College Baseball Roundup

It was another tough weekend for the Stanford Cardinal as they dropped 2-of-3 games to the Arizona Wildcats down in Tucson. The pitching struggled mightily in all three contests as the Cardinal now find themselves with an identical winning percentage to Washington in the Pac-10 race. In this week's Roundup, read all about the Arizona series plus the latest from around the Pac-10. In addition, check out an updated "Super Sixteen" plus some NCAA Tournament projections.

Pac-10 Standings (records through games of Mon. May 17)

                    Conf.   GB    Overall
Washington          14-7     -    32-16-1
Stanford            12-6    0.5   39-10
Arizona State       10-8    2.5   35-13
UCLA                10-8    2.5   29-24
Arizona              9-9    3.5   27-21-1
USC                  8-10   4.5   22-27
Oregon State         7-11   5.5   27-18
California           8-13   6.0   24-29
Washington State     6-12   6.5   26-22

We're headed for quite a finish in this year's Pac-10 race.  Stanford dropped 2-of-3 on the road to Arizona this weekend while Washington managed a 2-of-3 series win at USC.  That puts the Cardinal and Huskies with identical .667 winning percentages in Pac-10.  Washington has three conference games remaining, Stanford six.

In other action last weekend, Arizona State swept away Oregon State in Tempe basically ending any hopes the Beavers had of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.  Meanwhile, the Bruins recorded a much-needed series win as they took 2-of-3 at home from Washington State.  California had the weekend off.

The NCAA Tournament picture became much clearer for the Pac-10 last weekend.  Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, and Arizona are looking like the five teams that will be headed to postseason play this season.  The Cardinal and Huskies both have submitted bids to host regionals while Arizona State has done the same but only for a super regional (the Sun Devils facility cannot hold four teams at once, so they have not put up the money needed to host a sub-regional).

This weekend, Stanford hosts USC in a three-game series.  The Trojans basically need to win the remainder of their conference games to have any shot at the postseason.  Washington plays their final Pac-10 series of the season when they welcome UCLA for three games.  The Bruins are looking good for the NCAA's - they just need to avoid getting swept this weekend.

In other action, Arizona State plays a three-game set at Arizona.  The Wildcats are red-hot with the bats right now and should give ASU all they can handle.  The Sun Devils, with their top 5 RPI, probably need series wins at Arizona and at Stanford to get a look as a national seed.  Finally, Washington State hosts Oregon State for three games up in Pullman.  California has another weekend off.


Arizona Series Notes

Stanford lost their second consecutive series when they fell in two of their three games down in Tucson last weekend.  The Cardinal won the first contest 11-9 before falling in a heartbreaker, 19-18, in the second game.  Stanford apparently didn't have much left after that devastating loss as they were blown out by an 11-2 score in the rubber match.

Quite frankly, the pitching was horrible all weekend.  Not good enough to win a national championship, not good enough to win a Pac-10 championship and probably not even good enough to win a little league championship.  Arizona has a potent offense and they're hot right now, but the #1 team in the country should not surrender 39 runs in a three-game series - especially when you have everyone at full strength.  There's no way to sugarcoat this effort - the Cardinal pitchers were flat-out awful this weekend.

The third starter question wasn't really answered either.  Freshman Matt Leva earned his first weekend start of the year and pitched very well for three innings.  The Texas native allowed only one hit with no walks and two strike outs through those first three frames.  But in the fourth, Leva surrendered a pair of runs on four hits and then allowed the first two batters to reach safely in the fifth (a double and a walk - both ended up scoring) before being removed from the game.  Probably just an issue of Leva tiring as he easily threw his most pitches in a game this season.  Still, he did look awfully good for three innings and because of that, could get another shot this Sunday versus USC.

A couple of positives from the weekend, in addition to Leva's first three innings on Monday, was the dominating hitting efforts on Saturday and Sunday.  The Cardinal scored 29 runs on 32 hits over the first two contests to break out of a mini-slump.  In the Sunday game, Stanford blasted seven home runs including a dramatic ninth inning grand slam from Jed Lowrie.  The Cardinal scored only two runs on Monday, however they did swing the bats okay with 11 hits.  They just lacked any clutch two-out hitting.

