Arizona Preview

Like the weather down in Tucson this weekend, the Pac-10 race is heating up. Stanford now finds themselves in a virtual tie for first place with the Washington Huskies as the Cardinal open up a key conference series with the Wildcats tonight. The Cardinal suffered their first series loss of the year last weekend while Arizona is playing some of their best baseball of the season right now. Here is a complete series preview.

(#2) Stanford (38-8, 11-4)  at  Arizona (25-20-1, 7-8)

Saturday - 7:00pm
Sunday - 7:00pm
Monday - 1:00pm

The Stanford Cardinal look to get back on the winning track this weekend when they take on the Arizona Wildcats down in Tucson.  The Cardinal suffered their first series loss of the season last week as they dropped 2-of-3 games to the hard-charging Washington Huskies.  Stanford though did rebound on Tuesday of this week when they edged Santa Clara by a 3-1 score at Sunken Diamond.  Entering play tonight, the Cardinal (11-4) are tied with the Huskies (13-6 after defeating USC on Friday) for first place in the conference, however they are still two ahead in the loss column.

The Wildcats are a team looking to just qualify for the NCAA Tournament this season.  With an RPI of 39, Arizona finds themselves "on the bubble" right now and a series win over Stanford would go an awful long way to securing a berth in the tournament.  Last weekend, the Wildcats won 2-of-3 games from UCLA in a non-conference series in Los Angeles.  Arizona put up some huge offensive numbers in the final two contests scoring 31 runs in notching a pair of victories.


PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS

Saturday: Stanford- Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 9-1, 3.63)  vs.  Arizona- Koley Kolberg (RHP; 7-4, 3.93)

Sunday: Stanford- Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 8-2, 4.30)  vs.  Arizona- Kevin Guyette (RHP; 6-5, 6.24)

Monday: Stanford- TBA  vs.  Arizona- John Meloan (RHP; 5-0, 5.40)


WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH

* Stanford's third starter -
Greg Reynolds was hit hard last Sunday as the freshman right hander did not get out of the third inning in his start against the Huskies.  Will Coach Marquess give Reynolds another shot or maybe turn to lefty Blake Holler to start Monday's contest?  This spot on the team is still very wide open.

* Arizona's recent power surge - The Wildcats were expected to have one of the most fearsome lineups in the country this season, but for the most part, they haven't come through.  Unfortunately for the Cardinal though, the Arizona bats appear to be waking up just in time for the stretch run.  The Wildcats have hit 15 homers in their last six games (after 30 in their first 40 contests) and with extremely warm weather on tap for this weekend, their offensive power surge could very well continue.

* Danny Putnam - Stanford's #4 hitter has caught fire the past few weeks.  Putnam has recorded a multi-hit game in six consecutive contests and now leads the Cardinal in batting average at .393.  Add in 13 homers and 45 RBI and Putnam is setting himself up nicely to achieve All-American status this season.


BY-THE-NUMBERS

* Where Stanford and Arizona rank in the Pac-10 in four major statistical categories.  These stats do not include Stanford's game versus Santa Clara on Tuesday.

Stanford
Batting Average: 1st (.332)
Runs Per Game: 1st (8.9)
ERA: 1st (3.92)
Fielding Percentage: 1st (.974)

Arizona
Batting Average: 3rd (.308)
Runs Per Game: 6th (6.8)
ERA: 5th (4.91)
Fielding Percentage: 7th (.963)


STANFORD NOTES

This is the final road series of the regular season for the Cardinal.  If they find a way to take 2-of-3, Stanford sets themselves up nicely to win the Pac-10 title with their remaining six league games at Sunken Diamond (where they are 22-1 this season).  Offensively, the Cardinal have been handcuffed in three of their last four games - not reaching double figures in hits in any of those three contests.  Stanford could be bolstered by the return of John Mayberry, Jr. (.348, 12 HR, 48 RBI)  this weekend who remains "day-to-day" with a shoulder injury.  The Cardinal though are still playing without third baseman Jonny Ash (.374, 4 HR, 27 RBI) who is out with a finger injury. 

Jed Lowrie and Danny Putnam continue to pace the Cardinal offensive attack.  Lowrie entered the week second in the Pac-10 in batting average, first in homers, first in RBI, first in slugging percentage, and second in on-base percentage.  Meanwhile, Putnam is third in batting, second in homers, second in hits, and second in slugging percentage.  With Mayberry and Ash out, these two will need to continue to carry a heavy load.

