Baseball Preview: Cal State-Long Beach

Cal State Fullerton (31-14, 15-3) moved one step closer towards winning the Big West championship last weekend with a sweep of UC Riverside (6-4, 9-1, 6-0) and followed that up on Wednesday with a 10-7 win at Pepperdine.

The Titans continued their strong hitting by batting .396 on the weekend and have hit .391 and averaged nearly 10 runs per game while winning 13 of their last 14 games.  Leading the way at the plate against Riverside were Christian Colon (7-12, 5 RBI), Gary Brown (6-12, 2 HR, 5 RBI), Carlos Lopez (6-10, 1 HR, 3 RBI) and Corey Jones (6-8, 1 RBI).

Unlike last week against San Diego and Pacific when the Fullerton pitching staff struggled in three of four games, they were dominant in holding Riverside to five runs and a paltry .204 average in the series.  Fullerton received a boost from the return of Noe Ramirez on Friday night (6 IP, 3 R, 7 H) after a three week absence, got strong outings from Daniel Renken (5 IP, 1 R, 5 H) and Colin O’Connell (4 hitless innings) in a game that started on Saturday and ended on Sunday due to a power outage and the sweep was finished by Dylan Floro in a CG shutout that earned him Big West pitcher of the week honors.  Fullerton’s magic number to win the Big West is four and they could clinch at least a share of the conference championship this weekend by winning all three games (or win the title outright if Irvine also loses a game) and would like nothing better than to finish things off against their long time rivals, the Long Beach State Dirtbags.

Long Beach (22-23, 7-8) shared the conference championship with Fullerton in 2008 but lost quite a bit of talent off of that team and had a poor season in 2009, finishing 25-29, 11-13 (tied for 5th) for their first losing season since 1988.  The Dirtbags expected to contend for a spot in a regional this year with a much more experienced team with seven starting position players and two weekend starting pitchers returning.  Long Beach got off to a slow start losing 2 of 3 games twice in the first three weekends (including an 8-1 loss to Fullerton opening weekend) before hitting their stride by winning four straight weekend series, including the conference opening series against Pacific.  The Dirtbags have hit the skids since the Pacific series and have lost four of their last five series, including series losses to lower level Big West teams UC Davis and Cal Poly.  Long Beach lost a non-conference series last weekend to Stanford when they lost two one run games before coming back to win the final game.  The big news this week at Long Beach occurred when Mike Weathers announced his retirement after nine years as head coach of the Dirtbags with assistant coach Troy Buckley taking over after the season, which means Long Beach will have even more motivation this weekend in this rivalry series. 

OUTLOOK

The complexion of this series changed on Tuesday when Mike Weathers announced his retirement.  What began as a series with Long Beach playing out the string and not playing for much but pride in a rivalry series changed to the Dirtbags trying to go out and win a series for their outgoing coach in his last series against their rivals.  Besides that additional motivational factor and playing this series at home, not much else favors Long Beach this weekend.

The Dirtbags have been hitting well during the Big West season but have been able to be cooled off by front line pitching like they were last weekend in the first two games against Stanford.  As well as Long Beach has been hitting the ball, Fullerton has been even better at the plate and the Titans bring the better offense into this series.  In the field, Fullerton has been a pretty consistent fielding team most of the time while the Dirtbags have been struggling with being error prone in their infield, which is not good with the pressure that the Titans put on teams with their offense.

Long Beach’s pitching has improved this season with Troy Buckley returning to coach their pitchers and their rotation has usually been more consistent than they were in 2009 but the front end of the Fullerton rotation has been clicking on all cylinders despite some shuffling around due to injuries.  Also, the back end of the Dirtbags staff has been finding ways to blow games all season while the Fullerton pitchers have been reliable at the end of games.

Fullerton has been on an extended roll by going 24-5 after starting the season out at 7-9.  Long Beach’s season has sputtered out over the last month after they played well in the middle of the year but the Dirtbags have the hitting and front line pitching to win this series if they start clicking on all cylinders this weekend.  Fullerton has dominated Long Beach in the four meetings over the last two seasons by a combined score of 34-8 and as long as the Titans continue to play like they have the past two months and don’t get too wrapped up in the emotion of a rivalry series, Fullerton should win this series.