College Baseball Roundup

Stanford rebounded nicely last weekend as they took 2-of-3 games from the USC Trojans to put themselves in a position to win the Pac-10 Conference. In this week's Roundup, we take a look at that series plus give you an updated "Super Sixteen." In addition, check out detailed NCAA Tournament projections with potential opponents for Stanford in both the regionals and super regionals along with which teams are in the lead for the eight coveted national seed spots.

Pac-10 Standings (records through games of Sun. May 23rd)

                  Conf.   GB    Overall
Stanford          14-7     -     42-11
Washington        15-9    0.5    34-18-1
Arizona State     12-9    2.0    39-14
UCLA              12-9    2.0    31-26
Arizona           10-11   4.0    28-23-1
Oregon State       9-12   5.0    30-20
USC                9-12   5.0    23-30
California         8-13   6.0    24-29
Washington State   7-14   7.0    27-25

Stanford reclaimed the top spot in the conference after taking 2-of-3 from USC at Sunken Diamond.  Meanwhile, Washington dropped back into second place as they dropped 2-of-3 at home to UCLA.  Arizona State remained red-hot by winning 2-of-3 on the road in Tucson against Arizona.  Oregon State also managed to win 2-of-3 games at Washington State.

UCLA basically clinched a berth in the NCAA Tournament with their huge series win up in Seattle last weekend.  The Bruins finish up with a three-game series in Corvallis against the Beavers this weekend.  As long as they don't get swept, UCLA should have nothing to worry about come selection day.

Arizona still has a series win over Stanford in their back pocket, but they had a chance to firmly secure a berth in the postseason with a pair of wins over the Sun Devils.  That didn't happen, so this weekend's series at USC is of vital importance to Arizona.  The Wildcats have a strong RPI of 34 (better than UCLA's 49) and a series victory in Los Angeles would get the job done.  That would get them up to .500 and likely a #3 seed in the NCAA's.  Losing 2-of-3 puts them squarely "on the bubble."

Washington can only sit and watch this weekend in regard to the Pac-10 race.  They are the only team to have completed their Pac-10 season, however they still have an important series on the docket for this weekend.  The UC Irvine Anteaters are in town for three games and Irvine is a team that's been ranked for the majority of the season, so it will be a good test for the Huskies.  UW will be doing plenty of scoreboard watching this weekend, but they're still playing for NCAA Tournament seeding.

And of course, the big series this weekend is in Palo Alto as Stanford hosts Arizona State in a matchup of two College World Series contenders.  The Sun Devils and Cardinal, in addition to playing for a conference championship, are also both looking to secure national seeds.  One Stanford win and the Cardinal and Huskies share the Pac-10 crown.  Two Cardinal wins or a sweep and Stanford is the outright Pac-10 Champion.  And an ASU sweep results in the Sun Devils and Huskies as co-champions (with UCLA getting a piece of that title if they sweep Oregon State).

Finally, Washington State hosts California in a matchup of the two worst teams in the conference.


USC Series Notes

Friday didn't exactly go Stanford's way as the Cardinal were handed a 9-3 defeat by the Trojans.  Mark Romanczuk was blasted for seven runs in 6 1/3 innings - his second consecutive less-than-stellar outing.  It will be very interesting to see how he bounces back this weekend against a top-flight opponent like Arizona State with so much at stake.  The Cardinal certainly don't want a cold Mark Romanczuk heading into the regionals.

You have to give this team a ton of credit for bouncing back though the last two days to win the series.  The pitching staff really came through allowing a grand total of three earned runs over the final two contests.  Jeff Gilmore dazzled on Saturday yielding only one earned run on three hits in seven innings.  Meanwhile, Matt Leva tossed four no-hit innings as the starter on Sunday.

The Cardinal may never find that third starter than can be counted on for six innings (a la McCally in the 2003 postseason, Hudgins in the 2002 postseason, and Bruksch in the 2001 postseason), but if there's one thing this team has over all those clubs, it's pitching depth.  We're all the way into late May and Coach Marquess is still using ten pitchers regularly which is a great sign.  Granted, some of it as out of necessity with the lack of a third starter, but too many times in the postseason (Exhibit A: the 2003 CWS) we've seen tired arms by the end of Stanford's run.  The hope is that this depth can carry Stanford as opposed to dominating starting pitching.  Look for every game not started by Romanczuk and Gilmore in the postseason to be "bullpen games."  Someone like a Matt Leva or Greg Reynolds or Blake Holler (or whomever starts) likely will only be counted on for 3-5 innings and then it's time to get someone else in there.  This can keep opposing hitters off balance and can offset the lack of a traditional third starter.  And when you get to the later innings, it's all about getting the ball to David O'Hagan.  You have to like Stanford's chances in a game if Stanford is ahead in the 7th or 8th and the ball is in O'Hagan's hands.

