UCLA Preview

A new season begins this weekend as the top-ranked Stanford baseball team travels south to Westwood for a three-game series against the UCLA Bruins. The pre-conference portion of the schedule went about as well as anyone could have imagined, but now begins the grueling 24-game conference slate. The opponent this weekend are the Bruins as they look to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four seasons.

#1 Stanford (21-3, 0-0)  at  UCLA (14-11, 0-0)

Friday - 6:00pm
Saturday - 1:00pm
Sunday - 1:00pm

Top-ranked Stanford opens Pac-10 play this weekend with a three-game series at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles against the UCLA Bruins.  The Cardinal are currently riding a six-game winning streak in which they've outscored the opposition by a 59-15 margin.  Stanford began the week with a 5-0 win at San Jose State on Tuesday night as five Cardinal pitchers combined on a six-hitter.  The 21-3 record and resulting .875 winning percentage is the best mark for Stanford entering conference play since the Pac-10 merged in 1999.

The Bruins have been very up-and-down this season as they bring a 14-11 record into this series.  Like Stanford, they're opening Pac-10 play this weekend, however also like the Cardinal, they've already faced off against a Pac-10 opponent in a non-conference series.  Last weekend at Dedeaux Field, the Bruins dropped 2-of-3 games to the USC Trojans (Stanford won 2-of-3 at SC four weeks ago).  UCLA followed that series loss with a 5-1 defeat at the hands of San Diego State on Tuesday.


PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS

Friday : Stanford - Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 5-1, 3.19)  vs.  UCLA - Casey Janssen (RHP; 5-1, 2.35)

Saturday : Stanford - Blake Holler (LHP; 3-1, 3.03)  vs.  UCLA - Bryan Beck (RHP; 2-2, 2.12)

Sunday : Stanford - Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 5-1, 4.64)  vs.  UCLA - Wes Whisler (LHP; 1-2, 4.91)


WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH

* Casey Janssen -
UCLA's ace starter who will get the ball on Friday night, Janssen is probably the early favorite for Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year honors.  The senior right hander, Janssen is tied for third in the conference in wins (5), fourth in ERA (2.35), fourth in strike outs (52), and has the lowest opposing batting average in the league (.160).  His strikeout-to-walk ratio is also very impressive at 52-to-9.  Friday's contest with Janssen squaring off against Romanczuk is certainly expected to a low-scoring affair.

* Sam Fuld - The Stanford center fielder and leadoff batter is hitting just .268 this season after entering the year with a career .350 average.  However, slow starts are the norm for the New Hampshire native.  Now three times in his four seasons on the Farm, Fuld has entered Pac-10 play with a sub-.300 average (including a .214 mark his freshman year).  But Fuld always turns it up in conference play as he hit .378 in Pac-10 games as a freshman, .425 as a sophomore, and .362 as a junior.  Look for Fuld to emerge this weekend as a force in the Cardinal lineup.

* The Home Run Ball - UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium is certainly conducive to hitting with it's small dimensions in the outfield.  Surprisingly, the Bruins haven't hit many homers this season, but that's not the case for Stanford with 30 bombs in their first 24 games.  Friday's game will probably be a low-scoring contest, but look for the home run ball to be a big part of Stanford's offense over the last two games of the series.


BY-THE-NUMBERS

How each team stacks up in the Pac-10 in four major categories.  Rankings are as of the beginning of the week, but the statistics are updated.

* Stanford :

Batting Average: 2nd (.309)
Runs Per Game: 1st (8.7)
ERA: 1st (3.43)
Fielding Percentage: 1st (.973)

* UCLA :
Batting Average: 8th (.277)
Runs Per Game: 9th (5.6)
ERA: 3rd (4.08)
Fielding Percentage: 2nd (.972)


STANFORD NOTES

The pre-conference portion of the season went about as well as it possibly could have gone for Stanford.  The Cardinal have been ranked No. 1 in the Baseball America poll for six consecutive ranks while they sport an overall record of 21-3.  All phases of the game are clicking right now for Stanford.  Their 8.7 runs per game average would be the highest mark in seven years on the Farm.  The 3.43 ERA would be the lowest team earned run average during the Mark Marquess era (1977-2004) if the season ended today.  Meanwhile, the .973 fielding percentage is right now the second best mark in school history (behind only the 2001 team).

Individually, sophomore second baseman Jed Lowrie has led the way.  Lowrie leads the team in nearly all major offensive categories including batting average, home runs, and RBI.  In fact, coming into the week, Lowrie was second in the conference in average (.405), first in home runs (8), second in RBI (35), first in slugging percentage (.821), and third in on-base percentage (.518).  He's hardly doing it by himself though as three other starters - Jonny Ash, John Mayberry, Jr., and Danny Putnam - are all hitting above .350 for the season.

On the mound, the starting rotation has been solidified with Mark Romanczuk, Blake Holler, and Jeff Gilmore.  It's a young rotation with two sophomores (Romanczuk and Gilmore) and a freshman (Holler), but they've been very effective thus far this season.  Romanczuk has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the conference and is averaging nearly a strike out an inning (40 SO in 42 1/3 IP).  Holler has burst onto the scene as a freshman this year with his excellent 3.03 ERA and 3-1 record thus far.  Meanwhile, Gilmore has taken over the #3 starting position after throwing just 2 1/3 innings last season as a freshman.  Out of the bullpen, this is Stanford's deepest staff in years with senior David O'Hagan (Pac-10-low 1.26 ERA and four saves) leading the way.

