Saturday - 1:00pm
Sunday - 1:00pm
The top ranked Stanford Cardinal take their show on the road this weekend when they battle the California Golden Bears in a three-game, non-conference series. Stanford ascended to the #1 ranking this week after taking 2-of-3 games from the Texas Longhorns last weekend at Sunken Diamond. The Cardinal have won all four of their series' this season (two sweeps) and eight in a row dating back to last year (regular season only).
The California Golden Bears were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the conference this season and their early results in 2004 seem to indicate that's where they'll finish. The Bears are coming off a 2-of-3 series win at Fresno State last weekend, but lost their most recent game, a 7-4 decision at home to USF this past Tuesday. Cal is coached by former Stanford player and assistant coach David Esquer.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
Friday : Stanford - Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 3-1, 2.96) vs. California - Mike Padgett (RHP; 1-1, 2.55)
Saturday : Stanford - Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 2-1, 4.57) vs. California - Adam Gold (RHP; 3-0, 1.37)
Sunday : Stanford - Blake Holler (LHP; 1-0, 2.25) vs. California - Kyle Crist (RHP; 1-2, 4.50)
WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH
* Adam Gold - Cal's "#2" starter. Gold starts on Saturday's, but he's pitching like the Cal ace in the early part of the season. Last weekend at Fresno, Gold carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning before having it broken up with two outs. A sophomore right hander, Gold is holding opponents to a .182 batting average against while he's struck out 32 in just 26 1/3 innings. Gilmore vs. Gold on Saturday appears to be a matchup of two sophomores taking their games to the next level.
* Stanford's hitting - This is the first series all season that Stanford will get to face a right handed starting pitcher in each game. It's not that the Cardinal can't hit lefties (they are a very impressive 10-2 this year while seven of those 12 games a lefty has started), but they do definitely hit right handers better. Stanford's lineup is power packed full of left handed hitters - Fuld, Putnam, Ash, Carter, Lowrie (switch) - and I imagine they'll score their fair share of runs this weekend.
* Brian Horwitz and Chris Grossman - Two players in the middle of the Cal lineup who have yet to really get going in 2004. Last year as juniors, Horwitz hit .347 with six homers while Grossman hit .341 with eight home runs. This was the year both players were supposed to really rise up and become dominant hitters in the Pac-10, but it hasn't happened yet. Horwitz is at .265 with just one homer and four RBI through 13 games while Grossman is hitting only .217 with one home run and six RBI. These two hitters won't stay down for long, but hopefully they'll remain quiet through the weekend.
Stanford is ranked #1 for the first time since the middle of the 2002 season and it's certainly well deserved. The Cardinal are an excellent 5-1 against two highly rated teams in Cal State Fullerton and Texas. But to stay at #1, Stanford will have to show they can win on the road. Starting this weekend, the Cardinal will play eight in a row and 15 of 18 away from the friendly confines. Stanford was an excellent road team last year when they went 19-5, but it's a new season, and a new chapter is about to be written.
The Cardinal hitters put up an impressive 21 runs in the three games versus Texas' excellent pitching staff last weekend. Stanford is scoring a cool eight runs per game, but still can show some improvement. They've been an opportunistic offense in that they always seem to capitalize on an opponent's mistake (whether it be errors or walks), but with the exception of the last two Fresno games, they've really yet to pound an opponent with their hitting prowess. Specifically, Stanford is looking for more production out of the bottom of their order from the likes of Chris Carter, Brian Hall, and Adam Sorgi. When this lineup starts firing on all cylinders, watch out.
Pitching has really been a pleasant surprise this young season. Throughout practice it seemed evident that Stanford was going to have a deeper staff this season and it's good to see those strong practice performances carried over to the games. Jeff Gilmore has emerged as a solid #2 starter while Blake Holler dazzled in his first career start last Sunday against the Longhorns. That effort was more than enough for him to get another shot in that Sunday spot this weekend. Meanwhile, out of the bullpen, David O'Hagan (1.45 ERA, .177 opponents average) has been nearly unhittable while Kodiak Quick has yet to give up a run in 5 2/3 innings this year. And the likes of Drew Ehrlich, Jonny Dyer, Matt Leva, and Matt Manship in middle relief really make this a solid pitching staff all around.
Probable Starting Lineup :
1. Sam Fuld, CF (Sr., .286, 0 HR, 7 RBI)
2. Jonny Ash, 3B (Sr., .333, 0 HR, 11 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B (So., .419, 3 HR, 15 RBI)
4. Danny Putnam, LF (Jr., .347, 1 HR, 7 RBI)
5. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B (So., .340, 4 HR, 13 RBI)
6. Chris Carter, DH (Jr., .160, 2 HR, 8 RBI)
7. Brian Hall, RF (Sr., .214, 1 HR, 11 RBI)
8. Donny Lucy, C (Jr., .295, 1 HR, 9 RBI)
9. Adam Sorgi, SS (Fr., .233, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
Player Notes: Fuld is now tied for fourth all-time at Stanford in hits (300, leader has 368) and fifth in runs (222, leader has 244) ... Lowrie leads the club in runs (tied with Fuld), hits, doubles, RBI, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage ... Putnam only has two extra-base hits through 12 games, but you can't argue with an overall .347 batting average ... Mayberry, Jr. has already equaled his home run total from a year ago ... Carter finally gets a steady dose of right handed pitching ... He homered in Stanford's exhibition game win over Rikkyo University of Japan on Tuesday.
