Saturday - 1:00pm
Sunday - 1:00pm
The Pac-10 title is on the line this weekend when the Stanford Cardinal host the Arizona State Sun Devils in a three-game series. The Cardinal (14-7) enter the weekend just 1/2 game ahead of second-place Washington (15-9). The Huskies have completed their Pac-10 season, so Stanford controls their own destiny for claiming the conference title. One win and Stanford shares the title with Washington. While two wins or a sweep of the Devils and Stanford will be crowned as the outright Pac-10 champions.
Arizona State also has plenty to play for this weekend. Like Stanford, they have a shot at the Pac-10 title, however it's much more of a longshot. The Sun Devils need to sweep the Cardinal and if that occurs, ASU will be crowned co-champions with Washington (and potentially tri-champions if UCLA sweeps Oregon State in Corvallis). And also like Stanford, the Sun Devils are playing for postseason positioning. The winner of this series almost certainly secures a national seed for the NCAA Tournament although it's conceivable that both teams will still earn a top 8 seed come selection day.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS
Friday : Arizona State- Jeff Mousser (RHP; 6-3, 3.57) vs. Stanford- Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 10-2, 4.32)
Saturday : Arizona State- Jason Urquidez (RHP; 11-2, 2.90) vs. Stanford- Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 8-2, 4.61)
Sunday : Arizona State- TBA vs. Stanford- TBA
WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH
* Dustin Pedroia - Arizona State's all-everything shortstop. Pedroia is a junior and bats leadoff for the Sun Devils. Earlier this week, he was named one of the five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award which is given annually to the top player in collegiate baseball. Pedroia is hitting .409 this season with nine home runs, 23 doubles, and 48 RBI. He's the top leadoff hitter in the game and is also an excellent defensive player.
* Mark Romanczuk - Cardinal ace pitcher really needs a strong bounce back effort on Friday night. Romanczuk has been hit hard his last two starts which has swelled his season ERA all the way up to 4.32. The last thing Stanford wants going into postseason play is a #1 starter who is struggling mightily. Romanczuk suffered his first loss at Sunken Diamond in his career last weekend against the Trojans when he surrendered seven runs in 6 1/3 innings pitched. He'll surely be tested this weekend in facing ASU's potent offense.
* The bullpens - This series may rest in the fate of each team's bullpen. Both clubs have had serious problems finding a reliable third starter for their weekend rotation as evident by each team going with "TBA" for this Sunday's contest. Expect both clubs to go "by-committee" on Sunday. And with every game of this series expected to be a tight affair, both bullpens should play a huge role in determining the outcome on Friday and Saturday as well.
* A look at where both Stanford and ASU stack-up in the Pac-10 in four major statistical categories. Notice that both teams do everything well.
Batting Average: 2nd (.328)
Runs Per Game: 1st (8.6)
ERA: 1st (4.29)
Fielding Percentage: T1st (.974)
Batting Average: 1st (.331)
Runs Per Game: 2nd (8.2)
ERA: 2nd (4.46)
Fielding Percentage: T1st (.974)
The Cardinal got back on track last weekend when they took 2-of-3 from visiting USC. The Trojans smoked Stanford by a 9-3 score in the opener, before the Cardinal came back to win the final two contests, 5-4 and 8-2. Jeff Gilmore came through in the middle game with seven very effective innings as he held the Trojans to just one earned run on three hits. Meanwhile, freshman Matt Leva started the finale and promptly tossed four no-hit innings before being removed from the game as he reached his pitch count limit. You would have to think Leva is the most likely candidate to start this Sunday as well.
Stanford's bullpen also bounced back nicely after a difficult series at Arizona two weeks ago. David O'Hagan slammed the door on the Trojans in the ninth inning on Saturday to secure the Cardinal's one-run victory. While on Sunday, Kodiak Quick and Matt Manship both came on and threw effective innings out of the bullpen in relief of Leva. Stanford doesn't have the workhorse starting rotation this year, so expect the bullpen to continue to play a huge role for this team in this series and beyond.
At the plate, Jed Lowrie continues to pace the Cardinal. The sophomore second baseman has a very realistic chance to win the triple crown in the Pac-10 this season (something Ryan Garko just missed out on last year). Lowrie currently leads the conference in batting average (.413), home runs (16), and RBI (65). He's also first in slugging percentage (.772), second in on-base percentage (.512), second in runs scored (64), second in walks (42), and third in doubles (18).
Junior left fielder Danny Putnam and sophomore first baseman John Mayberry, Jr., combined with Lowrie, make up possibly the most fearsome 3-4-5 middle of the order in college baseball this season. Putnam is third in the Pac-10 in batting (.389), second behind Lowrie in homers (14) and tied for fifth in RBI (51). Meanwhile, Mayberry is third in the conference, behind just Lowrie and Putnam, in home runs with 13 and fourth in RBI at 52. He's also hitting a cool .339.
