College Baseball Roundup

Stanford is off to a 5-1 start after consecutive series wins to begin the year. In this week's Roundup, we take an in-depth look at last weekend's Fresno State series - from hitting, pitching, and defensive perspectives. In addition, check out all the latest from around the Pac-10 as well as an updated "Super Sixteen."

Pac-10 Standings (overall records through games of February 8th)

Arizona           3-0
Arizona State     3-0
UCLA              1-0
Stanford          5-1
California        4-2
Oregon State      0-0
USC               0-0
Washington        0-0
Washington State  0-0

It was another excellent weekend for the Pac-10 Conference.  Stanford took care of business by taking 2-of-3 at up-and-coming Fresno State.  Arizona State swept #22 Florida State in Tempe to open their season while Arizona also notched a season-opening sweep.  The Wildcats took three straight from UC Riverside - a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last season.  The Cal Bears couldn't handle Long Beach State's top two starting pitchers this past weekend, but they did manage to pick up a victory in the series finale on Sunday.  Finally, UCLA recorded a mid-week win over Riverside.

The two big series' involving Pac-10 teams this weekend include Arizona and USC.  The 15th ranked Wildcats host #8 Cal State Fullerton in a huge series with a ton of west coast implications.  Meanwhile, the Trojans get their season started when they take on the 9th ranked Long Beach State 49ers in a three-game, home-and-home series.  Both series' will be excellent tests for two of the expected better teams in the Pac-10.  We should get an idea about how strong both the Wildcats and Trojans are after this weekend.  The 16th ranked Sun Devils are already off to a fast start with their sweep of Florida State while Cal is 4-2.  UCLA and Washington play their first series' of the year this weekend.


Stanford-Fresno State Series

One of the most impressive aspects of last weekend's series win over Fresno State was Stanford's ability to bounce back with the bats after a tough loss on Friday night.  The Cardinal mustered only two hits that entire game in a 3-1 loss, but they responded by posting 23 runs on 30 hits over the next two days to get the series win.  A sign of a good offense is their ability to bounce back like Stanford did and once this offense really gets rolling, their will be very few pitchers that can shut them down.

The expected leaders of the offense have put up the biggest numbers thus far.  Danny Putnam has hit safely in all six games which has put his season average at .458 (11-for-24).  Jed Lowrie already has two homers and nine RBI to go with a .417 average.  John Mayberry, Jr. has clubbed three homers and is hitting .375.  Finally, Sam Fuld is doing an excellent job at getting on base with his .350 average and .552 on-base percentage.  Those four guys have the ability to put up some huge numbers this season.  And I like what Coach Marquess did the last two games by sliding Lowrie into the #3 hole with Putnam hitting fourth and Mayberry, Jr. fifth.  While Jed did hit a homer last Sunday against Fullerton as the #4 hitter, he's not going to hit more home runs than Putnam this year.  Usually you want your best power hitter in that clean-up position, so he hits with as many guys on base possible.  And with Fuld, Jonny Ash, and Lowrie hitting 1-2-3, there should be plenty of runners to drive in for the big boppers.

The bottom portion of the order had a pretty good series too.  Chris Carter is hitting just .214, but he has already cracked two homers for a .643 slugging percentage.  More at-bats against right handed pitching should get that average up for Carter.  Donny Lucy has been doing a much better job of making contact in this early season.  That's important for him as with his speed, he'll be able to beat out some ground balls to the left side.  Lucy is hitting .300 for the year.  Brian Hall was in a major slump to begin the year at 3-for-21 with eight strike outs.  But, Hall racked up a hits in his last two AB's on Sunday, so hopefully one of the streakiest hitters in America is going to get hot.  Finally, frosh Adam Sorgi looks to have the shortstop position locked down when the opposition starts a right handed pitcher on the mound.  Sorgi is off to a 5-for-15 start with the bat while playing error-free defense.  Chris Lewis is still looking for his first hit of the year (0-for-8), but Coach Marquess will most likely continue to give him starts at second base (with Lowrie shifting over to short) against a left handed starting pitcher.

****

Stanford's improved pitching depth was again showcased this weekend.  Drew Ehrlich came in on Friday night and fired 2 2/3 scoreless innings with five K's.  Blake Holler pitched three solid innings of relief on Saturday (one run allowed) for his second straight effective outing of the season.  Then on Sunday, senior David O'Hagan relieved an ineffective Mark Jecmen with no outs in the first inning and went on to toss six shutout frames.  O'Hagan walked only one and struck out eight.  Quite an outing for O'Hagan as he most certainly saved the day.  Kodiak Quick also threw two scoreless innings of relief on Sunday.

The real downside of the weekend was the performance of junior Mark Jecmen on Sunday.  Jecmen didn't record an out in his start while allowing three runs, three hits, and two walks.  We saw two weekends ago how good Jecmen can be when everything is going for him.  But we also saw this past weekend how badly things can turn with this towering right hander.  I'm not sure if he's consistent enough to be a starter yet at this level.  It will be interesting to see if Coach Marquess gives him another chance this Sunday or if he pulls the plug temporarily with Jecmen and moves him to the bullpen.

