Baseball heads to hostile Fresno

My life will come full circle this weekend as, for the first time in my sports broadcasting career, I'm going back home to the Central Valley and announce a game in the region where I grew up. I can't imagine a more compelling stage for a return home. No. 1 Stanford baseball will put its 8-0 record to the test against Fresno State in one of college baseball's most hostile environments.

Pete Beiden Field hasn't seen a No.1-ranked team visit since Rice came to Fresno in 2003. The Bulldogs beat the Owls 7-3 in the opener of that series before losing the next two games.

Expect the Cardinal to face a packed ballpark and playoff-like crowd hostility this weekend, not to mention a gritty Fresno State team. That the Bulldogs (4-5) are good is no longer a secret, not after their astonishing "Underdogs to Wonderdogs" 2008 run to the NCAA championship. That magic was part of Fresno State's current six-year reign on top of the Western Athletic Conference, most recently punctuated with a 40-16 record and appearance in the 2011 UCLA Regional.

Simply put, Stanford has a much tougher test on its plate on the road this weekend than it did when hosting overrated Vanderbilt and Texas teams in the season's first two series.

That being said, this Fresno State club appears significantly weaker than its 2011 version. The Bulldogs come into the game slumping, having lost four of five. The primary struggles have come offensively, where the team is hitting only .253 collectively. Stanford, in comparison, has been annihilating the baseball at a .331 clip.

The Bulldogs' offensive woes are easy to explain: Fresno State lost slugger Dusty Robinson (16 HR, 55 RBI) to the draft. On top of that, Danny Muno and Jordan Ribera, two fixtures of the program's 2008 national championship team, have graduated. The losses have been staggering: 152 RBI's of productivity have vanished from the Bulldogs' lineup, and the offensive attack has had no choice but to start three true freshmen in place of its departed bashers.

Stanford must be wary of the physical specimen that is 6-foot-7, 255-pound sophomore center fielder Aaron Judge, a 2011 freshman All-America selection with his .358 average, and junior outfielder Daniel Moultrie, who's hitting .440 to start this 2012 campaign.

Outside of those two, though, there are plenty of outs in this Fresno State lineup for the so-far-stellar Stanford rotation of Mark Appel, Brett Mooneyham, and John Hochstatter to pick on.

The Cardinal, meanwhile, will not return the favor by giving Fresno State easy outs. This was especially evident during Stanford's 18-batter, 13-run fourth inning outburst last Sunday versus Texas.

Two quality Bulldog left-handers, Tyler Linehan and Thomas Harlan, will try to keep the Stanford juggernaut at bay. Given how collectively hot the Cardinal has been, though, doing so is improbable.

But never forget what this Bulldog program did in 2008. Fresno State's scrappiness and the team's Beiden Field advantage should make the Cardinal sweat for the first time this year. The Bulldogs, after all, have already stolen 15 bases on the young season and will try to use this aggressiveness to pressure Stanford's new committee of catchers.

In the end, though, I predicted sweeps against Vanderbilt and Texas, and I'm predicting another one this weekend. The Cardinal just has too much firepower for a scuffling team like Fresno State to handle. The freshman Hochstatter's first career road start in the series finale may be a wild card, but Stanford's .383 batting average against Sunday pitching is a deal maker. The way it's raking right now, this Stanford lineup is too good and too hot to bet against.

Be sure to listen to all the action on KZSU 90.1 FM - online at kzsulive.stanford.edu - as I'll have the call for you from Fresno.


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.


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