The Cardinal lineup was also bolstered by the return of senior third baseman Jonny Ash last weekend. Ash, who might be the top #2 hitter in college baseball this season, missed 15 games with a broken finger, but returned with a bang against the Trojans in earning Pac-10 Player of the Week honors. He just misses out on having enough at-bats to qualify, but if he did, Ash would rank fourth in the conference (behind Lowrie, Pedroia, and Putnam) in batting average at a .382 clip.
Probable Starting Lineup
1. Sam Fuld, CF (Sr., .279, 3 HR, 28 RBI)
2. Jonny Ash, 3B (Sr., .382, 4 HR, 31 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B (So., .413, 16 HR, 65 RBI)
4. Danny Putnam, LF (Jr., .389, 14 HR, 51 RBI)
5. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B (So., .339, 13 HR, 52 RBI)
6. Donny Lucy, C (Jr., .317, 11 HR, 43 RBI)
7. Brian Hall, RF (Sr., .357, 9 HR, 51 RBI)
8. Chris Carter, DH (Jr., .292, 8 HR, 35 RBI)
9. Chris Minaker, SS (So., .264, 2 HR, 28 RBI)
Notes: Fuld is second all-time at Stanford in hits with 350 ... That's 18 behind John Gall's 368 ... Fuld is already first all-time on the Farm in runs with 262 (18 ahead of #2 Mark Davis) ... Ash went 6-for-13 with a pair of doubles, a triple, and four RBI last weekend against USC in his return from a month-long injury ... Lowrie is currently hitting .413 which would be the third highest single-season batting average in Stanford baseball history if the season ended today (Tom Williams hit .430 in 1972 and David McCarty hit .420 in 1991) ... Putnam has a career .348 batting average, just two points from cracking the top 10 all-time at Stanford ... Lucy has been slumping of late as the Cardinal backstop has just four hits in his last 35 at-bats (.114) spanning the last nine games ... Hall was in a 2-for-24 slump before picking up hits in his last two AB's on Sunday versus USC ... Fuld, Ash, Hall, David O'Hagan, and Drew Ehrlich will be honored before Sunday's season finale as these five seniors will be playing in their final regular season game at Sunken Diamond.
ARIZONA STATE NOTES
Despite being ranked #16 in the country (probably underrated for how well they are playing right now), Arizona State has a legitimate shot at garnering one of the eight national seeds. Head Coach Pat Murphy figured out a way around the RPI formula this year. He scheduled nearly all midwest and east coast schools for his non-conference games and it's paying off in a huge way. The Sun Devils were extremely successful in those non-conference series' and it has resulted in the #3 ranking in this week's RPI - that's despite a 12-9 record in Pac-10 play.
The Devils swept #6 East Carolina in Tempe back in March. They also swept away traditional ACC-power Florida State to open the season. In addition, ASU has series wins over #19 Tulane, Oklahoma State (two game sweep), and Wichita State (two game sweep). They also knocked off #5 Rice in a single game during a round-robin tournament in February.
ASU entered the start of the Pac-10 season with a robust 19-3 record and looked primed to challenge Stanford for the title. But for whatever reason, the Sun Devils fell flat on their faces. Three straight home series losses to Cal, Washington, and USC to open the conference season severely hampered their chances to win the Pac-10 title. And while a series loss to the Huskies is understandable, the losses to the Bears and Trojans were pretty embarrassing. ASU lost a 20-8 decision to Cal during that series while also falling by the scores of 14-5 and 10-3 during the SC weekend. They then followed that up by losing 2-of-3 at home to #15 Oral Roberts. It was the middle of April and ASU was staggering at 3-6 in Pac-10 play and they had completely fallen out of the top 25.
But then their season turned around. Back-to-back road series wins at UCLA and Washington State got the ball rolling again. Here in May, the Sun Devils swept a two-game midweek series at Wichita State, swept Oregon State at home, and took 2-of-3 at Arizona last weekend. Since the Oral Roberts series loss (this goes back to April 10th), Arizona State is 14-3 and playing their best baseball at the right time of the season. And thanks to some masterful scheduling (and non-conference success), the folks in Tempe are talking national seed.
Dustin Pedroia is the heart and soul of this team. The junior shortstop does everything well and should be a high draft pick next month. Pedroia does a fabulous job getting on base with a .409 batting average and .515 OBP. He can hit for power (tied for the team-lead in homers with nine), and plays an excellent defensive shortstop. He will, for sure, get his hits this weekend. Stanford just has to hope he doesn't blow-up for a huge series.
