Saturday - 1:00pm
Sunday - 1:00pm
The showdown in Seattle has arrived. The top-ranked Stanford Cardinal, fresh off a series sweep of Washington State last weekend, travel north to take on the second-place and 21st ranked Washington Huskies in a three-game set. After the sweep of the Cougars last weekend, Stanford knocked off San Jose State by a 7-2 score on Tuesday of this week to improve their overall record to 36-6. Meanwhile, they now stand at 10-2 in Pac-10 play, 1 1/2 games ahead of the 10-5 Huskies.
Washington brings a 26-14-1 record into this weekend's games after a 2-of-3 series win at Oregon State last weekend. Included in that series was a 26-14 Husky victory in the middle contest in which Washington scored 13 runs in the top of the ninth. The Huskies are billing this weekend as possibly their biggest home series since Stanford and UW met in the Pac-10 Championship Series back in 1998.
The Pac-10 title will come down to these two clubs. A Stanford series win would just about wrap things up for the Cardinal, but a Washington series win tightens up the race heading down the home stretch.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
Friday: Stanford - Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 9-1, 3.82) vs. Washington - Kyle Parker (RHP; 2-2, 3.98)
Saturday: Stanford - Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 7-2, 4.46) vs. Washington - Matt Kasser (RHP; 2-0, 7.86)
Sunday: Stanford - TBA vs. Washington - Tim Lincecum (RHP; 5-1, 3.74)
WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH
* Home Runs - Expect plenty of long balls this weekend. Stanford and Washington are the two most prolific home run hitting teams in the Pac-10 with 74 and 66 homers respectively. Both clubs rely heavily on the home run ball to fuel their offense and if the wind is blowing out at Husky Ballpark, it will just increase the likelihood for some high-octane baseball.
* Washington's Starting Rotation - Clearly not the strength of this team, the Huskies will have their hands full in trying to contain the Stanford offense this weekend. Their ace starts on Sunday's (more on him later), but Parker and Kasser in the 1-2 spots don't exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents. It's a huge weekend for those two - will they be up to the challenge?
* The heart of the Cardinal batting order - The heart of the order for Stanford really extends from the #3 spot to the #8 position this season. Jed Lowrie, Danny Putnam, John Mayberry, Jr., Donny Lucy, Brian Hall, and Chris Carter are as fearsome as it gets for opposing pitchers in college baseball. In a big series, you want your big-time players to step up, so look no further than these bats in the Stanford lineup to lead the way.
* A look at where each team stacks up in the Pac-10 rankings (does not include Stanford's Tuesday game this week):
Batting Average - 1st (.336)
Runs Per Game - 1st (9.3)
ERA - 1st (3.98)
Fielding Percentage - 1st (.975)
Batting Average - 5th (.299)
Runs Per Game - 3rd (7.9)
ERA - 8th (5.49)
Fielding Percentage - T3rd (.972)
With last weekend's sweep of the Cougars, Stanford has now won all 11 of their three-game series' this season and 15 in a row dating back to last year. The series this weekend has been circled on the calendar for quite some time as a possible stumbling point for Stanford considering the Cardinal have not traditionally played well in Seattle. They were blown out twice by the Huskies in the 1998 Pac-10 Championship Series. Then in 2002, Stanford brought a perfect series record into Seattle for a late-April tilt only to see the Huskies take 2-of-3.
The Cardinal offense continued to roll last weekend as their team batting average has reached an amazing .336 mark. Three starters are hitting .380 or above while six starters are at .348 or higher. Power-wise, there isn't a better team in the country than these Stanford Cardinal. Already four players are in double figures in the home run category and a fifth (Brian Hall) has nine long balls. Meanwhile, on the mound, Stanford brings a team ERA of 3.91 into this weekend. The Cardinal's excellent pitching depth was put on display on Tuesday when seven Cardinal pitchers combined on a four-hitter in the victory over San Jose State.
Individually, it all starts at the plate with National Player of the Year candidate Jed Lowrie. Lowrie's batting average currently sits at .399 while he's clubbed 15 home runs and 56 RBI. Lowrie is first in the conference in both homers and RBI while he's second in batting average. Right on his heels though in the batting average category is right fielder Brian Hall. Hall is the reigning Pac-10 and National Player of the Week after his amazing 10-for-11 performance in the series versus Washington State. For the season, Hall now stands at .395 to go with nine home runs, 46 RBI, and ten stolen bases. Finally, Danny Putnam is catching fire again. The junior left fielder has seen his average rise all the way up .381 while his two home runs hit in the Sunday contest against the Cougars gives him 12 on the year.