Individually, you have to give a lot of credit to Chris Carter for turning his season around.  Carter has been coming on for the better part of a month now and he kept it going this weekend.  On Sunday, the junior DH smoked two homers and then he followed that up with a 4-for-4 performance on Monday.  Carter's season average now stands at .311 with eight homers and 35 RBI - not bad from your #8 hitter.

Meanwhile, Lowrie's 6-for-6, HR, 5 RBI effort on Sunday cannot go without mention.  Had Stanford won, his grand slam may have gone down as the top moment of the regular season.  It was still a memorable home run though as Lowrie's season numbers now sit at .406, 18 2B, 16 HR, 63 RBI.


A Little Perspective

Okay, so Stanford isn't playing very good baseball right now.  However, there are still two and a half weeks until the postseason (and seven games), so there's plenty of time to right the ship again.  Baseball is the type of game where everything will even out eventually - no one goes through an entire season without slumping.  And I say it's better that it happens now as opposed to what happened in 1998 when the Cardinal were #1 the entire regular season before getting blown out in the Pac-10 Championship Series up in Washington and then making a quick exit in the regionals.

In fact, this season's pattern has been remarkably similar to what took place back in 2001 and 2002.  In each of those years, Stanford cruised through the first 2-3 months of the season before suffering back-to-back road series losses in Pac-10 play.  But in both years, the Cardinal figured things out, finished strong, earned a national seed, and advanced to Omaha.  This is an experienced group of players - many of which played on one or both of those teams - so they know what to do to reverse their fortunes.

And Stanford is hardly the only team that has gone through some rough patches this year.  Consider that #2 Texas has lost three series' on the year - two of which to unranked teams.  #3 Rice just recently lost a series to unranked Hawaii and is 0-4 this year in midweek games against the Longhorns.  #4 LSU was swept at home by Arkansas last month and has been blown out in games four other times in the last five weeks.  #5 South Carolina has lost three series' this season - including one to last-place Kentucky.  #6 Miami just lost a series at home to unranked North Carolina.  #7 East Carolina was swept by Arizona State earlier this year.  #8 Long Beach State was swept by a very mediocre UC Santa Barbara team a couple of weeks ago.  And the list obviously goes on and on.

Baseball, more than possibly any other other sport, is all about playing well at the right time.  Stanford clearly has shown some weaknesses the last two weekends, but they get to return home now and have time to correct those problems.  And if the Cardinal take care of business the next two weeks, they should get a chance to play at Sunken through the super regionals.  And with a 22-1 record on their home turf this season, it probably wouldn't be wise to bet against them.


"Super Sixteen"

1. Stanford           39-9      2
   
* Cardinal with a 2-1 week (1-0 vs. Santa Clara, 1-1 at Arizona) to move up to the top spot.

2. Miami              37-11     1
   
* Hurricanes lose their first series of the season as they drop 2-of-3 at home to North Carolina.

3. Texas              46-10     3
   
* Longhorns lose both ends of a doubleheader to N.C. State over the weekend in Austin.

4. LSU                38-14     4
   
* Tigers continue strong play with 2-of-3 series win at home over Vanderbilt.

5. East Carolina      45-8      5
   
* 4-1 week for the Pirates includes 2-of-3 series win over visiting TCU.

6. Rice               38-9      6
   
* Owls clinch WAC championship after easy sweep of Nevada.

7. South Carolina     39-13     7
   
* Gamecocks are rolling after sweep of visiting Tennessee over the weekend.

8. Long Beach State   36-13     8
   
* 49ers take 2-of-3 at UC Riverside ... now two games behind Fullerton with just three to play.

9. Tulane             37-15     9
   
* Green Wave easily dispatch of Saint Louis in three-game sweep.

10. Arizona State     35-13    12
   
* Sun Devils on fire after sweep of visiting Oregon State.

11. Washington        32-16-1  14
   
* Huskies continue to play well as they post 4-1 week including 2-of-3 series win at USC.

12. Mississippi       38-15    NR
   
* Rebels back in the top 16 after impressive series sweep at Florida.

13. Virginia          40-11    15
   
* Cavs remain in first place in the ACC (although Georgia Tech is coming hard) after home sweep of Wake Forest.

