USC Preview

Over the last few years, the late April/early May slump for the Stanford Cardinal has been like clockwork. In 2001, the Cardinal lost a pair of series and were blown out by Sac. St. In 2002, the Cardinal lost a pair of series and were blown out by San Jose St. Now, after losing a series to Arizona at Sunken Diamond and playing terribly on Tuesday against Santa Clara, the Cardinal hope to avoid a repeat of history when they take on arch rival USC this weekend in Los Angeles.

#9 Stanford (28-14, 10-5 Pac-10) vs. USC (25-19, 9-6 Pac-10) 

Friday:  6:00 PM 
Saturday: 1:00 PM 
Sunday: 1:00 PM
* All games will be played at Dedeaux Field and are Pacific Daylight Time.

Talk about deja vu.  Its late April/early May and the Cardinal are struggling.  Just like in 2001 and 2002, the Cardinal have opened the door for other teams to not only sneak in behind the Cardinal in the Pac-10 race, but also in the national rankings, as the Cardinal slip from #4 to #9 this week in the Baseball America Top 25 Poll.

Time to panic?  Of course not.  The Cardinal put together miserable stretches toward the tail end of the regular season in the last two years but still ended up where they wanted to be:  in Omaha, Nebraska, playing at the College World Series.  But there are some troubling signs.  The top of the lineup is really struggling.  The bottom of the lineup is up and down.  The third and subsequent starters are largely undetermined.  Overall, the Cardinal have been consistently inconsistent lately.

This weekend the Cardinal travels to Los Angeles to take on USC, who lost two of three to the Cardinal in early March at Sunken Diamond (the series was a non-conference set).  The Trojans have played much better baseball lately, winning five consecutive games.  While USC continues to look for answers from their pitching, which continues to be marred with injuries, they will start Anthony Reyes on Friday, their pre-season projected ace who has struggled with arm problems.  Their offense has been much improved, with Anthony Lunetta returning to the form that won his Freshman of the Year honors in 2000, while Freshman Jeff Clement leads the Pac-10 in homers with 18 and is certainly a contender for Pac-10 Freshman and Player of the Year.

The Trojans swept a series from Oregon St. last weekend in Corvallis, winning a tight pair of games in a doubleheader on Saturday before blowing out the Beavers on Sunday.  They come into this huge Pac-10 series only a game behind the first place Cardinal.  The Pac-10 is very tight at the top:  Stanford and Arizona St. are tied with identical 10-5 records (the Cardinal hold the tiebreaker with a series win in Tempe, and ASU is off for the next two weeks), while Arizona and USC are just one game behind at 9-6.  This series is incredibly important for both teams, and the outcome will in large measure help to determine the winner of the conference in 2003. 


STANFORD

Stanford is truly reeling right now after the loss to Santa Clara on Tuesday.  In a game that saw Santa Clar Bronco pitchers walk eight batters in the first five innings, the Cardinal got only three hits, scoring zero runs in the process.  While Tim Cunningham had an improved start, he got the loss after allowing 2 runs in three innings.  The loss to SCU was just a swift kick to the Cardinal after a series loss to Arizona last weekend.  While the Cardinal and Wildcasts played two very competitive games in the first two games, splitting Friday and Saturday, while Sunday saw U of A get off to a 5-0 lead.  While the Cardinal would tie the game and eventually take the lead, they could not contain Arizona's bats, as Arizona won 11-6 Sunday, beating the Cardinal for just the first time since 1993 in a season series.

The only part of Stanford's game right now that is truly consistent has been the pitching of John Hudgins and for the most part steady offensive production from the middle of the lineup.  Hudgins has completed three consecutive games, actually taking the loss in a well pitched game on Friday, losing to Richie Gardner of Arizona 4-3 on a solo homer in the 8th.  However, Hudgins has given the Cardinal a chance to win each time out, as he has thrown 42 out of a possible 45 innings in his last five starts.  While Mark Romanczuk clearly has established himself as the second starter for Stanford, the rest of the pitching rotation still has yet to shake itself out, as the Cardinal have not named a third starter for this weekend and questions remain about the stability of the bullpen.