The Bears are coming off a very disappointing 2003 season when they finished 28-27 overall and 10-14 (7th place) in the Pac-10. That was a team that was expected to play in the postseason, but didn't come close to that goal when the season ended. They lost star first/third baseman Conor Jackson to professional baseball when he was drafted in the first round, but fortunately for Cal, seven other starting position players are back. In addition, 12 of their 14 pitchers from a year ago return, so Cal's 2004 team looks remarkably similar to their 2003 club (minus Jackson). Cal was picked to finish 6th in the Pac-10 this year by the conference coaches. Baseball America thought more highly of the Bears when they projected them to finish 4th while Cal was ranked #26 in their preseason Top 50.
The season got off to a good start for Cal when they swept lowly BYU at home in convincing fashion. But then back-to-back series losses to nationally ranked Long Beach State (at home) and UC Irvine (on the road) dropped Cal down to 5-4. However, the Bears started hot last weekend when they won the first two games of their series at Fresno before finishing with a thud. In the finale on Sunday, the Bulldogs waxed the Bears to the tune of an 18-1 final score and then Cal came home and lost a Tuesday affair to a subpar USF team. That brings us to this weekend and Cal's 7-6 overall record.
This really is a big weekend for Cal. Getting to play a top-notch team like Stanford as part of their non-conference season can only help them. Only getting swept which will not look good come selection day would be a major problem and Cal isn't likely to lose three in a row home. If the Bears can get a series victory this weekend, it can really give them some momentum heading into the Pac-10 season while it would also look great on their season resume (Cal probably will be a bubble team this year based on their performance to date).
Individually, Cal is a balanced team with a good (but not great) offense and good (but not great) pitching. The only exception could be Saturday starter Adam Gold (mentioned above) who is off to a fast start. Friday starter Mike Padgett (1-1, 2.55 ERA, 17 2/3 IP, 4 BB, 20 SO) was just inserted into the rotation last weekend. It's kind of strange that Coach Esquer moves a new pitcher into that Friday spot, but Padgett has been putting up some pretty good numbers thus far. #3 guy Kyle Crist started nicely, but he was tagged for three runs in just 1/3 of an inning last Sunday against Fresno State. Out of the bullpen, junior Jesse Ingram (3.27 ERA, 2 Saves) and senior Matt Brown (5.40 ERA) have plenty of big-game experience and will be counted on to pitch in some big spots this weekend.
At the plate, Cal was supposed to be led by the duo of Horwitz and Grossman, but both guys have started slow. Fortunately, a few players have picked up the slack as Cal hits .292 as a team and scores just over six runs per game. Leadoff hitter and shortstop Allen Craig is doing his best Jed Lowrie impersonation. Craig was a solid player last year as a freshman, but he appears to be breaking out with his team-leading .390 average and three home runs. Left fielder Justin Nelson is also hitting .390 and is a bona fide power hitter. Nelson has hit two homers so far in 2004. Finally, freshman Chris Errecart looks to have settled into the #3 spot in the lineup with his .348 batting average and two home runs.
Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Allen Craig, SS (So., .390, 3 HR, 10 RBI)
2. David Weiner, DH (Sr., .276, 1 HR, 6 RBI)
3. Chris Errecart, CF (Fr., .348, 2 HR, 11 RBI)
4. Chris Grossman, C (Sr., .217, 1 HR, 6 RBI)
5. Justin Nelson, LF (Jr., .390, 2 HR, 11 RBI)
6. Brian Horwitz, RF (Sr., .265, 1 HR, 4 RBI)
7. James Holder, 1B (Jr., .356, 1 HR, 11 RBI)
8. Matt Einspahr, 2B (Jr., .080, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
9. Jeff Dragicevich, 3B (Sr., .200, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
Player Notes: Craig has been excellent with the bat, but he's struggled defensively with already five errors committed for a dismal .839 fielding percentage ... Grossman has only been able to throw out two of 12 attempted base stealers, look for Stanford to test him this weekend ... Nelson is enjoying a breakout year thus far, he's tied for the team lead in batting average and RBI ... Dragicevich is the younger brother of former Stanford shortstop/third baseman Scott Dragicevich (1999-2002).
KEYS TO THE SERIES
* Win on Friday - Gold is unquestionably the ace of this California staff right now which means Stanford has a decided advantage in the Friday starting pitching matchup with Romanczuk going up against Padgett. Padgett will be making just his second start of the year. The Cardinal does not want to be 0-1 in this series when they have to face Gold on Saturday.
* Production from the bottom - Stanford has done pretty well so far this year (hitting wise) without much from the bottom of their order, but getting those guys hot could make this offense nearly unstoppable. I'd look for some of these guys to break out of their early-season slumps in the hitting friendly Evans Diamond this weekend.
* Keep fighting until the end - Last season in Berkeley, Stanford swept the three-game series, but it wasn't that easy. The Cardinal had to rally and/or score in the last inning of each game as Cal showed that they couldn't put away that Stanford ballclub. If the Bears have a lead late in any of these games, they'll certainly start to think about that series last May (Cal's last series of the year which eliminated them from postseason contention) and may start to tighten up.