk of the field that will occasionally turn a bloop single into a double are drainage slopes behind the infield grass down the 1B and 3B lines that veer towards foul territory where the outfield drops several feet below the infield.

OUTLOOK

Both teams come into this series with a quite a bit of momentum with Fullerton winning 15 out of 16 games and Riverside winning 12 out of 14 games.  The Titans have been the better offensive team, scoring 6 runs or more in 17 of 19 games while the Highlanders have been held to 5 runs or less in 7 of 19 games.  The pitching for both teams has been pretty comparable, with similar numbers in ERA and BA.  The fielding for both teams has also been pretty comparable, with Riverside a much better fielding team this year although Fullerton has done a better job against the running game – a key area in this series to watch with the Highlander catchers against the Titans.  The obvious edge in intangibles goes to Riverside playing at home, where the Highlanders have absolutely owned Fullerton.  If the Titans are going to win this series, they are going to have to get their offense going early in the series and their pitchers are going to have to keep Riverside's hitters off balance.  If the pitching staff of the Highlanders dictates the approach of the Fullerton hitters (something that the Titans have struggled with in previous seasons against the Highlanders) to hold down the Fullerton offense and the Riverside batters are productive against the Fullerton pitchers, this could end up being another long weekend for the Titans in Riverside.