Arizona State Preview

It's another key Pac-10 series for the Stanford Cardinal as they travel south to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe. Stanford is coming off a close 2-of-3 series loss to up-and-coming Oregon State while the Devils are also trying to rebound from a narrow series defeat. Read on for a preview of this upcoming matchup.

#14 Stanford Cardinal (20-11, 4-2)  at  Arizona State Sun Devils (22-15, 3-3)

Friday – 6:30pm
Saturday – 6:30pm
Sunday – 1:00pm

It's another important Pac-10 series for the Stanford Cardinal this weekend.  The Cardinal endured a 2-of-3 series loss last weekend against up-and-coming Oregon State.  The Beavers won a pair of exciting contests on Saturday, 9-7 and 11-10, before Stanford responded with a 4-3 victory on Sunday to salvage a game.  The Cardinal then handled San Francisco by a 7-1 score on Tuesday evening to improve their overall record to 20-11.

The Sun Devils are also coming off of a conference series loss.  Arizona State split the first two games up in Berkeley against California and took a one-run lead into the bottom of the ninth in the rubber contest.  But a two-run Bears rally gave Cal the victory stealing the series win away from the Devils.  The demoralizing loss evens Arizona State's Pac-10 record at 3-3 while their overall mark stands at 22-15.


PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Friday : Stanford- Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 5-3, 4.23)  vs.  Arizona State- Erik Averill (LHP; 6-2, 3.05)

Saturday : Stanford- Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 5-1, 4.03)  vs.  Arizona State- TBA

Sunday : Stanford- TBA  vs.  Arizona State- TBA


WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH:

* The home run hitters – The top two sluggers in the Pac-10 will be playing in this series.  Stanford's Jed Lowrie, the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year, has ten home runs and 42 RBI on the year.  Only one player has hit more home runs in the conference this season and it's Arizona State first baseman Jeff Larish.  The senior has knocked 13 out of the park this year to go with 37 RBI and a .319 batting average.  Larish is also the NCAA career active leader in walks, runs, and RBI.

* Jeff Gilmore – Stanford's Saturday starting pitcher had the worst performance of his season last weekend.  Facing Oregon State, Gilmore was lit up to the tune of seven runs and 11 hits in just four-plus innings of work.  Gilmore has been Stanford's most effective starting pitcher this season and has, for the most part, cruised through the opposition in 2005.  Now we find out if he's able to bounce back from a rocky start.

* ASU's pitching and defense – This Sun Devil team can hit, no question about it.  When they've struggled this season, it's often been because of pitching and/or defense.  Their team ERA is at 4.59 and while that's not a particularly high figure, it is the worst mark of any of the seven "contenders" in the Pac-10.  Their starting rotation has been largely inconsistent on the year and their bullpen isn't particularly deep.  Meanwhile, as a team, they've committed a whopping 60 errors through 37 games for a dismal .959 fielding percentage.  That mark is only better than Washington State in the conference.  Arizona State has some of the best talent in the country – even on the pitchers mound.  But it's been an up-and-down season for their hurlers and if Stanford is going to win this series, they'll likely need to win at least one high-scoring contest taking advantage of the ASU pitching and defense.


STANFORD NOTES

The Cardinal are 4-2 in the Pac-10 – one game back in the loss column of both Arizona and Oregon State (those teams play each other in Tucson this weekend).  This series is a good test for Stanford.  They were unable to come up with a series victory in their two non-conference series', but that was hardly unexpected considering they were matched up against #1 Texas and #2 Cal State Fullerton.  Then their most recent road series was a sweep of Washington State and while a road sweep is a nice accomplishment, the Cougars are a terrible team.  This ASU series offers something in between.  The Sun Devils are not an elite ballclub, but they're clearly an NCAA Tournament caliber team with aspirations of winning the Pac-10.

Since the start of the Pac-10 season, the Cardinal have done a nice job with the bats.  Their team batting average has risen 15 points up to it's current. 295 mark while they now score 6.7 runs per game.  Center fielder Jim Rapoport is on fire with a ten-game hitting streak as his season average now stands at a team-high .370.  The speedster was moved up to the #7 spot in the batting order a few games ago.

Second baseman Jed Lowrie continues to lead the team in many offensive categories.  The All-American has ten home runs, 42 RBI, and a .647 slugging percentage.  Catcher John Hester is swinging a hot bat as he brings an eight-game hitting streak into play this weekend.  Meanwhile, right fielder Michael Taylor continues to plug along with solid offensive production.  Taylor's batting average is up to a personal season-high .307.

