Baylor Preview

It's the Cardinal and the Bears on Monday from Waco to decide who advances to the super regionals. Baylor, the #4 national seed, is clearly in the drivers seat with a perfect 2-0 record thus far over the weekend. Stanford is hoping they can continue their strong play after a pair of victories on Sunday to keep their season alive. Here are all of the latest news and notes on Stanford's opponent: the Baylor Bears.

Baylor Team Notes:

* The Bears have advanced to the regional championship with an 8-3 victory over UT-San Antonio and an 8-3 win over TCU.  The Cardinal have to defeat Baylor twice on Monday to advance to the super regionals.

* Baylor was awarded a national seed (#4) because of their strong RPI and conference record.  The Bears tied with Nebraska (another national seed) for first place in the Big 12 regular season with identical 19-8 records.  Baylor lost 2-of-3 at Nebraska in late-April before eventually falling 1-0 to the Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Tournament championship game last weekend.  Nebraska was awarded the #3 national seed and has already advanced to the supers with three wins in their sub regional.

* The strong RPI is the result of a strong non-conference schedule plus a perfect 4-0 record against Texas.  The Longhorns, a top 3 RPI club, but the third place team in the Big 12, were swept by the Bears in Waco way back in mid-March.  Baylor then knocked off Texas, 9-8, in the Big 12 Tournament semis.  The non-conference resume includes a wins over the likes of Rice, Tennessee, Oral Roberts, Arizona State, Long Beach State, Vanderbilt, and TCU.

* However, on closer inspection, the Bears, much like Stanford, didn't exactly blow teams out of the water in their non-conference portion of the schedule.  Against the west coast, Baylor dropped 2-of-3 to Arizona State in Tempe and also lost 2-of-3 at home to Long Beach in March.  The Sun Devils have already advanced to the super regionals while the Dirtbags made a quick 1-2 exit despite being awarded a host.

* Baylor's struggles against midweek opposition also mirrors Stanford.  The Bears lost midweek games this year to Texas State (12-0), Houston (9-3), Texas-Arlington, TCU, and Rice. 

* That all said, a 19-8 record in Big 12 play is awfully impressive as is the perfect mark against Texas.  The RPI was in the top 10 for the Bears and they've been ranked in the top 15 in the polls essentially the entire season.

Pitching Notes:

* Pitching is clearly the strength of the Bears with a sparkling 3.32 team ERA - one of the lowest marks in the country.  The Bears go about seven deep on their staff and have used three hurlers thus far on the weekend.  #1 starter Mark McCormick (7-3, 3.12) started the TCU game on Sunday and went 4 2/3 innings allowing two runs with six strike outs.  McCormick threw 93 pitches.  Meanwhile, Trey Taylor (7-5, 3.43) got the call in the opener and fired a complete game against UT-San Antonio.  Taylor allowed three runs and threw 124 pitches.

* Their ace reliever is Abe Woody with his 2.79 ERA and 11 saves in 58 innings.  Woody though came on in the fifth inning against the Horned Frogs and threw the last 4 1/3 frames to finish the game (one run, three strike outs).  He threw 60 pitches and thus his availability may be limited on Monday against Stanford.  Woody is one of the top relievers in the country as opponents bat just .199 against the junior right-hander.

* The most likely candidate to start against Stanford on Monday afternoon is Cory VanAllen.  VanAllen has spent the entire season in the Baylor starting rotation and based on the numbers, is really the #3 man in their rotation.  In 16 starts, the sophomore left-hander is 7-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 89 1/3 innings.  He's not a strike out pitcher with just 54 K's, but generally has good control with just 30 walks on the year.  VanAllen has had some very solid starts this year, but has also been hit around a bit against some of Baylor's top competition:

- Feb. 26 at Arizona State: 4 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO
- Mar. 5 vs. Long Beach State: 3.2 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO
- May 28 vs. Texas: 6 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO)

With a very rested bullpen, I would expect VanAllen to be on a quick hook if he runs into any serious trouble.  VanAllen is definitely a prospect having been drafted in the third round out of high school in 2003.