****

Jonny Ash returned to the lineup last weekend and made quite a splash.  Three-hit games on Friday and Sunday has his season average at .382.  The senior third baseman might be the best #2 hitter in the country and I can't tell you how much better this team is when Jonny is in there.  Having a #2 hitter who almost never strikes out, can lay down a bunt or hit behind runners, has a tremendous ability to come through in the clutch, and boasts a whopping .452 on-base percentage is an invaluable asset to this team.  Any time you have a guy getting on base 45% of the time in front of Jed Lowrie, Danny Putnam, and John Mayberry, Jr., well, lets just say this offense is capable of putting up some big-time numbers this June.

Also, don't underestimate Ash's defense and leadership on the infield.  Ash has committed only four errors all season for an amazing .960 fielding percentage.  And while having a 5'8" third baseman will hurt this team every once in awhile on those high choppers that get over Ash's head, Jonny's defense is top-notch right now while it also never hurts to have a senior with loads of postseason experience playing in your infield.


"Super Sixteen"

                     Record    Pvs.
1. Texas              48-11     3
   
* Longhorns in the top spot after impressive 2-of-3 series win over Texas A&M.

2. Stanford           42-11     1
   
* Cardinal fall back after 3-2 week that includes losses to Arizona and USC.

3. Miami              41-11     2
   
* Hurricanes sweep Ball State at home over the weekend.

4. LSU                41-15     4
   
* Tigers may not have won the SEC (finished one game back in a crowded top six), but this team looks to have the best shot at a title of any team in the conference ... huge 2-of-3 series win at Mississippi last weekend.

5. East Carolina      47-9      5
   
* Pirates secure Conference USA title with impressive 2-of-3 series win at Southern Mississippi.

6. Arizona State      39-14    10
   
* Sun Devils move up after 4-1 week that includes series win at Arizona.

7. Rice               40-11     6
   
* Owls notch a big midweek win at Baylor, but then drop 2-of-3 at Fresno State over the weekend.

8. South Carolina     41-15     7
   
* Gamecocks fall back after losing 2-of-3 at SEC East champion Georgia (Bulldogs finished two games ahead of S. Carolina).

9. Arkansas           37-19    14
   
* Hogs win the SEC West (one game ahead of LSU and Mississippi) after winning 2-of-3 at home versus Auburn.

10. Virginia          42-11    13
   
* Cavs win a pair of midweek games over Radford and then take the weekend off.

11. CS Fullerton      36-20    NR
   
* Titans back in the top 16 after sweeping Long Beach State on the road to win the Big West.

12. Long Beach State  36-16     8
   
* 49ers swept at home by Fullerton ... huge series at Miami on tap for this weekend.

13. Tulane            38-17     9
   
* Green Wave lose 2-of-3 at Houston in a hard-fought series.

14. Washington        34-18-1  11
   
* Huskies fall back after dropping 2-of-3 at home to UCLA.

15. Georgia Tech      38-17    15
   
* Jackets claim ACC title after easily sweeping Maryland (finished 1/2 game ahead of Virginia although the Cavs swept GT back in March).

16. Mississippi       39-17    12
   
* Rebels lose 2-of-3 at home to LSU (blown out in the two losses).

Dropped Out: Notre Dame (46-10, 4-1 last week)


NCAA Tournament Projections

Most conferences ended their regular seasons this past weekend.  Texas took home the Big 12 title finishing 1/2 game ahead of Oklahoma.  Georgia Tech has won their last 17 games as they finished atop the ACC - 1/2 game in front of Virginia.  Arkansas won the SEC West, one game ahead of LSU and Mississippi.  While Georgia was crowned SEC East champions after finishing two games up on both South Carolina and Florida.  Arkansas and Georgia finished tied for the overall SEC lead with identical 19-11 records.

Cal State Fullerton's sweep of Long Beach State gives them a 19-2 record in the Big West at the conclusion of their conference season.  That's five full games ahead of the second place Dirtbags (14-7).  Over in Conference USA, East Carolina handily won the title with a 25-5 conference record.  While in the WAC, there's still one weekend left to play, but Rice (21-5) has already clinched the title.

So, what does all of this mean in regards to national seeds?  Georgia Tech's resurgence might be enough to get them a national seed.  The Jackets have an updated RPI of 13 while Virginia now sits at 9.  This conference probably doesn't deserve a national seed as both have inflated RPI's because of the region they play in, but the ACC always seems to get at least one.  If one of these teams wins the ACC Tournament this weekend, I'm guessing they'll get a national seed.  For now, I'm giving the slight edge to Virginia over Georgia Tech on the strength of their higher RPI and their series sweep over the Jackets during the regular season.

Texas is a lock for a national seed with their #2 RPI and as the Big 12 champions.  Same goes for Miami with a #1 RPI ranking.  These two schools will almost certainly be the top two national seeds.

The SEC has six schools in the top 14 of the RPI and all six probably have shots at national seeds.  At this point, LSU with their #4 RPI (highest in the SEC), strong overall record, and impressive conference mark should be in.  And having your athletic director as the head of the selection committee can't hurt either.  South Carolina (#5 RPI) and Mississippi (#6 RPI) are the next most likely SEC teams to get national seeds.  LSU should be in ahead of both of these teams as they have series wins in both Columbia and Oxford.  It's going to be very interesting to see how the committee handles the SEC this year.  Top conference in the country, but really without a dominant team - everyone kind of just beat up on each other all season.  Florida (#7 RPI), Georgia (#11 RPI), and Arkansas (#14 RPI) are the other three SEC teams in contention.  This conference tournament will be very interesting to track when it starts on Wednesday.