On the mound, Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore both came through with excellent pitching performances up in Seattle last weekend.  Romanczuk is tied for first in the Pac-10 in wins with nine while Gilmore has walked only 17 batters in 81 2/3 innings this season.  While out of the bullpen, senior David O'Hagan continues to lead the way.  O'Hagan is first in the conference in ERA (1.84) and opposing batting average (.159) to go along with a team-best five saves.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Sam Fuld, CF  (Sr., .275, 2 HR, 26 RBI)
2. Chris Minaker, SS  (So., .273, 2 HR, 24 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B  (So., .390, 15 HR, 57 RBI)
4. Danny Putnam, LF  (Jr., ..393, 13 HR, 45 RBI)
5. Donny Lucy, C  (Jr., .346, 10 HR, 38 RBI)
6. Brian Hall, 1B  (Sr., .380, 9 HR, 47 RBI)
7. Chris Carter, DH  (Jr., .283, 6 HR, 31 RBI)
8. Jim Rapoport, RF  (Fr., .228, 0 HR, 9 RBI)
9. Chris Lewis, 3B  (So., .212, 3 HR, 5 RBI)

Notes: Fuld now has 341 career hits (second all-time at Stanford) - 27 behind John Gall ... Minaker has committed only three errors this season for an amazing .976 fielding percentage ... Hall leads the club with 11 stolen bases (in 14 attempts) ... Rapoport could move up to the #2 spot in the batting order (he hit there on Tuesday versus SCU) ... Adam Sorgi may also get a look at third base this weekend.


ARIZONA NOTES

This was supposed to be a banner year for the Arizona Wildcat baseball program.  Throughout the summer, it appeared last year's ace pitcher and All-Pac-10 performer Richie Gardner (a 6th round draft pick) was going to return to Arizona for one more season.  But Gardner shocked the Arizona faithful by signing at the very last minute which left a huge hole in their starting rotation.  Then the new expected ace pitcher Sean Rierson (a member of the weekend rotation the last three seasons) came down with an injury that would sideline him for the entire season.  So just like that, Head Coach Andy Lopez had to put together an entirely new starting rotation for the upcoming 2004 campaign.

But despite all the new faces on the starting staff, Arizona was still a preseason top 20 selection.  The reason: their potent offense.  Eight starters returned from a team that last year reached the NCAA Tournament (lost in Fullerton's regional) and hit .328 as a group.  Leading the way was outfielder Jeff Van Houten who earned All-American honors last season when he hit .413 with 11 homers and 72 RBI.  But Van Houten hasn't been the same this year (that goes for the majority of these Arizona hitters) as he brings a .331 average and just three homers into this series.

Still, despite a completely different starting rotation and declining offensive numbers, the Wildcats are still in a position to return to the NCAA Tournament.  And as mentioned above, they've been the swinging the bats much better the last two weeks (since getting swept at Washington three weeks ago).

First baseman and #3 hitter Jordan Brown leads the Arizona offense.  Brown is hitting .342 with a team-leading eight homers and 47 RBI.  Van Houten is obviously still a dangerous hitter as he usually bats second in their order.  Leadoff batter John Hardy is tops on the club with a .362 batting average.  This is a very balanced offensive team with seven starters hitting above .300 while the lowest mark among the regulars is at .295. 

On the mound, ace pitcher Koley Kolberg gets the ball on Saturday.  Kolberg leads the Pac-10 in innings pitched with 103 while he's third in strike outs at 91.  Kolberg has a very solid 3.93 ERA, however opponents are batting .294 against him, so he's hardly dominating.  Kolberg surrendered six runs on ten hits in six innings last time out at UCLA.  #2 starter Kevin Guyette has been very up-and-down this year.  A sophomore right hander with tremendous potential, Guyette has a lofty 6.24 ERA with a .309 opposing average on the year.  Meanwhile, #3 starter John Meloan is the hottest pitcher in this Wildcat rotation.  Since joining the rotation about a month ago, Meloan is a perfect 4-0.  He tossed a complete game two-hitter against the Bruins last weekend retiring 18 consecutive UCLA batters at one point.

Temperatures will be in the 90's and low 100's during the day time in Tucson this weekend.  It will obviously still be very warm during the night time and Sancet Field is a hitters park.  With the way Arizona has been hitting lately and with how inconsistent their rotation can be at times, this could be a high-scoring series with balls flying all over the yard.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. John Hardy, 2B  (Jr., .362, 4 HR, 26 RBI)
2. Jeff Van Houten, RF  (Jr., .331, 3 HR, 28 RBI)
3. Jordan Brown, 1B  (So., .342, 8 HR, 47 RBI)
4. Moises Duran, 3B  (Sr., .324, 5 HR, 32 RBI)
5. Bill Rhinehart, DH  (Fr., .339, 7 HR, 25 RBI)
6. Jason Donald, SS  (Fr., .311, 7 HR, 31 RBI)
7. Nick Hundley, C  (So., .310, 0 HR, 12 RBI)  or  Richard Mercado, C  (Jr., .313, 3 HR, 14 RBI)
8. Trevor Crowe, LF  (So., .299, 3 HR, 18 RBI)
9. Pat Reilly, CF  (Jr., .295, 3 HR, 12 RBI)

Notes: Brown was named Pac-10 Player of the Week for his efforts at UCLA last weekend (.455, 3 HR, 10 RBI) ... Duran hit 15 homers last season, but just five so far in '04 ... Rhinehart and Donald are two exciting freshman players ... Donald is the only UA player to start every game this season ... Crowe leads the team with 16 stolen bases (in 17 attempts).

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