On the mound, Mark Romanczuk is coming off of an up-and-down outing.  Last weekend against Oregon State, Romanczuk was shelled for five runs over the first two innings.  But then he settled down and was as dominant as ever with five innings of scoreless, one-hit baseball.  Matt Leva (1-1, 3.48) will likely remain in the #3 starting spot after allowing two earned runs in four innings last Sunday.  Meanwhile, Blake Holler and Matt Manship have emerged as two stoppers out of the bullpen in late inning situations.  Holler has a spectacular 2.53 ERA in 32 innings with 32 strike outs.  Manship has been nearly unhittable of late.  The veteran right-hander has not allowed a run with just six hits surrendered in 12 1/3 innings pitched all year.  Stanford's overall team ERA is at 3.80.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Adam Sorgi, 3B  (So., .305, 3 HR, 19 RBI)
2. Chris Minaker, SS  (Jr., .287, 2 HR, 18 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B  (Jr., .328, 10 HR, 42 RBI)
4. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B  (Jr., .315, 4 HR, 32 RBI)
5. John Hester, C  (Jr., .300, 2 HR, 24 RBI)
6. Michael Taylor, RF  (Fr., .307, 0 HR, 13 RBI)
7. Jim Rapoport, CF  (So., .370, 1 HR, 12 RBI)
8. Chris Lewis, LF  (Jr., .272, 5 HR, 22 RBI)
9. Brendan Domaracki, DH  (Fr., .190, 0 HR, 8 RBI)

Fri- Mark Romanczuk, LHP  (Jr., 5-3, 4.23 ERA, 61.2 IP, 25 BB, 48 SO)
Sat- Jeff Gilmore, RHP  (Jr., 5-1, 4.03 ERA, 60.1 IP, 16 BB, 44 SO)
Sun- TBA

Notes: Sorgi had a perfect night at the plate on Tuesday against the Dons going 3-for-3 with a walk … Lowrie is tied with Sorgi for first on the team in walks (20) … Mayberry, Jr. has clubbed a team-high ten doubles … Rapoport is batting .500 (18-for-36) during his hitting streak.



ARIZONA STATE NOTES

Entering the season, expectations were high that Arizona State could make a run at the College World Series in 2005.  While that's still possible, the Devils had to endure a rough non-conference campaign (by their standards) and thus had to reevaluate where they  stood.  But they started to catch fire just prior to the start of the Pac-10 season and now get set for maybe the most pivotal series of their 2005 season.

Head coach Pat Murphy has enjoyed plenty of regular season success and numerous banner recruiting classes in his ten seasons in Tempe.  But Arizona State fans are accustomed to seeing postseason results and Murphy has by-and-large not delivered.  The Devils have won five national championship in their illustrious history – behind only USC's 12.  However, in Murphy's tenure in Tempe, ASU has qualified for the College World Series just once (1998).  This year's squad garnered the #9 preseason ranking according to Baseball America but quickly fell out of the top 25 after a rocky first month.

The Devils' non-conference record may not jump out at you, but they played one of, if not the, toughest schedule in the country.  Arizona State played five road games at Tulane (ranked #3) and LSU (#22) early in the year.  While it may have been good preparation for the Pac-10 schedule, the Sun Devils took it on the chin in those games dropping all five contests and they weren't particularly competitive in defeat.  Meanwhile, other non-conference mishaps including losing a home series to 16th ranked Long Beach State, dropping a pair of midweek games to #6 Arizona, and falling to 11th ranked Oregon State as part of a round-robin tournament.  Their successful non-conference endeavors included a key home series win over 12th ranked Baylor and a single victory against #7 North Carolina in a tournament back east.

Arizona State opened the Pac-10 season with a bang taking 2-of-3 games at USC a few weeks ago.  Included in the series victory was a 17-1 thrashing of the Trojans and a 2-1, extra inning win in the rubber contest.  In fact, it appeared the Sun Devils were just getting ready to takeoff.  After a win over California in the series opener last weekend, ASU had rattled off nine victories in their last ten games.  But a 7-3 loss in the middle contest and then the heartbreaking defeat in the finale means the Sun Devils are entering the Stanford tilt on a frustrating note.