* Other possibilities to start for the Bears include sophomore right-hander Jeff Mandel (2-0, 2.16) and junior right-hander Ryan LaMotta (5-1, 2.25 ERA).  Mandel has started some midweek games this year and has the lowest ERA on the staff (over 58 innings).  LaMotta has been one of the late-inning relievers for the Bears as he enters Monday's action with five saves on the year.  With Woody likely limited for tomorrow's action, odds are that LaMotta will be used toward the end of the game.  However, if he doesn't throw in the first game and Stanford forces a second contest, LaMotta has to be considered an option to start.  And despite making all 30 of his appearances this year out of the bullpen, LaMotta did throw 8 1/3 scoreless innings in a long relief stint against Kansas last week in the Big 12 Tournament.

Hitting Notes:

* Nothing really jumps out at you on this Baylor offense.  In fact, the Cardinal hit for a higher average as a team (.287 to .270), score more runs (6.5 to 5.3), hit more home runs (51 to 40), and have a higher on-base percentage (.370 to .343).  But the Bears offense is opportunistic and they can score in bunches.  Baylor wins a ton of close games (as opposed to Stanford thus far in 2005) thanks primarily to outstanding pitching.  But to win close games you still need the offense to be able to execute small ball and come through with clutch hitting.  Baylor may not blow you away with their offensive numbers, but they know how to win - especially in Waco.

* Only two starters bat over the .285 mark for this Bears team.  Josh Ford is the leading hitter on the club with a .327 average, seven home runs, and 36 RBI.  The senior catcher/DH will hit third in the lineup.  Meanwhile, Zach Dillon, who also catches and plays DH, is the other regular over the .300 mark on the season (.318, 2 HR, 42 RBI). 

* Senior second baseman Michael Griffin is also a dangerous starter.  Griffin bats at .284 on the year with seven homers and 30 RBI, but has loads of experience.  He's started all four years at Baylor and has played for the US National Team (2003).  Griffin hit .350 with 11 homers as a sophomore.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Michael Griffin, 2B  (Sr., .284, 7 HR, 30 RBI)
2. Kevin Russo, 3B  (Jr., .283, 3 HR, 34 RBI)
3. Josh Ford, C  (Sr., .327, 7 HR, 36 RBI)
4. Zach Dillon, DH  (Jr., .318, 2 HR, 42 RBI)
5. Reid Brees, LF  (Sr., .283, 2 HR, 25 RBI)
6. Kevin Sevigny, CF  (Jr., .228, 3 HR, 19 RBI)
7. Mike Pankratz, RF  (Jr., .196, 3 HR, 15 RBI)
8. Jeff Mandel, 1B  (So., .192, 0 HR, 5 RBI)
9. Paul Witt, SS  (Sr., .248, 1 HR, 26 RBI)

Other possible starters: Chase Gerdes, OF  (So., .268, 1 HR, 20 RBI), Seth Fortenberry, OF  (Jr., .167, 3 HR, 14 RBI)

Overall, this may not be a bad matchup for Stanford.  The Cardinal hurlers may be running on fumes by Monday and facing an offense like Baylor could definitely help their cause.  Anything can certainly happen with the aluminum bats, but based on the numbers, it would appear that the Bears offense can at least be contained.  Despite defeating TCU 8-3 on Saturday afternoon, Baylor was out-hit by a 9-7 margin.

The problem that Stanford could run into (beside the obvious of running out of pitching) is with the Bears pitching staff.  This is one of the best in the country and they've had the luxury of playing one fewer game than Stanford thus far.  Not to mention that they will have the ability to throw one of their regular weekend guys on Monday afternoon and Stanford will not.  The Cardinal offense has struggled for consistency this year and have generally struggled mightily against quality pitching staffs.  If that happens again on Monday, then will the tired Stanford arms have enough left in the tank?  Or was the Sunday night offensive surge against the Horned Frogs a sign of things to come?

The Bootleg Top Stories