#3 hitter and left fielder Jeff Larish was supposed to be part of the best 1-2 hitting punch in college baseball with Pedroia this year. Larish hit .372 with 18 homers and 95 RBI last season and then led Team USA in longballs with eight over the summer (Larish hit fourth for the Red, White, and Blue ... Putnam hit third). But the junior got out of the gate slow and hasn't come close to duplicating his numbers from a year ago (.310-6-45). He is, however, been swinging the bat better of late, so the Cardinal pitchers will still have to be extra cautious with him at the plate. Larish was lock for the first round prior to the start of the season, but he may slip now with his not-so-Jeff Larish performance here in 2004.
Another name to watch this weekend is #2 hitter and right fielder Travis Buck. Buck is just a sophomore but is already one of the stars of the Pac-10. He's hitting .373 with nine homers and 55 RBI and has been invited to the Team USA trials this summer. Pedroia-Buck-Larish is an extremely dangerous top of the order. Meanwhile, there really aren't any easy outs in this ASU lineup. They don't hit for nearly as much power as the Cardinal, but score just about as many runs, and have seven starters hitting above .300.
On the mound, ASU is having a solid year with a 4.46 team ERA. Saturday starter Jason Urquidez is really the ace of this staff, but Friday guy Jeff Mousser is certainly no slouch. Urquidez is the more dominating pitcher with 89 strike outs in 90 innings this season and a .240 opposing batting average. Last weekend, the junior right hander allowed just two runs on three hits in 7 1/3 innings against the potent Arizona Wildcats hitters. He also struck out nine. Stanford has never seen Urquidez (he's a JC transfer) and I expect they'll have their hands full with him on Saturday.
Likewise, the Cardinal have never seen Mousser. A senior right hander, Mousser transferred from BYU and has put up very good numbers this season (6-3, 3.57, .245 opposing average). He's not nearly as dominating as Urquidez with only 40 strike outs in 80 2/3 innings, but he has been pitching well of late.
ASU has had all kinds of problems finding a third starter this season (sound familiar?). Last Sunday, Brett Bordes surrendered six runs in just 1/3 of an inning against the Wildcats. The hard-throwing lefty could get the call again this weekend, but as that pitching line from last Sunday indicates, he won't be coming in on a high-note. For the year, Bordes has a 7.56 ERA with 30 walks in 33 1/3 innings.
Sophomore lefty Erik Averill could start on Sunday. Averill was a member of last year's starting rotation and threw very well. Coach Murphy though moved Averill to the bullpen this season where's he really been the "middle guy" for them. Averill often comes into ball games in the middle innings and bridges the gap until the ball is handed over to the short relievers in the 8th or 9th. 20 of his 23 appearances this season have been in relief and he's put up solid numbers with a 4-2 record and a 4.48 ERA.
Freshman Zechry Zinicola is the closer (he doubles as their starting DH) with a 3.80 ERA and six saves. ASU has a deep bullpen, but only Zinicola and Averill have ERA's below five. If the Cardinal can get past "the big four" (Mousser, Urquidez, Averill, Zinicola), you have to like their chances to score some runs this weekend. You would expect the first two games of this series to be very close and even low-scoring (even with each team's potent offense) as both head coaches use a lot of strategy to manufacture as many runs as possible. Sunday could be more of a slugfest with both team's uncertainty with their third starters.
Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Dustin Pedroia, SS (Jr., .409, 9 HR, 48 RBI)
2. Travis Buck, RF (So., .373, 9 HR, 55 RBI)
3. Jeff Larish, LF (Jr., .310, 6 HR, 45 RBI)
4. Zechry Zinicola, DH (Fr., .284, 3 HR, 25 RBI)
5. Josh Asanovich, 3B (Jr., .379, 4 HR, 36 RBI)
6. Colin Curtis, CF (Fr., .297, 5 HR, 36 RBI)
7. Tuffy Gosewisch, C (Jr., .346, 2 HR, 44 RBI)
8. Chris Cook, 1B (Jr., .322, 5 HR, 21 RBI)
9. Nick Walsh, 2B (Sr., .341, 0 HR, 22 RBI)
Notes: Pedroia is second in the Pac-10 in batting average, first in on-base percentage, first in runs, first in doubles, and first in walks ... Buck leads the team with 12 stolen bases (in 15 attempts) ... Larish's eight homers for Team USA last summer was a team-record since they started using wood bats a few years ago ... Curtis was one of the top high school players in the country and is a future star in the Pac-10 ... Gosewisch (along with Donny Lucy) was last week named one of the 15 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award which is given to the top catcher in the country.