The Pac-10 season begins this weekend for the Stanford Cardinal with a series up north against the Washington State Cougars. The Cardinal haven't been playing great baseball of late – and it's all coming down to the hitting. Stanford was three-hit last Friday night at home in a 4-3 loss to Sacramento State. Then in the Cardinal's most recent contest, a Tuesday affair versus Pacific, Stanford was shut out in a 2-0, ten-inning defeat. Stanford will try to put those two tough losses behind them now as they start the Pac-10 campaign.
The Washington State Cougars have also endured a less-than-stellar week. Wazzu was swept in their conference opener last weekend in Berkeley against the California Golden Bears getting blown out in two of those contests. The Cougars then blew a 12-3, eighth inning lead earlier this week in falling by a 14-12, ten inning score to Gonzaga. The four-game losing streak has dropped Washington State's record to 15-14.
PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday: Stanford - Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 4-3, 3.91) vs. Washington State – James Freeman (LHP; 6-1, 3.06)
Saturday: Stanford – Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 4-1, 2.84) vs. Washington State – Wayne Daman (RHP; 4-1, 3.02)
Sunday: Stanford – TBA vs. Washington State – Nick Cebula (RHP; 2-2, 5.19)
WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH:
* Stanford's hitting versus Washington State's pitching: It's going to be the key matchup in this series. The Cardinal have struggled of late with the bats and have been largely inconsistent at the plate all season. Stanford's season average now stands at just .280 while they score 6.1 runs per game. But this weekend provides an opportunity to get back on track considering the Cougars have the worst team ERA in the conference at 5.26.
* Brady Everett and Jim Murphy: Washington State's #4 and #5 hitters are both swinging hot bats. Both are newcomers to the team this season as Everett transferred from Clemson where he was a part-time player in the ACC the past couple of years. The transition has been a smooth one as Everett is batting .347 with an impressive eight home runs and 37 RBI. The eight homers are tied with Jed Lowrie for second in the conference. Meanwhile, Murphy has burst onto the scene as a freshman first baseman. The slugger has 26 hits in 65 at-bats for a cool .400 batting average, six home runs, and 16 RBI. The Cougars may struggle with their pitching, but these two guys in the middle of the order can certainly hit.
* Stanford's third starting pitcher: Who will it be? The Sunday starting spot is still officially listed as "TBA" as of Thursday morning. A hot topic of interest, sophomore Matt Leva has to be one of the leading candidates after two effective starts in the last week. Last Thursday afternoon against Pacific, Leva tossed 6 1/3 innings with just one run and three hits allowed. Then under a strict pitch count this Tuesday, the right-hander retired all six batters he faced. Greg Reynolds has also been throwing very well out of the bullpen of late (last four appearances: 7 1/3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER) while Nolan Gallagher had been the third starter prior to finals break. Gallagher, after two impressive starts against Kansas and Texas, was roughed up by USC and California before the two-week break.
The 12th ranked Cardinal bring a 14-9 overall record into this conference-opening series. Pitching and defense have been the strength of this team as Stanford boasts a 3.64 ERA (second in the Pac-10) and a sizzling .982 fielding percentage (first in the Pac-10). Jeff Gilmore, who will start on Saturday, has been the ace of the staff with a 4-1 record and 2.84 ERA. Gilmore has walked just 12 batters in 50 1/3 innings to go with a spectacular .193 batting average against.
Mark Romanczuk has been solid in the Friday spot in the rotation with a 3.91 ERA. A common theme with Romanczuk in a lot of his starts has been starting slow, but if he gets through the first couple of innings with minimal damage, he often will roll to a lengthy, effective outing. Romanczuk has 27 career wins on the Farm.
At the plate, the Cardinal have been up-and-down all season. Their .280 team batting average is one of the lowest marks in the conference as the team is coming off a 2-0 shutout loss to Pacific on Tuesday. John Mayberry, Jr. is leading the team in hitting at .322 while Jed Lowrie is right on his heels at .318. Lowrie is tops on the team with eight home runs and 30 RBI. But Jim Rapoport is the only other regular starter over .300 with his .313 batting average. Most hitters are in the .260-to-.290 range and will be looking to breakout this weekend.
Stanford has not lost to Washington State since the Pac-10 merger in 1999. The Cardinal boast a perfect 18-0 record with 15 of those wins coming by five runs or more. However, the last time Stanford traveled up to Pullman (2003), they needed a two-out, ninth-inning rally to tie a game before winning in the 11th.
Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Adam Sorgi, 3B (So., .294, 2 HR, 12 RBI)
2. Chris Minaker, SS (Jr., .281, 1 HR, 12 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B (Jr., .318, 8 HR, 30 RBI)
4. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B (Jr., .322, 4 HR, 22 RBI)
5. John Hester, C (Jr., .261, 1 HR, 17 RBI)
6. Michael Taylor, RF (Fr., .262, 0 HR, 8 RBI)
7. Brendan Domaracki, DH (Fr., .200, 0 HR, 5 RBI) or Ryan Seawell, DH (So., .250, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
8. Chris Lewis, LF (Jr., .262, 4 HR, 11 RBI)
9. Jim Rapoport, CF (So., .313, 1 HR, 9 RBI)
Fri.- Mark Romanczuk, LHP (Jr., 4-3, 3.91 ERA, 48.1 IP, 20 BB, 40 SO)
Sat.- Jeff Gilmore, RHP (Jr., 4-1, 2.84 ERA, 50.2 IP, 12 BB, 40 SO)
Notes: Sorgi has just three hits in his last 20 at-bats spanning five games … Minaker is struggling even more with a 3-for-22 slump going during the same stretch of games … Domaracki has drawn an impressive ten walks on the year (35 at-bats) for a .383 on-base percentage … Romanczuk may have already equaled his loss total from a year ago, but his ERA is 0.40 lower and his opposing batting average figure is also down 15 points … Gilmore has hit a remarkable 11 batters over his last two appearances (15 1/3 innings).
