Preview: Arizona State

Cal State Fullerton started off Big West play last weekend with one of the program's most satisfying series wins in a long time, putting an end to the hex that had plagued the Titans in Riverside by winning two out of three games against the Highlanders.

Before Fullerton takes on UC Irvine in a key Big West series, the Titans will be taking a two game road trip to Arizona State, one of the few programs with a history that can match Fullerton's. 

ASU once again looks like a contender to play in the College World Series, rebuilding on the fly by getting off to a 19-4 start and being ranked in the top five in all of the major rankings.  The Sun Devils lost a large number of major contributors to last year's draft who were responsible for helping to get ASU to Omaha in 2007 and nearly returning in 2008, losing in the super regional to the red hot and eventual national champion Fresno State Bulldogs.  ASU has not played that strong of a schedule for a western team (#52 according to Boyd's World) and played their first twenty games at home, in contrast to Fullerton's lengthy road trip around the southern part of the country.  The Sun Devils finally played their first series on the road last weekend at USC.  ASU has played some solid teams in going 11-4 against Missouri (2-1), Oregon State (1-0), Kansas (2-1), Kansas State (1-1), Arizona (3-0) and USC (2-1) and padded their stats with eight other games against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Northern Illinois and Holy Cross.

There figures to be plenty of offense scored in this series because both of these teams can put lots of runs up on the scoreboard.  Fullerton has scored 6+ runs in 18 of 22 games while ASU has scored in double digits eleven times.  In addition to the hitting that both of these teams will bring into this series, Packard Stadium is a bandbox that helps inflate offensive numbers by 20%, according to Boyd's World, with dimensions of 338 feet down the lines, 368 feet in the power alleys and 395 to straightaway center.  Also, the infield grass is usually cut short and tends to be hard as a rock due to the desert heat as balls skip through the infield.

LINEUP

With all of the newcomers to ASU's lineup, their offense isn't quite as prolific as last season.  The Sun Devils are hitting .301 (.275 against the legitimate teams on their schedule) with 28 HR's after hitting .342 with 88 HR's last season and their OBP (.414; .456 in 2008) and SLG (.507; .545 in 2008) numbers are down also.  ASU's hitters have a patient approach at the plate, walking about five times per game while striking out about seven times per game.  The Sun Devils won't do much bunting (12 in 23 games – two hitters with 4 SAC's each) but will put runners in motion (37-49 SB's) so the Fullerton P's and C's need to be on their toes with runners on.  ASU has a solid fielding team with a .969 fielding % and the Sun Devils are especially strong up the middle at C, 2B, SS and CF.

Infield

C – JC transfer Carlos Ramirez (RH – .296-8-28-0) had a tough act to follow taking over for Petey Paramore and has been one of the two main power bats in the lineup.  Ramirez leads the team with 23 K's.  He has done a good job defensively, allowing only 14 WP's/PB's and baserunners are 12-20 on SB attempts.

1B – FR Riccio Torrez (RH – .298-1-13-2) has started to play more after being part of a platoon earlier in the season.  The Torrez brothers at 1B and 3B show the difference between this year's ASU team and the 2008 version when Brett Wallace and Ike Davis combined for 38 HR's and 159 RBI's.

2B – FR Zack McPhee (RH – .286-0-12-0) has done a decent job at the plate but has been good defensively, making only 2 E's.  McPhee is tied for the team lead with 4 SAC's.  All-American pitcher JR Mike Leake (RH – .345-0-4-0) might also see time at 2B.

SS – JC transfer Jared McDonald (LH – .189-2-6-2) has struggled offensively but has been outstanding with the glove, making only one error.  McDonald has good range and has been a big reason why ASU's pitchers have done well.

3B – JR Raoul Torrez (RH – .311-0-12-5) is one of the team leaders as the only returning starter on the infield.  Torrez is tied for the team lead with 4 SAC's.  2008 stats – .341-2-35-12.  Torrez is solid defensively and played 2B last year.

LF – JC transfer Kole Calhoun (LH – .260-3-14-5) is a good athlete who is also a relief pitcher.  Soph Andy Workman (RH – .320-0-7-0) might also see time in LF or RF.

CF – JR Jason Kipnis (LH – .469-8-36-11) has been one of the best players in America.  It was surprising that Kipnis came back to school after a big 2008 (.391-14-73-24) when he was drafted in the 4th round as a draft eligible Soph.  He is also patient at the plate with 20 BB's.

RF – Soph Matt Newman (LH - .308-2-14-2) is a gamer who is a good all around player and one of the few returning players.  He is also a pitcher and likely to pitch in this series.  2008 – .322-3-28-2. 

DH – FR Zach Wilson  (RH – .333-0-6-0) has gotten off to a good start and figures to hit for more power as he makes the adjustment from HS to D1 pitching.

PITCHING

ASU struggled with on the mound last season with a team ERA of 4.64 and allowing 45 HR's, although they were solid in holding opposing batters to a .258 BA.  The pitching staff for the Sun Devils has been outstanding this season with a 2.37 ERA while allowing only 10 HR's and holding opposing batters to a paltry .209 BA.  The ASU pitchers have been allowing around 2.5 BB's per 9 IP while striking out an average of 10 batters per 9 IP, an outstanding 4-1 ratio.

RHP Mike Leake and LHP Josh Spence have been superb, combining to go 11-1 in 12 starts with a 1.37 ERA.  However, since this is a midweek series they aren't likely to see much action on the mound, if any, with ASU having a series at Washington coming up this weekend.  But, nothing is a surprise when it comes to Pat Murphy and his handling of the pitching staff, as he often had Sat SP Josh Satow also start midweek games last year, including one of the two games at Fullerton. 

The two midweek SP's for ASU are usually OF/LHP Matt Newman (1-0, 0.63 ERA, 4 apps, 3 starts, 14 IP, 13 H, 2 BB, 13 K, .232 BA) and RHP Jason Franzblau (1-0, 2.70 ERA, 6 apps, 3 starts, 13 IP, 13 H, 5 BB, 14 K, .265 BA).  Sunday SP RHP Seth Blair (2-1, 3.86 ERA, 5 starts, 21 IP, 21 H, 11 BB, 23 K, .256 BA) had been pitching well before getting pulled after allowing 4 R's in 2 IP at USC and might pitch a couple of innings in this series.

The relievers likely to see action for the Sun Devils are LHP Mitchell Lambson (4-1, 3.26 ERA, 12 apps, 1 save, 30 IP, 22 H, 9 BB, 37 K, .208 BA), RHP Jordan Swagerty (0-1, 6.94 ERA, 11 apps, 3 saves, 12 IP, 11 H, 1 BB, 13 K, .234 BA), OF/LHP Kole Calhoun (0-0, 6.75 ERA, 6 apps, 5 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 K, .200 BA), RHP Kyle Brule (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 save, 6 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K, .167 BA), RHP Jake Borup (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 apps, 4 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 3 K, .071 BA) and Jeeter Ishida (0-0, 3.86 ERA, 3 apps, 5 IP, 6 H, 4 BB, 7 K, .316 BA).

OUTLOOK

Fullerton and ASU come into this midweek series as two of the hottest teams in the country.  The Sun Devils traditionally have a strong home field advantage at Packard Stadium but the Titans haven't been intimidated by going on the road this season, winning 11 of 13 games away from Goodwin Field.  Both teams have been hitting well and pitching well, although analyzing the pitching part kind of gets thrown out the window when you are talking about midweek games.  This series will probably be similar to last season's midweek series at Fullerton where the teams split two slugfests 10-8 and 10-9.