Saturday - 1:00pm
Sunday - 1:00pm
The preseason 6th ranked Stanford Cardinal baseball team opens their 2004 season this weekend when they host the 4th ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans in a three-game series. Stanford is coming off a year in which they finished with a sparkling 51-18 overall record and a 2nd place finish at the College World Series. This season, the Cardinal will be looking to make an unprecedented sixth consecutive appearance in the College World Series. Meanwhile, the Cal State Fullerton Titans are also coming off a sensational season as they finished 50-16 last year and third at the College World Series. The Titans were eliminated in Omaha by the Cardinal.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday : Fullerton- Ryan Schreppel (LHP; 5-3, 2.45) vs. Stanford- Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 12-2, 4.01)
Saturday : Fullerton- Ricky Romero (LHP; 3-0, 3.20) vs. Stanford- Matt Manship (RHP; 2-4, 3.98)
Sunday : Fullerton- TBA vs. Stanford- TBA
WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH:
* Stanford's star studded outfield - The Cardinal boast possibly the most talented and experienced outfield in the country. Leading the way is senior center fielder Sam Fuld who should finish his Stanford career #1 all-time in both runs and hits. Fuld is a career .350 hitter (ninth highest at Stanford) and will bat leadoff. He's flanked in the outfield by junior Danny Putnam and senior Brian Hall. Putnam had a breakout year last season when he hit .348 with 16 homers and 66 RBI including a memorable tenth inning home run off these same Titans in the CWS bracket final last season. Putnam also starred with the US National Team last summer as their starting left fielder and #3 hitter. Both Putnam and Fuld are Preseason First Team All-Americans. Hall hit .293 last year with six home runs, 44 RBI, and a team-leading 18 stolen bases. He's played all over the diamond during his Stanford career, but looks to finally be able to settle down in one position here in 2004.
* Cardinal-Titans heated rivalry - The teams played each other six times last year including three matchups in Omaha. Last year's bracket final that saw Stanford win 7-5 in ten innings was one of the most intense contests on the field that I've ever seen. From Fullerton's Justin Turner getting hit in the face with a pitch and having to go the hospital, to Jonny Ash's first career home run (off Titan All-American closer Chad Cordero), to the constant Titan batters getting plunked with pitches, to David O'Hagan throwing over the head of CSF catcher Kurt Suzuki in the ninth inning, and finally, to Putnam's two-run blast in the tenth to snap a 5-5 tie which sent Stanford to the Championship Series. We'll see if any of that high intensity from last year's CWS carries over to this series.
* Danny Dorn - Fullerton's sophomore center fielder should be one of the top players in college baseball this season. Last year as a freshman, Dorn hit .348 with seven homers and 54 RBI and is Baseball America's preseason favorite for Big West Player of the Year. Dorn was overshadowed a bit last year by fellow outfielders Shane Costa and Kyle Boyer, but with both of those players now in pro ball, the spotlight falls squarely on Dorn.
Hitting is unquestionably the strength of this year's team. Eight of 11 offensive starters return from last year's ballclub that hit for a .316 average and blasted 74 home runs. Stanford though will have to plug in the holes left by the now departed Carlos Quentin and Ryan Garko. Quentin and Garko hit third and fourth respectively in the order last season and they combined for 30 homers, 156 RBI, and a .399 batting average. The two players likely to fill those spots are Putnam and sophomore first baseman John Mayberry, Jr. Putnam hit fifth last year and is capable of putting up huge numbers. Mayberry, Jr. was hitting above .350 heading into Pac-10 play last season, before a second half slump severely limited his playing time. Both players ripped the cover off the ball in preseason practice.
