College Baseball Roundup

Top-ranked Stanford won their eighth straight series to begin the season last weekend when they took 2-of-3 games from the UCLA Bruins down in Los Angeles. In this week's Roundup, we take an in-depth look at that series plus get you caught up on all the latest from around the Pac-10 Conference. In addition, check out an updated "Super Sixteen."

Pac-10 Standings (records through games of Sun. Apr. 4)

                  Conf.  GB   Overall
Washington         4-2    -    17-8-1
Arizona            4-2    -    15-12-1
Stanford           2-1   0.5   23-4
USC                2-1   0.5   15-15
Oregon State       3-3   1.0   18-9
California         4-5   1.5   17-19
Washington State   1-2   1.5   19-8
UCLA               1-2   1.5   15-13
Arizona State      3-6   2.5   22-9

Still no sweeps now three weeks into the Pac-10 season, however we did have a very interesting development last weekend in conference play.  In four series played, the road team won 2-of-3 in each three-game set.  This gives us four early favorites to battle it out for the Pac-10 crown.  Obviously Stanford is one of those teams with their 23-4 overall and now series win at UCLA to start the conference slate.  The Bruins needed a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in the finale to salvage a game of that series.

Washington certainly has to be considered one of the early favorites with their 4-2 league record.  The Huskies have notched a pair of hard-fought road series victories to start the Pac-10 season.  First it was down in Tempe against Arizona State while last weekend they took 2-of-3 in Berkeley against the Cal Bears. 

USC has been coming on for the better part of the last month.  They've gone 11-6 in their last 17 games since losing that 13-inning heartbreaker to Stanford back on March 6th.  Last weekend, the Trojans won 2-of-3 games at struggling Arizona State to finally get back to .500.  I would imagine we're done seeing USC under .500 for this season.

Finally, Arizona is off to a good start, but I would probably put them a slightly below the Cardinal, Huskies, and Trojans right now.  The Wildcats notched an important 2-of-3 series win at Oregon State last weekend, but unlike the other three teams, they've played a series at home.  And that series at home was against the team many are picking to finish last in the conference: Washington State (although the Cougars look improved this season).  Whenever you get the Cougars at home, you circle that series as a guaranteed series victory and although Arizona did win 2-of-3 that weekend, that "easy" series is now off the schedule.

In non-conference play last weekend, Washington State did record a home sweep of Birmingham-Southern further strengthening the Pac-10 RPI.

Meanwhile, Arizona State is most certainly out of the Pac-10 race now with their 3-6 conference record (all nine games at home).  It's absolutely baffling how poorly ASU has played over the last three weeks.  This was a team that notched series wins against ranked opponents Florida State (sweep), East Carolina (sweep), and Tulane during the non-conference season.  They had a chance to take the early lead in the Pac-10 with nine straight home games to start the conference season and they've fallen flat on their face.

One interesting note about ASU's schedule is that among their 31 games played this season, a grand total of one of those contests has been a true road game.  Compare that to Stanford's schedule where the Cardinal have played 15 of their first 27 (and 18 of 30 after this weekend) on the road.  It's my belief that you need to have a bevy of tough road games before the postseason starts to prepare you, but time and time again, ASU loads up their non-conference schedule with home games and look at the results.  One CWS in the last nine years for a team once considered to be at the very top of the college baseball world.  It's still mystifying why ASU can't even win at home now though.

Four more conference series' are on tap for this weekend around the Pac-10.  Stanford continues their road trip with three games at Oregon State.  The other three early contenders all get to play at home this weekend.  Arizona hosts UCLA for three games.  The Cal Bears travel south to play USC in a three-game series.  Meanwhile, Washington hosts rival Washington State.  In non-conference action, Arizona State hosts (what a surprise) Oral Roberts for three games.

UCLA Series Notes

All in all, it was a very good weekend for Stanford as they took 2-of-3 games from the Bruins down in Los Angeles.  The series ended on a bitter note though as the Cardinal couldn't hold onto a 5-3, eighth inning lead in the finale.  However, you'll take a series win on the road during conference play in a heartbeat.

A couple of things worth mentioning from last weekend.  First, while the walkoff homer surrendered by Jeff Stimpson in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday was the eventual downfall for the Cardinal, if you go back to the top of the ninth inning in that game you'll find something that I think hurts just as much.  With Jonny Ash at second base and John Mayberry, Jr. at first base and one out, Danny Putnam was up to bat with a 3-and-2 count.  Coach Marquess elected to send the runners, but Putnam swung right through a fastball and Ash was gunned down at third base to end the rally.