East Carolina really got a boost last weekend as they won the Conference USA title and their RPI bumped up to #10.  Rice struggled at Fresno, but their RPI holds steady at #8.  Both these teams are borderline national seeds right now with ECU's performance in the Conference USA Tournament this weekend and Rice's four-game weekend series with lowly Louisiana Tech likely playing a role in whether or not they'll be hosting come super regional weekend.

Arizona State, with an RPI of 3, is looking awfully good for a national seed as long as they don't get swept by Stanford this weekend.  Speaking of the Cardinal, their RPI plummeted down to 15 after a 3-2 week (six games against a USC team with a well-below .500 winning percentage is killing Stanford).  How the committee deals with Stanford in regards to a national seed will be quite interesting if their RPI remains at 15 on selection day.  If Stanford takes 2-of-3 over the Sun Devils this weekend, they win the Pac-10 and will get a fairly significant RPI boost (you would think).  The Cardinal should be a lock to host a super regional if that happens with a conference title in their back pocket, a 44-12 overall record (better than any of their last five teams that reached the CWS), and series wins over a pair of top 3 RPI teams in Texas and ASU (not to mention a sweep of Big West champion Fullerton).  If Stanford doesn't get a national seed under this scenario, well, they should just drop out of the NCAA all-together. 

If the Cardinal only manage to win 1-of-3 this weekend and therefore split the conference title with Washington, then who knows what happens on selection day?  Stanford really still deserves a national seed (see the human polls who all have Stanford at #2 right now), but the RPI is clearly working against the Cardinal and we all know how much the committee loves their beloved RPI system.

Here are my projections if the season ended today:
1. Texas
2. Miami
3. LSU
4. South Carolina
5. Arizona State
6. Mississippi
7. Rice
8. Stanford

* Note: I just don't have a lot of faith in the committee right now.  It would be very typical of them to give three SEC teams national seeds while placing ASU ahead of the Cardinal despite Stanford having a better record and a higher finish in the Pac-10.  The Sun Devils have the higher RPI, so they must be the better team, right?  East Carolina and the Virginia/GT combo are right on the doorstep.

*****

As for projecting who could be sent Stanford's way for the regionals, I see a few possible scenarios.  There's always at least one team from the south or east and with so many possibilities, there's really no sense in guessing who gets sent here.  The #4 seed is usually a small school in the midwest or the east coast (see Marist in 2001 and Illinois-Chicago in 2003) or an automatic qualifier from out here in the west.  Possibilities include either Loyola Marymount or Pepperdine from the WCC or maybe whomever comes out of the Mountain West.

The third and final team seems to always be from the Big West.  In 2003, UC Riverside was sent to Sunken.  In 2002, both Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton were sent here.  Fullerton should host a regional, so they are out of the picture.  One very dangerous possibility is Long Beach State as the #2 seed at Sunken Diamond.  The Beach were a top 10 team and a legitimate national seed contender before getting swept by Fullerton last week.  Now even just hosting a sub-regional is very much in question for them.  It wouldn't be shocking if LBSU is again sent our way and I would imagine Jered Weaver would be held out of their Friday first round game for a potential matchup with Stanford in the all-important Saturday contest.

Stanford fans should hope that Long Beach takes care of business (i.e. wins 2-of-3) at Miami this weekend to get a nice RPI boost and further strengthen their chances of hosting a regional. 

The other Big West team likely to get in the tournament is UC Irvine.  The Anteaters actually finished with a sub-.500 record in Big West play at 10-11, but had a very strong non-conference season which is reflected in their 34-18-1 overall record.  They would seem to be a logical choice as the annual Big West team in Stanford's regional.

*****

Looking ahead, there's always the hope that Stanford's regional is matched up with a regional from a team back east.  But that certainly hasn't happened in recent years (USC in 2002, Long Beach in 2003), so I'm not overly optimistic that we'll see a change here in 2004.  A very logical possibility is matching up Stanford's regional with Fullerton's regional.  The Titans, with their red-hot finish, should host a regional as a #1 seed, but their poor start prevents them for attaining a national seed.  It would be very typical of the committee to match-up these two west coast powers in a super regional which keeps as many west coast teams out of Omaha as possible. 

Long Beach State also seems very possible if they host a regional.  Long Beach has come Stanford's way in each of the last three years (2001 and 2002 for the sub-regionals, 2003 for the supers), so why not another try in 2004?  You have to think the Dirtbags are getting tired of seeing Sunken Diamond every June.  And this wouldn't be the most desirable matchup for Stanford considering LBSU has the top pitcher in the country in Jered Weaver who would obviously start Game One.

And then of course if Stanford isn't a national seed, the possibilities are endless.  A trip maybe to Houston to play Rice in a super regional?  How about Austin for a best-of-three series against the Longhorns?  Or maybe the Cardinal venture to SEC country?  So many options.

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