The middle of the lineup, Quentin, Garko, and Putnam, has carried the Cardinal offensive attack in the last month, but there is only so much they can do.  Fuld and Hall at the top of the lineup are both struggling, and there have just not been enough runners to drive in over the last few weeks.  The bottom of the lineup has produced key hits at times from Donny Lucy, Jonny Ash, Jed Lowrie (who moved up to hit second on Tuesday), and Tobin Swope, but still has struggled with consistency.

Still, its clear that the talent and ability is there for Stanford.  When they are hot, there may be no better offensive team in the country.  Tim Cunningham and Ryan McCally have proven at different points in their careers that they can be capable if not dominant third starters, but at this point in 2003 the jury is out.  

Stanford took two of three from the Trojans in March, and while it can prove difficult to beat a team in two series in one year, it clearly can be done.  Stanford won 7 of 8 from USC last year (including the Super Regionals) and the Trojans have struggled at points this season.  Still, the Trojans are hot, the Cardinal is not, and that should make for an interesting series.


Probable Starting Lineup:

CF Sam Fuld (.309, 2 HR, 21 RBI)
Fuld got two huge hits on Saturday against Arizona, a two run HR in the 6th, and a game winning 2 RBI 2B in the 8th, but otherwise has been cold.  His average has dropped about 40 points since early April, when he was tearing it up.  He is 0 for his last 9 and 4 for his last 29. This year he has gone through some prolonged slumps and one very hot period.  That period started last time against USC, when Fuld got 6 hits in 10 AB over the last two games of the series. 

2B Jed Lowrie (.321, 0 HR, 12 RBI)
Bumped up to the #2 spot in the lineup against Santa Clara because of good contact hitting and Brian Hall's slump, Lowrie is the likely starter at 2B.  He has played well in Pac-10 player (17-42, .405 in conference play) and has played much better at 2B.  Good contact hitter but a better hitter overall from the left side.

RF Carlos Quentin (.422, 6 HR, 35 RBI)
Quentin's numbers are a bit down this week from last as his hitting streak ended at 26 on Friday and he went hitless again on Tuesday.  Still, on Saturday and Sunday he played well, hitting his sixth homer in the process.  Still well over .400 with a .445 mark in conference play.  He leads Stanford in 2B (21), BB (29), OBP (.527), and slugging (.677).

C Ryan Garko (.364, 10 HR, 52 RBI)
Garko had just three hits in the Arizona series but they were a 2 RBI 1B, a 2B, and a two run HR.  He leads the team in HR and RBI.  6 of his 10 HR have come in conference play, where he is also hitting .404.  Has thrown out over 40% of runners in conference play as well.

LF Danny Putnam (.376, 9 HR, 37 RBI)
Putnam had one of 3 hits for the Cardinal on Tuesday (a 2B to break up the no-hitter in the 6th) and continues his consistent approach at the plate.  Goes the other way with two strikes and drives the ball early in the count.

1B Donny Lucy (.272, 1 HR, 10 RBI) or John Mayberry, Jr. (.296, 3 HR, 26 RBI)
Lucy has started four of the last six at 1B and has struggled mightily defensively, but has hit the ball hard.  Mayberry has slumped throughout most of conference play, but hits in his last 3 games may be enough for him to garner his starting position back this weekend.  He had 7 hits in the previous series against USC, including a 3B and a HR.

3B Brian Hall (.274, 4 HR, 31 RBI)
Hall is hitting .170 over the last month and his recent struggles have moved him down in the lineup.  0 for his last 11 and 2 for his last 24.  Its possible we may even see Jonny Ash at 3B in the first two games of the series against Reyes and Bannister, who both have good breaking balls.

DH Chris Carter (.087, 0 HR, 0 RBI) or Jonny Ash (.258, 0 HR, 10 RBI)
On paper this looks like an easy choice, but Mark Marquess knows that the power will come for Carter, and USC's Dedeaux Field's short porch in RF may be too hard to pass Carter up in the lineup.  However, he only has 2 hits in his return this year.  Ash has played 2B, 3B, and DH over the last month.  He could be the DH against lefties with Lucy DHing on Sunday against LHP Bobby Paschal.

SS Tobin Swope (.319, 0 HR, 22 RBI)
Swope has three hits in his last two games after struggling in the month of April.  Still primarily a singles hitter, Swope also hasn't had a lot of chances to get on base and steal lately.  The way things are going offensively for Stanford, if Swope gets on base this weekend, he is going in an effort to create runs any way possible.