If Jecmen doesn't start on Sunday, one obvious candidate to take his place is sophomore Matt Manship.  Manship began the year as the #2 starter, but was knocked out in the third inning (three runs allowed) in his start against Fullerton.  He was moved to the bullpen against Fresno and responded nicely (albeit it was the ninth inning of a blowout) by tossing a scoreless, no-hit inning.  Long term, I don't think there's any doubt the coaching staff feels Manship will be in the rotation this season.  He was Stanford's third best pitcher last season on a team that reached the CWS Championship Series, so the tools are definitely there.  He may have to show something in his bullpen session this week to get back in the rotation this weekend, however.

Finally, people may start to think that David O'Hagan could get a look as Stanford's #3 man this weekend.  I personally believe this is the most unlikely scenario though.  Marquess was quite adamant about leaving O'Hagan in the bullpen during the preseason and I think that role best suits him.  We've seen already in two weeks how versatile O'Hagan can be out of the Cardinal bullpen.  Versus Fullerton, he tossed the last three innings of a close game to nail down the save.  Then yesterday, he relieved a struggling starting pitcher in the first inning and promptly went on to throw six spectacular innings. 

O'Hagan is the type of pitcher who thrives in pressure situations.  He's the guy you want to bring in with the bases loaded and no outs, because more often than not, he's going to get out of it with limited damage.  O'Hagan is a fierce competitor and someone you want pitching in big spots out of the Cardinal 'pen. 

Ehrlich also looks much improved this season and has shown he's can capably pitch in long relief, but his chances of starting are probably a little more far-fetched.

One other pitching aspect worth mentioning from last weekend was the emergence of Jeff Gilmore on Saturday.  Making his first career start, Gilmore tossed six innings with just two earned runs allowed and eight strike outs.  An excellent outing from the sophomore right hander and certainly good enough to warrant another start this weekend.  I have a feeling that Jeff Gilmore won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

****

Stanford's defense has been spectacular to begin the year as they've committed just two errors in their first six games for a remarkable .991 fielding percentage.  No team can keep that percentage that high, but the Cardinal defense certainly deserves a pat on the back.

In fact, no Stanford infielder has committed an error yet this season which is truly amazing.  The Lowrie-Sorgi middle infield combination isn't quite as flashy as the O'Riordan-Topham middle infield from a couple of years ago, but they could be well on their way to reaching that level.  Coach Marquess wouldn't be putting a freshman at shortstop if he couldn't make all the plays. 

From observing numerous practices before this season, I noticed one drill in particular that the team always takes part in (they do this drill in about 95% of the practices).  It's dubbed "Live Infield."  Instead of having a coach throw up a ball and hit ground balls to the infielders, Coach Marquess prefers a drill where he has actual live hitters hitting ground balls.  All of the outfielders and catchers grab bats and take four swings each against a live pitcher (just a coach throwing at batting practice speed).  The hitter is supposed to hit hard ground balls or line drives to the infielders.  Every ball is played like a game situation while on the fourth swing, the hitter runs the ball out to simulate an actual play at first base.  After about 20 minutes of this, Coach Marquess instructs the infielders to turn double plays (with live base runners).  And on every ground ball, Coach Marquess is screaming at the top of his lungs to "Make the Play!" or "Turn it! (meaning to turn the double play)"  I'm sure the players are getting tired of this daily drill, but it's great practice for the infielders while I also think it helps team chemistry (all the players are quite vocal during the drill - even the hitters as they try to beat out ground balls on the left side).  And the results are certainly showing that practice makes perfect.


"Super Sixteen"

                       Record  Pvs.
1. Rice                 0-0    1

2. LSU                  0-0    2

3. Stanford             5-1    3
   
* Won 2-of-3 at Fresno State in first road series of the season.

4. Miami                0-0    4

5. Georgia Tech         0-0    5

6. Cal State Fullerton  3-3    6
   
* Back on track after sweeping UNLV at home.

7. Long Beach State     2-1    7
   
* 49ers open season by taking 2-of-3 at California.

8. Auburn               0-0    8

9. Texas                6-0    9
   
* Longhorns stay hot as they swept visiting San Diego.

10. Nebraska            0-0   10

11. Mississippi         0-0   11

12. Clemson             0-0   12

13. Baylor              0-0   13

14. Arizona             3-0   14
   
* Wildcats get 2004 started by sweeping UC Riverside.

15. Arizona State       3-0   16
   
* Sun Devils get off to good start with a sweep of visiting Florida State.

16. South Carolina      0-0   NR

Dropped Out : Florida State (2-3, 1-3 last week)


Rankings Update

Stanford moved up to two spots from #6 to #4 in this week's Baseball America poll.  Other Pac-10 teams ranked include #15 Arizona and #16 Arizona State.  Cardinal non-conference opponents ranked include #6 Texas and #8 Cal State Fullerton.  Rice, who opens their season tomorrow, is #1.


On Deck

The Cardinal return home this weekend as they host the Kansas Jayhawks in a three-game series.  Despite a 7-4-1 record, the Jayhawks have not been overly impressive this year.  They went 5-2 on a seven-game trip at Hawaii-Hilo before a two-game sweep at Texas Southern - two teams that don't exactly strike fear in the heart of opponents.  This past weekend, Kansas went 0-2-1 at a round-robin tournament.  The Jayhawks lost to Lamar and UT-Pan American while they tied Sam Houston State.  This is a big weekend for Kansas as they have to a chance to knock off a top-five team, but they will most certainly have their hands full.  I'll have a full series preview in a few days.

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