Baseball Preview: UC-Irvine

Cal State Fullerton got off to a strong start in conference play last weekend with a big series win at Riverside, which has been a chamber of horrors for the Titans over the years.

After splitting two midweek games at Arizona State, ranked #3 by Baseball America, next up for Fullerton is another important Big West series against UC Irvine, who is having another strong season with the Anteaters off to a good start at 17-7 and ranked #8 by Baseball America and coming off of a sweep of Cal Poly.

Irvine came into 2009 with high expectations after going to Omaha in 2007 and nearly returning to the College World Series last season, winning their regional at Nebraska and nearly winning their super regional at LSU.  They have a very experienced team that lost only one position player from last year's lineup who was a factor in their offense and returns several pitchers who were major factors in their success last season.  The Anteaters have kind of been chugging along, dropping a game every weekend due to inconsistent hitting and inconsistent relief pitching that has cost them some games but finding ways to come out ahead each weekend.  Irvine went 3-1 at Hawaii, 2-1 at the Houston Tournament, 2-1 at the Baylor Tournament, 2-1 against Tulane and 2-1 against Nevada and really didn't put things together for all three games until sweeping what had previously been a red hot Cal Poly team.

OUTLOOK

There are some interesting dynamics at work in this series.  Fullerton has been the much better offensive team over the course of the season but lately has struggled to score runs, being held to one run in regulation in three of the last five games, while Irvine was struggling offensively before Ronnie Shaeffer was inserted into the lineup and now the Anteaters are averaging over 10 runs per game over the last two weeks.  Irvine has the starting pitching and closer to match Fullerton's but there is a wide disparity in the pitching depth of the two teams, which could be a key factor in deciding the series.  The coaching staff at Fullerton is obviously very familiar with many of the Irvine players since they coached those players two years ago, something that was a factor in last season's series.  If the Fullerton pitchers continue to pitch like they have been (staff ERA is 2.65 since the TCU series) and cool off the Irvine attack while the Fullerton offense bounces back to form, the Titans should win this series.