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS
Since the Six Pac and the Nor Pac merged to become the nine-team Pac-10 prior to the 1999 season, the Cougars have enjoyed very little success. First-year head coach Don Marbut is the third person at the helm for Washington State since the beginning of the current Pac-10 format as he tries to reverse the losing trend up in Pullman. Slowly but surely, the Cougars have improved since the '99 season, but even last year's 9-15 mark in Pac-10 play wasn't enough to get them out of the cellar:
1999: 4-20 record
The Cougars played well during the non-conference season posting a 15-10 record before the Cal series last weekend. However, it should be noted the type of competition Washington State was going up against. The Cougars have played weekend series' versus the likes of Sacramento State, SE Louisiana, Portland, Utah Valley State (for five games), and Northern Colorado. After getting hammered by Cal last weekend (13-2, 11-4, and 5-4) the strong play prior to the conference season is looking ever more like a product of the weak schedule. Washington State's strength of schedule currently stands at 248 out of 290 Division I college baseball teams.
Despite the weak schedule, Washington State has the highest ERA in the conference. But their top two starting pitchers in James Freeman and Wayne Daman have certainly been bright spots. Freeman is 6-1 on the year with a 3.06 ERA while Daman brings a 3-1 record to go with a 3.02 ERA into this weekend's games. The two racked up those impressive numbers in the non-conference portion of the schedule though as both struggled mightily versus the Bears last weekend.
Freeman: 2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 7 BB
Daman: 5 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 0 SO
This is a big weekend for both of these pitchers as they try to prove they are as good as their overall numbers would indicate. The early returns though show that the cupcake schedule may be the reason for a combined record of 10-2.
Past these two starters, it doesn't look good for Washington State. The lowest ERA for a pitcher is a whopping 5.02 while the team ERA, not including Freeman and Daman, is a lofty 6.49. If these two pitchers struggle on Friday and Saturday, even with Stanford's inconsistent hitting, the Cougars could be looking at another sweep.
At the plate, the Wazzu hitters have put up some nice numbers. The two newcomers in Everett and Murphy are mentioned above and have produced in a big way. Outfielders Kaeo Rubin and Jay Miller are proven Pac-10 hitters. Rubin bats leadoff and is coming of a season in which he earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors with a .341 batting average. He's kept the momentum going this year with a .347 average through 29 games. Meanwhile, Miller has twice earned Honorable Mention honors. He hit an impressive .355 last season and is right up there again in 2005 at .351. The top half of the Cougars lineup certainly looks formidable.
The bottom half isn't nearly as dangerous and the Cardinal pitching has to capitalize. As a team, Washington State is hitting .312 while scoring 7.5 runs per game. They did, however, score just ten runs over three games in Berkeley last weekend.
Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Kaeo Rubin, RF (Sr., .347, 1 HR, 16 RBI)
2. Jason Freeman, CF (Sr., .279, 0 HR, 17 RBI)
3. Jay Miller, LF (Jr., .351, 2 HR, 20 RBI)
4. Brady Everett, C (Sr., .347, 8 HR, 37 RBI)
5. Jim Murphy, 1B (Fr., .400, 6 HR, 16 RBI)
6. Zach McAngus, 3B (Jr., .333, 1 HR, 17 RBI)
7. Zach Kosturos, DH (Jr., .298, 1 HR, 16 RBI) or Zach Franklin, DH (Jr., .419, 1 HR, 8 RBI)
8. Jeff Miller, 2B (So., .269, 1 HR, 23 RBI)
9. Justin McClure, SS (So., .233, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
Fri.- James Freeman, LHP (Sr., 6-1, 3.06 ERA, 47.0 IP, 26 BB, 46 SO)
Sat.- Wayne Daman, RHP (So., 4-1, 3.02 ERA, 44.2 IP, 14 BB, 26 SO)
Sun.- Nick Cebula, RHP (So., 2-2, 5.19 ERA, 17.1 IP, 8 BB, 16 SO)
Notes: Everett is second in the conference in RBI with 37 … Murphy is an imposing presence at the plate standing 6'4" and weighting 262 lbs. … McAngus has struggled tremendously at third base with 15 errors in 26 games for a terrible .830 fielding percentage … Franklin had a home run and five RBI in WSU's last game on Tuesday versus the Zags … Freeman's wins this season came against SE Louisiana, Portland, Hawaii, Gonzaga, Northern Colorado, and Utah Valley State …The six wins are tied for the second highest individual total in the country … In his previous three years in Pullman, Freeman compiled an 8.74 ERA over just 41 2/3 innings … Daman was the top returning pitcher at the start of the season as he posted a 4.74 ERA as a reliever in 2004 (Washington State lost all three of their starting pitchers from last season's team).