Hitting is definitely the strength of this team – especially at their home ballpark in Tempe.  Arizona State's team batting average currently sits at .310 (third in the conference) while they score 7.5 runs per game.  The aforementioned Larish is definitely the name to watch.  Larish had a banner 2003 season as a sophomore when he was arguably the top run producer in the country.  Larish finished the season with a .372 batting average, 18 home runs, and an amazing 95 RBI.  An expected first round draft pick last June, Larish struggled all season as his average dropped to .308 while he slugged only seven homers to go with 49 RBI.  The subpar year (by his standards) dropped him down to a 13th round draft selection and thus he returned for his senior campaign.  Now entering the weekend, only two players in Division I college baseball have hit more home runs than Jeff Larish this season.

It's hardly a one-man show in Tempe at the plate.  Right fielder and #2 hitter Travis Buck is a potential first round draft pick this June.  Buck hit .373 with nine home runs last season and then followed it up with a huge summer for Team USA when he hit over .400.  His average this season is at a cool .354.  Catcher and #3 hitter Tuffy Gosewisch is a senior with loads of experience.  Gosewisch is tops on the club with 42 RBI while his batting average sits at .333.  Meanwhile, left fielder and #5 hitter Colin Curtis was a top three round draft prospect out of high school two seasons ago.  A strong commitment to Arizona State though knocked him down and he's enjoying a tremendous sophomore campaign down in the desert (.338 AVG, 26 RBI).

On the mound, it's been an adventure at times for the Sun Devils.  Senior right-hander Jason Urquidez was supposed to anchor the ASU starting rotation after a 12-3, 3.41 season a year ago.  It was somewhat of surprise that Urquidez returned for his senior season after an 11th round draft selection last June.  He struggled mightily as a starter early in the year and was shifted to the bullpen where he took over as the team's closer.  Overall, Urquidez has a 4.74 ERA over 57 innings and was excelling as ASU's late-inning reliever until surrendering the two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning last Sunday in Berkeley.

Erik Averill is the top starting pitcher on this team.  An experienced junior lefty, Averill will start on Friday night.  Averill has excellent control with just 12 walks in 65 innings while his 3.05 ERA ranks among the best in the conference.  The remaining two spots in the rotation are held by a couple of sophomore flamethrowers.  Zechry Zinicola and Pat Bresnehan (both right-handers) were the two primarily late-inning relievers last season for Arizona State and each enjoyed plenty of success.  Both are now starting and are fully capable of dominating performances, but each has been largely inconsistent this season.  Officially, Saturday and Sunday are listed as "TBA" for Arizona State.

This Arizona State ballclub has some of the top raw talent in the country.  Offensively, they don't hit many home runs outside of Larish and Gosewisch.  The Sun Devils don't play a lot of small ball necessarily, but they do lead the conference in stolen bases and generally have no problems scoring runs.  The pitching staff has a lot of talent, but primarily young talent.  Packard Stadium is a hitters park and with the expected 80-90 degree temperatures, the ball should be flying out of the yard.  The Cardinal offense needs to have a relentless approach against this pitching staff as no lead will be safe.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Rocky Laguna, DH  (Fr., .356, 1 HR, 24 RBI)
2. Travis Buck, RF  (Jr., .354, 2 HR, 26 RBI)
3. Tuffy Gosewisch, C  (Sr., .333, 5 HR, 42 RBI)
4. Jeff Larish, 1B  (Sr., .319, 13 HR, 37 RBI)
5. Colin Curtis, LF  (So., .338, 1 HR, 26 RBI)
6. Seth Dhaenens, 2B  (So., .362, 2 HR, 16 RBI)
7. Joey Hooft, 3B  (Sr., .309, 1 HR, 16 RBI)
8. Joe Persichina, SS  (So., .225, 1 HR, 7 RBI)
9. J.J. Sferra, CF  (Fr., .295, 0 HR, 10 RBI)

Fri- Erik Averill, LHP  (Jr., 6-2, 3.05 ERA, 65.0 IP, 12 BB, 56 SO)
Sat- TBA
Sun- TBA

Notes: Laguna is second in the team in hitting despite being just a redshirt freshman … Buck was an All-Pac-10 selection last season … Gosewisch is tied with Lowrie for second in the conference in RBI … Larish was a Second Team All-American back in 2003 … Hooft is a transfer from Miami where he earned three letters and compiled a career .307 batting average.



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