This was clearly a roll of the dice move from Coach Marquess that may have cost Stanford the game.  I'm sure he was thinking he wanted to stay out of the double play, but you had a guy at second who doesn't run particularly well (Ash - one career stolen base in 3 1/2 years) and a guy at the plate in Putnam who was struggling in this game and is one of the team leaders in strike outs.  Add in that Putnam is a left handed hitter so the throw from the catcher to third base is a much easier one.  Putnam got a pretty good pitch to hit, but couldn't catch up to the fastball and Ash was thrown out by ten feet at third base.  Question the move if you like (and I guess I'm doing that), but Putnam also needs to find some way to make contact in this situation.  Even a weak ground ball gets the runners over to second and third for the hot-hitting Donny Lucy who had homered earlier in the game.

One pitch after the strike out to Putnam, freshman Jeff Stimpson served up the home run that ended the game.  Tough way to end it for Stimpson, but the fact he was even out there at this point in the game shows how far this young man has come in the last few months.  Quite frankly, Stimpson was hit very hard in the fall and to an extent in January practices as well.  However, he's really found his groove of late and is looking like he'll be a major contributor out of the Stanford bullpen this season.  Despite the home run allowed yesterday, Stimpson has a team-low 0.71 ERA (12 2/3 IP, 1 ER) while opponents are hitting just .205 against him.

Overall, it was a very good hitting weekend for Stanford.  They scored 31 runs in the three games which is their highest weekend total of the season thus far.  Contributions continue to be made up-and-down the lineup.  Sophomore Chris Minaker looks to have found a home at shortstop and in the #9 spot in the batting order as he went 5-for-13 with a home run and four RBI in the three games.  His season average is up to .295. 

Senior third baseman Jonny Ash had a huge series as he finished 7-for-12 with two homers (both on Saturday) and five RBI.  Ash sure has come a long way from two years ago when he didn't start in a single game as a sophomore in 2002.  Fast forward to 2004 and he's leading the #1 team in the country in batting average at .393 (to go with three homers and 22 RBI).

Finally, another very solid outing from #1 starter Mark Romanczuk on Friday night.  The sophomore lefty struck out 10 in eight innings of work (four runs allowed).  Romanczuk is now 6-1 this season with a 3.40 ERA.  Look for Romanczuk to continue to improve and put up some big numbers as we move into the second half of the season.

"Super Sixteen"

                        Record    Pvs.
1. Stanford              23-4      1
* Cardinal open their conference season by taking 2-of-3 at UCLA.

2. LSU                   24-5      2
* Tigers record a big road series win as they beat Auburn twice in three games.

3. Texas                 31-4      3
* Longhorns swept host Texas Tech in a rain-shortened, two-game series.

4. Mississippi           24-4      4
* Rebels (7-2) still one game ahead of LSU (6-3) in the SEC after winning 2-of-3 at Mississippi State.

5. Miami                 24-6      5
* Hurricanes continue the trend of the top teams winning on the road last weekend as they took 2-of-3 at Georgia Tech.

6. Rice                  24-6      6
* Owls crush Nevada in a three-game road sweep.

7. Long Beach State      20-8      7
* Another big road series win as the 49ers go into Fullerton and win 2-of-3.

8. South Carolina        23-5      8
* A shocker - another top team won on the road last weekend.  Gamecocks took 2-of-3 at Vanderbilt.

9. Nebraska              21-5      9
* Huskers with a perfect 5-0 week including road sweep of Kansas State.

10. Notre Dame           22-3     11
* Irish continue to beat up on the Big East as they sweep visiting Villanova over the weekend.

11. Tulane               22-8     12
* Green Wave continue strong play with 2-of-3 series win at Cincinnati.

12. Tennessee            25-5     16
* Vols should battle South Carolina for SEC East title this season ... they swept Kentucky last weekend.

13. Southern Mississippi 24-4     NR
* Golden Eagles are in the "Super Sixteen" for the first time after sweep of TCU (they also have a midweek win over Ole Miss to their credit this season).

14. North Carolina       23-6     NR
* Tar Heels have jumped in front of the ACC after a sweep on the road at Wake Forest.

15. UC Irvine            19-6-1   NR
* Anteaters back in the top 16 after 1-0 week ... they swept Long Beach in a two-game series two weeks ago.

16. Texas A&M            26-8     14
* Aggies win a pair of midweek games, but then lose 2-of-3 at Oklahoma State.

Dropped Out : Arizona State (22-9, 1-2 last week), Auburn (21-9, 1-3 last week), Florida State (23-9, 2-2 last week)

Rankings Update

Stanford has been ranked #1 by Baseball America for the seventh consecutive week.  It's their longest stay at #1 since a seven-week stay during the first half of the 2002 season.  The Cardinal own the record for consecutive weeks at #1 at 14 weeks spanning nearly the entire regular season in 1998.

Arizona State continues to be the only other Pac-10 team ranked at #23, however Washington has to be very close to cracking the top 25.  Texas continues their stay at #2 in the poll.

On Deck

It's a quick turnaround for Stanford as they're back on the road for a three-game series at Oregon State on Thursday-Saturday.  Thursday's and Friday's games will both get underway at 5:00pm while Saturday's contest is scheduled to start at 12:00pm.


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