On the mound, Friday is the biggest start of the year for Mark Romanczuk. Not only is the game a big one for the team, but Romanczuk is one of the leading candidates for Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year. A strong effort in a big game such as this will only boost his stock. Jeff Gilmore again gets the call on Saturday. Gilmore has only walked 15 batters in 74 2/3 innings this season. Sunday is officially TBA in terms of a starting pitcher. The most likely candidate to start is freshman Greg Reynolds. Reynolds dominated for four innings last Sunday against WSU throwing one-hit baseball. However, he would surrender three runs in the fifth before getting removed from the game. Still, you would figure Coach Marquess is leaning toward Reynolds to start the finale this weekend.
Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Sam Fuld, CF (Sr., .271, 2 HR, 24 RBI)
2. Chris Minaker, SS (So., .267, 2 HR, 23 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B (So., .399, 15 HR, 56 RBI)
4. Danny Putnam, LF (Jr., .381, 12 HR, 42 RBI)
5. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B (So., .348, 12 HR, 47 RBI)
6. Donny Lucy, C (Jr., .365, 10 HR, 37 RBI)
7. Brian Hall, RF (Sr., .395, 9 HR, 46 RBI)
8. Chris Carter, DH (Jr., .301, 5 HR, 29 RBI)
9. Chris Lewis, 3B (So., .208, 3 HR, 5 RBI)
Notes: Minaker has only struck out nine times in 105 AB's this season ... Lowrie brings a ten-game hitting streak into this series ... Putnam and Mayberry, Jr. are tied for second in the Pac-10 in home runs with 12 apiece ... Lucy has hit a whopping .483 (28-for-58) with seven homers and 20 RBI in his last 15 games ... Hall is third in the Pac-10 in batting average ... Carter is hitting .435 (20-for-46) in his last 14 games ... Lewis has five hits in his last eight AB's (with three homers) since starting the year 0-for-16.
The Huskies are playing their best baseball of the season right now. They've notched three series victories in a row including taking 2-of-3 at Oregon State last weekend. They also swept Arizona at home two weeks ago and won 2-of-3 at Georgia Tech three weekends ago. Washington qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season after finishing 3rd in the Pac-10 with a 15-9 league mark. They were eliminated by Long Beach State in the sub-regionals, but have thoughts of advancing further here in 2004.
The main reason why Washington isn't higher in the rankings is because they've lost both of their series' this season against rival Washington State. Both times, the Cougs won 2-of-3 games.
Offense is most certainly the calling card of this Washington team. That was to be expected considering all three of their starting pitchers from last year moved on while plenty of their top hitters returned. The Huskies play baseball like your stereotypical American League baseball team. They never, ever bunt (five sac bunts in 41 games this season) and basically just wait for the three-run home run to lead them to victory. The strategy has worked as Washington is second only to the Cardinal in the Pac-10 in homers while six guys in their lineup have connected for six round-trippers or more.
Pitching is where Washington has struggled a bit this year and what might hold them back from taking it to the next level. Their team ERA of 5.49 is second-to-last in the Pac-10 ahead of only Washington State. Head Coach Ken Knutson isn't afraid to use a lot of pitchers in his bullpen, however of his eight main relievers, all eight are at the 4.50 ERA mark or above while six of the eight stand at 5.47 or higher.
Individually, #3 hitter and left fielder Zach Clem leads this offense. Clem is a sophomore who saw very limited playing time last season. He leads the Huskies in batting average (.387), home runs (10), slugging percentage (.662), and on-base percentage (.500). Another name to watch for his leadoff batter and center fielder Brent Lillibridge. Lillibridge was an All-Pac-10 performer as a freshman last season and one of the stars (along with Danny Putnam and Mark Romanczuk) on the US National Team last summer. His batting average is a little down this year, but he's still smacked eight home runs and is among the league leaders in stolen bases with 13 (in 14 attempts). A big key this weekend for the Cardinal pitchers will be keeping Lillibridge off the base paths.