Probable Starting Lineup :
1. Sam Fuld, CF  (Sr., .268, 0 HR, 15 RBI)
2. Jonny Ash, 3B  (Sr., .367, 1 HR, 17 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B  (So., .405, 8 HR, 35 RBI)
4. Danny Putnam, LF  (Jr., .359, 5 HR, 19 RBI)
5. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B  (So., .360, 6 HR, 29 RBI)
6. Donny Lucy, C  (Jr., .289, 3 HR, 17 RBI)
7. Brian Hall, RF  (Sr., .308, 4 HR, 23 RBI)
8. Chris Carter, DH  (Jr., .170, 3 HR, 15 RBI)
9. Chris Minaker, SS  (So., .258, 0 HR, 7 RBI)

Notes: Fuld has a career .450 average (18-for-40) against UCLA ... Ash is the toughest player in the lineup to strike out with only 6 K's in 98 at-bats this season ... Lowrie hit four homers in five games last week ... Hall is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak ... He's hitting .447 during the streak ... Freshman Ryan Seawell (6-for-11, 3 RBI) may start at DH on Sunday against the lefty while fellow freshman Adam Sorgi (.224, 0 HR, 4 RBI) may get a start or two at shortstop.


UCLA NOTES

2004 marks the 30th and final year at the helm for head coach Gary Adams.  It's a bit surprising that Adams stayed around this long as his teams have consistently been mediocre, but with a new athletic director cleaning house last year, Adams has decided to step down.  In his 29 years, Adams has taken UCLA to the postseason just six times and to the College World Series only once (1997 when the Bruins made a quick 0-2 appearance).

The Bruins returned nearly their entire 2003 team that went 28-31 (11-13 in Pac-10 play), but the results haven't been much better.  Surprising for a UCLA team, it's been pitching and fielding that have carried them to most victories this season.  Their 4.08 team ERA is third in the conference while only Stanford fields at a higher clip.  Leading the way is ace starter Casey Janssen who appears to have put everything together in this is senior campaign.  #2 man Bryan Beck hasn't been in the weekend rotation all season, but he appears to have solidified himself as their Saturday starter with some recent strong performances.  Meanwhile, Sunday starter Wes Whisler is an imposing lefty who was pegged to be a first round draft pick this June after his Cape Cod League MVP honors two summers ago.  However, he's struggled somewhat (both at the plate and on the mound) since that huge summer and freshman year in Westwood.

At the plate, there hasn't been much to talk about for UCLA this season.  Only one true starter is hitting above .300 right now while as a team, they've only hit 18 homers in their first 25 games (a low total for a team that plays their home games at Jackie Robinson Stadium).  Right fielder and leadoff batter Matt Thayer has been the most impressive with a .337 average and two home runs.  Whisler, however, is hitting just .268 this season (he usually bats third).  The Bruins don't play a lot of small ball, but don't seem to have enough fire power in their lineup to score a lot of runs.  Still, in their home ballpark (where they are 8-4 this season), this is a dangerous team.

In terms of common opponents with Stanford, UCLA won 2-of-3 at home versus Fresno State very early in the year.  They dropped 2-of-3 at USC last weekend.  The Bruins also lost 2-of-3 games to top-15 Texas A&M in a home series back in early March.

Probable Starting Lineup :
1. Matt Thayer, RF  (Jr., .337, 2 HR, 16 RBI)
2. Mike Svetlic, 2B  (Sr., .250, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
3. Wes Whisler, 1B  (Jr., .268, 2 HR, 12 RBI)
4. Ryan McCarthy, SS  (Jr., .258, 3 HR, 7 RBI)
5. Brett McMillan, DH  (So., .270, 3 HR, 19 RBI)
6. Brandon Averill, 3B  (Sr., .261, 1 HR, 11 RBI)
7. Anthony Norman, LF  (So., .300, 0 HR, 5 RBI)
8. Chris Denove, C  (So., .232, 1 HR, 18 RBI)
9. Chad Concolino, CF  (Sr., .191, 1 HR, 4 RBI)

Notes: Thayer has lots of speed with four triples already this season (leads the Pac-10) ... Whisler hit .328 with 18 homers his freshman year in 2002 ... McCarthy isn't the scariest #4 hitter in the world, but he's an excellent defender at short (just two errors this season) ... Averill is a three-year starter who brought a .320 career average into the year, but his numbers are way down thus far in '04.


KEYS TO THE SERIES

* Get to their bullpen - UCLA has a pretty strong starting rotation (especially on Friday), but their bullpen is a completely different story.  They rely on five primary relievers and they combine for a 5.74 ERA.  If Janssen and/or Beck go down early, the Bruins could be in trouble.

* Do the little things - This holds especially true for Friday's night expected pitchers-duel.  The games mean a little more now and in a tight affair, you need to be able to get sacrifice bunts down, hit behind runners, and score a guy from third with less than two outs.  Stanford hasn't had a lot of close games this season, but that will surely change now that the Pac-10 season has arrived.  Playing sound fundamental baseball is key.

* Keep swinging - Whatever it is the Stanford hitters have done through the first 24 games, keep it up.  This is an extremely confident bunch right now that never feels out of a game and is capable of a big inning at any time.  If they can maintain their 8-9 runs per game average, the wins will continue to come fast and furious.



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