On the mound, there are a few question marks that will need to be answered. Two spots in the starting rotation will be filled by new players after the departures of John Hudgins and Ryan McCally. Sophomore lefty Mark Romanczuk does return, however, and he'll take over the #1 starting job after pitching on Saturday's last year. Romanczuk was one of Collegiate Baseball's National Freshmen of the Year last season when he went 12-2. Sophomore right hander Matt Manship takes over the #2 spot in the rotation after an outstanding freshman campaign as the Stanford closer. Manship saved nine games last season to go with a 3.98 ERA and a team-low .226 opponents batting average. A third weekend starter has yet to be announced, but the most likely candidate is sophomore Jeff Gilmore. Gilmore threw only 2 1/3 innings all of last year, but has improved tremendously to the point where he may get the starting nod in the opening weekend. Stanford also figures to have a deeper, albeit a young bullpen in 2004. Sophomore Kodiak Quick (2-0, 4.25 ERA, 3 SV) and senior David O'Hagan (7-1, 4.89 ERA, 3 SV) are the two top relievers on the club.
Probable Starting Lineup:
C - Donny Lucy (Jr., .291, 2 HR, 18 RBI)
1B - John Mayberry, Jr. (So., .299, 4 HR, 33 RBI)
2B - Chris Lewis (So., .159, 1 HR, 10 RBI)
3B - Jonny Ash (Sr., .314, 2 HR, 33 RBI)
SS - Jed Lowrie (So., .292, 0 HR, 28 RBI)
LF - Danny Putnam (Jr., .348, 16 HR, 66 RBI)
CF - Sam Fuld (Sr., .321, 4 HR, 35 RBI)
RF - Brian Hall (Sr., .293, 6 HR, 44 RBI)
DH - Chris Carter (Jr., .241, 7 HR, 17 RBI)
Lucy will finally get a chance to play everyday this year after backing up Garko the past two seasons ... He still managed to start 34 games last year and he hits lefties very well (Fullerton will start at least two left handers this weekend) ... Ash was one of the postseason stars last year when he hit .393 in earning All-CWS honors ... Lowrie has improved by leaps and bounds with the bat and should be one of Stanford's better hitters in 2004 ... He moves over from second base to shortstop to begin the year ... Carter had an injury plagued 2003 campaign, but he's finally healthy and ready to breakout ... Sophomore back-up catcher John Hester could also start at DH.
CAL STATE FULLERTON NOTES
The Titans were undeniably one of the best teams in the country in 2003 as evident by their 50-16 record and only two series losses in the regular season. And with the talent they have returning, another run to Omaha in 2004 is very much a possibility. The main reason why Fullerton is ranked so high in the preseason polls is because of their returning starting pitching. Their top three starters from a year ago in senior Jason Windsor (11-2, 1.98) and sophomores Dustin Miller (9-2, 3.33) and Ryan Schreppel (5-3, 2.45) all return. Unfortunately for the Titans, both Windsor and Miller are currently suffering from some shoulder stiffness and neither will make the trip up to The Farm this weekend. That still leaves Schreppel who dazzled in his freshman year last season. He missed about half of the year with a knee injury, but in his 51 innings pitched, the 6'2" southpaw walked only 14 with opponents hitting just .227 against him. Schreppel and Romanczuk are very possibly the two top sophomore left handed pitchers in college baseball.
As for the rest of the rotation this weekend, another sophomore lefty in Ricky Romero is penciled in to start Saturday's contest. Romero was probably going to be the odd man out in the Fullerton rotation this year, but could probably start for just about any other team in America. A hard thrower, Romero compiled a 3.20 ERA in 56 1/3 innings last season spanning 23 appearances (six of which were starts). And like Schreppel, Romero displayed excellent control a year ago walking only 18. The Stanford hitters will most certainly have their hands full in the first two games of the series.
Looking at the Fullerton lineup, six of their 11 primary starters from last year's club return. They did lose the aforementioned Costa (.374-5-59, 28 SB) and Boyer (.327-6-49, 26 SB) along with first baseman Richie Burgos (.316-4-51), but the cupboard is far from bare. New first baseman P.J. Pilittere led last year's squad in hitting (spilt time between catcher and DH) with a .380 average and he's back here in 2004. So is the rising star Dorn along with excellent catcher Kurt Suzuki and third baseman Ronnie Prettyman. This was a Fullerton offense last year that hit a whopping .329 as a team. Power wasn't a part of their game with only 37 home runs, but the Titans had excellent gap hitters and were probably the best team in the country at moving guys around the bases (i.e. sac bunts, hitting behind runners, and overall good base running). Fullerton was also hit by an amazing 117 pitches while stealing 116 bases. Head coach George Horton expects more power from this year's ballclub, but with expected tight and low scoring contests this weekend (at least on Friday and Saturday), look for Fullerton to play small ball and to wreak havoc on the base paths.