14. Arkansas          35-18    10
   
* Hogs fall back after losing 2-of-3 at Mississippi State.

15. Georgia Tech      34-17    NR
   
* Yellow Jackets have won 13 in a row ... swept Clemson to move into 2nd in ACC.

16. Notre Dame        42-9     16
   
* Irish with a 5-0 week that includes weekend sweep of Rutgers.

Dropped Out: Florida (37-16, 1-3 last week), Oklahoma State (32-18, 1-3 last week)


NCAA Tournament Projections

Selection Day is in exactly two weeks, so the jockeying for postseason position has begun.  As I detailed above, it's looking good for five Pac-10 teams to qualify for the NCAA's this season.  Stanford, Washington, and ASU are all in the running for #1 seeds.  The Cardinal and Sun Devils also each have a shot to earn national seeds.  Washington, with their RPI of 21, would have to go on an incredible tear to end the year to get any kind of national seed recognition.  Meanwhile, both UCLA and Arizona are looking like solid #3 seeds in their respective regionals if the season were to end today.

The national seed picture is a bit more cloudy right now.  Working with RPI numbers that do not include this past weekend's games, I'll go with these eight teams in this order right now (this is what I think the committee would do if the season ended today):

1. Texas
2. Miami
3. LSU
4. South Carolina
5. Rice
6. Stanford
7. Virginia
8. East Carolina

Texas and Miami are running away with the top two spots in the RPI and that probably won't change much despite each team's struggles the last weekend.  LSU and South Carolina are two RPI-overrated SEC teams right now and the committee loves seeding those teams highly.  The Tigers and Gamecocks are both 16-11 in SEC play - there are six teams in the SEC right now with either 17-10 or 16-11 records with one weekend remaining in the regular season.  LSU and South Carolina though are playing the best of any of those six and have the highest RPI's.

Rice checks in next at #5.  The Owls wrapped up a WAC title last weekend (20-3 in conference play with two weekends remaining).  Rice would really have to struggle in the final two weeks of the season to lose their national seed spot.  Stanford is at #6.  The Cardinal have dropped two series' in a row, but are still right at the top of the second toughest conference in the country.  If the Cardinal win the Pac-10, they should have nothing to worry about in regards to a national seed.  If they don't win the conference, then they could have a problem.

Virginia probably doesn't deserve a national seed, but they are in first place in the ACC and have an inflated RPI of 10.  With their gaudy overall record, high RPI, and conference championship (if the season ended today), I'm thinking the committee rewards them with a national seed.  Finally, East Carolina gets the final spot.  The Pirates are in first place in Conference USA, but an RPI of 16 could hold them back in earning a national seed.  If the committee doesn't like ECU because of that RPI number, I could see the final spot going to a third SEC team (Mississippi, Arkansas, or Georgia) or possibly Long Beach State or Arizona State if they finish strong.


On Deck

The Cardinal open up their season-long seven-game homestand on Tuesday with a contest against the USF Dons.  First pitch is scheduled for 6:00pm.  The Dons are currently 26-29 on the season with a 13-14 mark in WCC play (third place in their four-team division ... behind Pepperdine and Santa Clara).

USF had lost four consecutive weekend series' before sweeping Portland on the road last weekend.  That means they should be coming into Sunken Diamond with plenty of confidence (however, it should be noted that Portland is a terrible team with a 10-41 record).  In Tuesday games this year, the Dons have had mixed success with a 1-1 record versus Cal, an 0-2 mark against Sacramento State, and an 0-1 record versus San Jose State.  Their RPI is in the 200 range, so while a loss to this team wouldn't hurt Stanford's chances at a Pac-10 title, it would hurt them severely in the power rankings (only Saint Mary's, among Stanford's opponents this season, has a lower RPI than USF).

The Dons defeated Stanford by a 9-5 score in their lone meeting last season.  That game was played at Sunken Diamond.

As a team, USF has an impressive .313 batting average, however they've only hit 30 homers in their 55 games.  Five starters are batting above .300 led by Chris Genung (.373, 6 HR, 51 RBI) and Armand Gaerlan (.356, 3 HR, 39 RBI).  USF's team ERA sits at 4.72.


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