Probable Rotation:

Friday RHP John Hudgins (7-3, 3.00 ERA, 13 GS)
3 CG in his last 4 games for Hudgins, who has eaten up innings and kept Stanford in games against some of the best pitchers in the country.  A tough loss last week, giving up a solo homer in the 8th inning but he limited a great offensive team in Arizona to just four runs over nine innings.  The workhorse for the Card has pitched 99 innings and has struck out 94 while just walking 20.

Saturday LHP Mark Romanczuk (8-0, 3.88 ERA, 14 G/8 GS)
Romanczuk this week is finally listed in the probable starting rotation, and this comes a week after a subpar outing for him.  5.0 innings, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits against Arizona.  Has been wilder in his last few outings, walking 4 against Arizona and 6 against OSU.  But still, a great year for the freshman lefty.

Sunday LHP Tim Cunningham (1-3, 6.85 ERA, 7 GS) or
RHP Ryan McCally (3-2, 5.54 ERA, 13 G/11 GS)
If Matt Manship were not so valuable in the Cardinal bullpen, he may be included in the mix for Sunday too.  This may be the achilles heel for the Cardinal, or at least it has been lately.  McCally has gone only 1.2 innings in his last two starts, and in the last month he hasn't fooled a lot of batters.  Cunningham looked great through two innings on Tuesday, not bad in the third, and may win the nod this week.  He hasn't started on the weekend since February 15th.  If he does start, McCally is back to the bullpen where he was very good from 2000-2003.

Bullpen: RHP Matt Manship, RHP David O'Hagan, RHP Kodiak Quick, RHP Mark Jecmen, RHP Billy Paganetti.


USC

As good and as talented as USC Baseball is and has been in the past, this USC team ha been very scrappy to carve out their 25-19 record, with a 9-6 Pac-10 mark.  But do not confuse scrappiness with a lack of talent.  However, USC has had to overcome a number of injuries to their pitching staff to overcome a difficult start and to rebound to within one game of the first place Cardinal.

First, J.P. Howell transferred to Texas.  Then, Matt Chico and Cory Campos were declared academically ineligible before the 2003 season. Then, Brett Bannister was lost to the season with an elbow injury.  Anthony Reyes, who had elbow problems in 2002, reinjured the elbow and did not pitch for several weeks.  Jon Williams is also done for the season.  So, the Trojans have had to rely upon the freshman arm of Bobby Paschal and junior Brian Bannister, along with relievers Frasier Dizard, Michael Cooper, and Josh Rummonds to get them through the season.  While it certainly has not worked out how Head Coach Mike Gillespie and Pitching Coach Dave Lawn would have liked, the Trojans have battled.  

The Trojans have some big guns in their lineup, which is generally an average hitting team.  Jeff Clement has lived up to the hype and then some.  He has 18 homers and has now lifted his average well above .300. He is the only freshman on Baseball America's Player of the Year Watch (Quentin is also on that list).  Anthony Lunetta is the leading hitter with an average of .349 and certainly has performed above expectations after two down years.

It should not be surprising that Mike Gillespie has his team back in the hunt.  His teams have started off slow in recent years, but always rebound.  They are not long from their last national title (1998), and still have some of the old Trojan magic.  A series win put them in a first place tie with the Cardinal (USC has won the conference the past three seasons) and would also give them the tiebreaker.  Plus, USC is at home, where they are much better than they are on the road:  13-7 at Dedeaux, 11-12 on the road.  This great rivalry continues this weekend.


Probable starting lineup:

2B Michael Moon (.244, 3 HR, 17 RBI)
Moon's average is way down from his 2002 mark of .336.  For the third consecutive year, Moon is playing a different position, as he has played the last five games at 2B, moved from 3B earlier in the year, and SS last season.  Moon draws a fair amount of walks, but his OBP is low for a leadoff hitter (.332) and wont run much.  Has some pop but hasn't shown it this season.

SS Anthony Lunetta (.349, 5 HR, 20 RBI)
Lunetta has finally rebounded from two down years to become the player that Mike Gillespie thought he had after 2000.  He has made 15 errors at shortstop, which is higher than he wants, but has been a productive #2 hitter who walks more than he strikes out and has a good .442 OBP. 6-11 with 2 HR against Stanford earlier in 2003.