Washington's ace pitcher is actually their Sunday guy, Tim Lincecum. Lincecum had been starting on Friday's, but a few weeks ago, he was asked to start a Tuesday game. And because of that midweek start, he wasn't available to start the next Friday, so he was moved back a couple of days to Sunday. Lincecum is one of the most dominating pitchers in the Pac-10 as he's struck out an amazing 112 batters in 74 2/3 innings. Those 112 K's are good for second in the country behind only Long Beach State's Jered Weaver. Opponents are also hitting only .194 against Lincecum which is second in the conference behind only David O'Hagan's .172 mark. So why isn't this guy 10-0 this year? The quick answer is his poor control. In those 74 2/3 innings, Lincecum has walked a hefty 56 batters while he's also thrown a league-leading 11 wild pitches. Lincecum has had a few very interesting starts this season. A few weeks ago in a midweek game against Oregon State, he allowed just one hit and two runs in five innings. But he also walked nine and struck out ten. Back in March against Loyola Marymount, Lincecum struck out 15 in a six-inning stint.
Lincecum was the Washington High School Player of the Year last spring, so he's just a freshman. The matchup between him and the Stanford offense should be quite entertaining on Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Parker starts on Friday's now for the Huskies. Parker is another freshman right hander. He just joined the rotation back in early April and has done a decent job. Hardly dominating though as he's allowed four or more runs in four of his five starts. #2 starter Matt Kasser is a sophomore right hander. Kasser has been in-and-out of the rotation all season. He has a lofty 7.86 ERA and an opposing average of .314. Last weekend, he surrendered eight runs (four earned) on nine hits in four innings of work.
Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Brent Lillibridge, CF (So., .318, 8 HR, 27 RBI)
2. Greg Issacson, 2B (Sr., .312, 6 HR, 33 RBI)
3. Zach Clem, LF (So., .387, 10 HR, 32 RBI)
4. Kyle Larsen, 1B (Jr., .362, 9 HR, 38 RBI)
5. Nick Batkoski, SS (Jr., .337, 1 HR, 26 RBI)
6. Matt Lane, DH (Fr., .293, 3 HR, 21 RBI)
7. John Otness, 3B (Sr., .271, 7 HR, 30 RBI)
8. Ben Johnson, C (Sr., .221, 5 HR, 25 RBI)
9. Taylor Johnson, RF (Jr., .240, 4 HR, 18 RBI)
Notes: Lillibridge does a lot of things very well, however he strikes out a ton - leads the Pac-10 with 47 K's ... Issacson is third in the conference with 14 stolen bases ... Clem is fourth in the Pac-10 in batting average ... Larsen gives the Huskies an extremely dangerous 3-4 combo in their batting order ... Aaron Hathaway (.277, 6 HR, 26 RBI) is the usual starting catcher, however he sprained an ankle last weekend and his availability could be limited ... Hathaway was rated the top defensive catcher and the top throwing catcher in the Pac-10 prior to the season by Baseball America.
KEYS TO THE SERIES
* Patience at the plate - When you're hot like the Stanford offense is right now, you want to swing the bats as much as possible. But this Washington pitching staff will give you plenty of free passes. I mentioned Lincecum's wildness above, but that also holds true for the other starters (Parker has 37 BB in 40 2/3 IP while Kasser has 23 BB in 34 1/3 IP). The Huskies, as a team, have issued the most walks in the Pac-10. Stanford I'm sure knows this and will work a lot of counts this weekend.
* Don't let up - The last thing you want to do is sit on a lead when you're playing a team like Washington - especially on their home field. Like Stanford, they can put up runs in a hurry as evident by their 13-run ninth inning last Saturday at Oregon State. If the Cardinal jump ahead early, it's imperative that they keep their foot on the gas.
* Killer Instinct - This is the biggest series of the regular season thus far and a chance for Stanford to really put some distance between themselves and the second-place Huskies. Losing this series would not be the end of the world, but the Cardinal have a golden opportunity to take firm control of the Pac-10 race. And winning the Pac-10 should guarantee a national seed when the postseason starts next month. Washington will most certainly be up for this series, so Stanford needs to match their intensity and if they continue to play the way they have been all year, there's no reason to think the Cardinal can't walk out of Seattle with a series win.