Probable Starting Lineup:
C - Kurt Suzuki (Jr., .350, 2 HR, 28 RBI)
1B - P.J. Pilittere (Sr., .380, 3 HR, 31 RBI)
2B - Justin Turner (So., .326, 1 HR, 39 RBI)
3B - Ronnie Prettyman (Jr., .344, 0 HR, 37 RBI)
SS - Neil Walton (So., .276, 0 HR, 7 RBI)
LF - Bobby Andrews (So., .083, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
CF - Danny Dorn (So., .348, 7 HR, 54 RBI)
RF - Sergio Pedroza (So., .325, 4 HR, 24 RBI)
DH - Felipe Garcia (Jr., JC Transfer)
Suzuki is an excellent defensive catcher, but Cardinal fans remember him most for getting plunked countless times in last year's CWS ... Turner was a Freshman All-American at shortstop last year, but is expected to move over to second this season ... Prettyman has tremendous speed as he hit leadoff in the majority of Fullerton's games last season ... Andrews had only 12 at-bats last year as a freshman ... Garcia was an all-state player in JC last year and should be one of the main power sources (along with Dorn).
KEYS TO THE SERIES
* Get to the Fullerton Bullpen - As mentioned above, the main reason why Fullerton is ranked so high in the preseason is because of their starting pitching. However, they lost nearly everyone out of their bullpen from last year's squad. Gone is All-American closer Chad Cordero along with three other key relievers. And with Romero starting this weekend, there is even less experience in the 'pen. Starting pitchers will likely be on strict pitch counts this weekend, so even if Stanford can't do much in terms of scoring against Schreppel and Romero, they need to at least work some counts to force both of them out of the game before the later innings.
* Romanczuk's Control - The new #1 starter for Stanford is an incredible talent, but sometimes has problems with his control. He walked 55 in 112 1/3 innings last year which isn't a bad number, but one that has to go down now that he'll be pitching in low scoring, tight Friday night contests. And walks to a team like Fullerton hurts even more because of their team speed and how they handle the bat.
* Defense, Defense, Defense - Chilly weather is expected this weekend and that combined with Fullerton's stellar starting pitching likely means we'll have some lower scoring ballgames. And while it's understandable for the hitters to take a little while to get going, that shouldn't be the case for the defense. When Fullerton swept Stanford last year during the regular season, the Cardinal's defense was shoddy leading to too many free runs. Stanford looks great right now at catcher and center field with Lucy and Fuld, but will need strong efforts defensively from their two middle infielders, Lowrie and Lewis, for a successful series. You can't give this Fullerton team extra outs or they will burn you, plain and simple.
It was a beautiful weekend last late January down in Orange County with temperatures in the upper 80's, but the weather was about the only positive thing of the weekend for Stanford as the Titans absolutely crushed the Cardinal in winning all three games. Fullerton took advantage of a young Stanford bullpen and poor Cardinal defense to post 7-3, 10-2, and 8-2 victories.
The Cardinal would exact revenge though in Omaha. After Fullerton won a 6-5 decision early in the CWS over Stanford, the Cardinal, with their backs up against the wall, recorded 5-3 and 7-5 (10 innings) wins to eliminate the Titans and advance to the Championship Series. John Hudgins tossed a five-hit complete game in the first victory while Ash's two-run homer in the seventh and Putnam's two-run homer in the tenth propelled Stanford to victory in the second win.
In fact, Stanford has been Fullerton's nemesis for the better part of the last half decade. The Cardinal defeated Fullerton 3-2 in 13 innings in the opening game of the 2002 sub regionals at Sunken Diamond (that was the Jeremy Guthrie 13 inning game). In 2001, Stanford eliminated then-#1 ranked Fullerton at the CWS. The Cardinal swept Fullerton in their 2000 regular season series while also defeating the Titans in the opening round game of the 1999 College World Series.