C Jeff Clement (.312, 18 HR, 43 RBI)
To think of how many homers this guy is going to hit in three years is incredible.  18 homers for a freshman is tremendous, and Clement has even slowed down a bit to get to this point.  Will be the Freshman of the Year in the conference and has been decent defensively, although he sometimes starts at DH.  Only one hit off the Cardinal but of course it was a homer.  5 HRs in Pac-10 play, one less than Garko.

1B Joey Metropoulos (.311, 9 HR, 34 RBI)
Metropolous is a huge 1B in the Bill Peavey mold, but a better hitter than Peavey at this point in his career.  Strikes out a fair amount but nothing obscene for a 1B.  Can even run a little bit (4-9 in stolen base attempts).  Homered against the Card in the non-conference series.  The right handed bat between two lefties.

CF Travis McAndrews (.311, 3 HR, 22 RBI)
McAndrews has moved down in the lineup but could be a good #1 or #2 hitter because he walks more than he strikes out.  Hits left handed. Had a big game against Hudgins in Game 1 on 2/28:  3-4, 2B, HR.

LF Spencer Gordon (.250, 3 HR, 20 RBI)
A bit of a disappointment offensively for Gordon (no relation to David, who is injured, and typically kills the Cardinal).  Hitting only .185 in conference play.

3B Darin Viera (.204, 0 HR, 6 RBI)
Has seen more playing time lately, but has only started 11 games this year.  So far perfect in the field, but has just four hits in eighteen Pac-10 At-Bats.  Started the OSU series at 3B.

RF Billy Hart (.242, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
Freshman has struggled this year, but only has 27 Pac-10 AB.   He has missed some time to football, as he played in a spring practice and a baseball game in the same day about a month ago, a la Joe Borchard. Hart is a backup QB on the Trojans football team.

DH Jon Brewster (.314, 4 HR, 18 RBI)
Has hit safely in 19 of 21 games for USC.  May also see time at 2B with Moon moving back to 3B, which is where they both started the season.


Probable Starting Rotation:

Friday RHP Anthony Reyes (1-3, 4.50 ERA, 6 GS)
Reyes again has had problems with his right elbow and has just returned over the last few weeks to pitch again.  Had his longest outing on Saturday against the Beavers, going 6.2 innings.  Expected to be healthy and ready to go fo this series, which is a huge lift for USC.  Did not pitch against the Cardinal earlier this year as he was injured. Described as a tweener, does not throw incredibly hard but is not a finesse pitcher, although has a very good breaking ball if his elbow can handle it.

Saturday RHP Brian Bannister (5-4, 4.38 ERA, 14 G/11 GS)
Has been the rock of the rotation along with Paschal after returning from injury in 2002.  Brother Brett is out for the whole year. Bannister went 7.0 against Stanford in his last outing against the Card, beating John Hudgins after allowing just four runs.  Good right handed stuff.

Sunday LHP Bobby Paschal (3-4, 3.79 ERA, 12 G/10 GS)
Paschal was starting on Fridays in Reyes' absence but has been moved back to Sunday.  The lefty struggled against the Cardinal, but most of the eight runs he allowed came in one inning.  The best ERA out of any member of the Trojan rotation.


The Last Time:

2/28/03 - USC 13, Stanford 4
The Trojans dominated from the start, led by homers from Lunetta and David Gordon, giving John Hudgins his first loss of the year in what is still Hudgins' worst outing:  6.0 IP, 9 H, 8 R/6 ER.  The Cardinal committed six errors in the game, three in the ninth inning alone.

3/1/03 - Stanford 10, USC 6
Stanford played better a day after being embarrassed, scoring six runs in the first inning and never looking back, although it got a bit dicey in the end when the Trojans scored four in the last two innings.  Fuld and Hall combined for seven hits and Ryan Garko had three RBI.

3/2/03 - Stanford 18, USC 4
Danny Putnam had a monster day, driving home seven runs, including two homers, as Mark Romanczuk's first start was a success.  He picked up his fourth win.  John Mayberry also had 3 RBI and was just a 2B short of the cycle.


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