Baseball Weekend Roundup

After an impressive series win at Fresno State last weekend, the Cardinal are now 9-4 this young season. Pitching has certainly been the strength of this club as they boast a spectacular 3.38 team earned run average. In this week's Roundup, we take a look at the Stanford pitching staff, go around the Pac-10, examine some of the aces in the conference, plus much more.

Pac-10 Standings (overall records through games of Sun. 2/26)

Washington State     10-2
Washington            8-2
Stanford              9-4
Arizona State        10-5
Arizona               8-4
Oregon State          6-4
California            6-5
USC                   8-7
UCLA                  5-9

* Arizona: The Wildcats dropped two-of-three at home to New Mexico two weeks ago before a sweep of visiting LaSalle last weekend.  Arizona is a young squad having to fill many holes from last season's top-ten veteran-laden club.  Now the schedule starts to get tougher with a trip to Minneapolis this weekend for a round-robin tournament against the likes of #23 Nebraska and Notre Dame.  Then it's back-to-back weekend series' against top-ten foes Mississippi State (road) and CS Fullerton (home) before the start of the Pac-10 season.  These young Wildcats are going to have to grow up in a hurry.

 * Arizona State: The other young team down in Arizona, the Sun Devils started slow, but have rattled off a pair of impressive weekends against opponents from the state of Texas.  First, it was a home sweep of Houston before going on the road and taking two-of-three from Baylor.  Neither opponent is ranked, but it should be a nice confidence boast for a young, but very talented Sun Devil ballclub.  This weekend, ASU hosts Auburn for three games - not one of the better teams in the SEC, but still a chance for a quality series win and an all-important RPI bump.  The Sun Devils, a preseason top 20 team, are still unranked.

* California: The Golden Bears were dealt a tough break two weeks ago when their entire series at Baylor was washed out due to wet weather.  The Bears aren't nearly the same club as last season when they advanced to the CWS, so it was a golden opportunity for California to pick up a couple of key road wins against a team from a major conference.  Last weekend, the Golden Bears returned home and held UC Santa Barbara to just two runs total (3-0, 4-2, 2-0) in a three-game sweep.  Cal hosts rival Stanford in a non-conference series this upcoming weekend.

* Oregon State: The Beavers have fallen out of the top ten after losing two-of-three to now-#12 Pepperdine two weeks ago.  The host Waves won the final two games of that series by scores of 6-2 and 7-1.  Last weekend, Oregon State participated in a round-robin tournament hosted by UC Davis and Sacramento State.  The Beavers went 3-1 with victories over BYU, Sac State, and Saint Mary's while losing a close 2-1 contest to UC Davis.  Oregon State hasn't been as dominant in the early-going this year compared to 2005 when they won the Pac-10 and eventually advanced to the College World Series.  However, the Beavers still have to be considered the favorites in the conference.

* UCLA: Playing probably the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, the Bruins are an improved team this year even if it's not reflected in their overall record.  UCLA is currently in the midst of playing 12 consecutive games (five home, seven road) against ranked opposition.  So far, it's an 0-4 record for the Bruins after they dropped a midweek contest to Pepperdine (2-0) before getting swept by CS Fullerton (7-2, 3-1, 12-6).  On the docket next is a Tuesday affair with #16 Long Beach State before a roadtrip across country to battle #18 N.C. State.  In two weeks, UCLA has another midweek matchup with Pepperdine before a home series with #22 Mississippi.  The Bruins might bring a less-than-impressive overall record into the conference season and we'll see if that cripples their confidence heading into the meat of their schedule.  On the other hand, if they surprise some of their opponents in these next two weeks, it could lead to UCLA becoming the real surprise team in the conference this season.

* USC: The Trojans played well in their own round-robin tournament two weeks ago posting victories over Kansas and nationally ranked San Diego while also dropping a contest to Vanderbilt.  However, a difficult 1-3 showing last week sent USC out of the Baseball America Top 25 poll.  First it was a 6-1 Tuesday home loss to a below-average San Diego State team.  Then the Trojans traveled to Honolulu and promptly dropped two-of-three to a much-improved Hawaii ballclub (3-4, 3-7, 4-3).  USC, which was swept by Long Beach State in the opening weekend of the season, is now just a shade above .500 heading into their upcoming home series with unranked Georgia.

* Washington: The Huskies won three-of-four at lowly CS Northridge two weeks ago before an impressive three-game sweep of an up-and-coming Gonzaga team (14-4, 8-6, 7-5) last weekend.  The result has the Huskies boasting an 8-2 record heading into a busy week over in Hawaii.  Washington will play five games in a tournament hosted by the Rainbows.  The first three games are set with matchups scheduled against #11 and undefeated Arkansas, UT-Arlington, and host Hawaii.  The Huskies will also play two games in that tournament later in the week against opponents still to be determined.  An impressive showing this weekend could really help Washington's power rating.

* Washington State: Possessing the top winning percentage in the conference, the Cougars are riding high at 10-2.  That said, WSU is playing the least-difficult non-conference schedule among any team in the Pac-10.  After taking three-of-four at Hawaii-Hilo two weeks ago, the Cougars went a perfect 4-0 at the Sacramento/Davis tournament last weekend.  Included were wins over Portland (9-4), BYU (5-1), UC Davis (8-7), and USF (7-6).  Are the Cougars for real?  Lets not get too ahead of ourselves, but they at least appear improved from an '05 club that went a dismal 1-23 in the Pac-10.

This Weekend:
Arizona vs. #23 Nebraska/Notre Dame/at Minnesota
Auburn at Arizona State
#19 Stanford at California (non-conference)
Nevada at Oregon State
UCLA at #18 N.C. State
Georgia at USC
Washington vs. #11 Arkansas/UT-Arlington/at Hawaii (plus two more games in Honolulu)
Washington State at Banana Belt Tournament hosted in Pullman and Lewiston, Idaho (two games versus Gonzaga, one game versus Chicago State, one game versus Lewis-Clark State)

Baseball America Rankings:
-- Pac-10 --
13. Oregon State (6-4)
19. Stanford (9-4)

-- West Coast --
7. CS Fullerton (8-4)
12. Pepperdine (8-6)
13. Oregon State (6-4)
16. Long Beach State (9-4)
19. Stanford (9-4)
25. San Diego (7-6)

-- Top Ten --
1. Clemson (5-1)
2. Georgia Tech (10-0)
3. North Carolina (7-0)
4. Rice (10-2)
5. Florida (8-3)
6. Tennessee (7-2)
7. CS Fullerton (8-4)
8. Mississippi State (3-0)
9. South Carolina (8-1)
10. Florida State (10-1)

Opponents Update:
Cal State Fullerton has played excellent baseball since getting swept by the Cardinal during the opening weekend of the season.  After sweeping past visiting UNLV, the Titans took two-of-three from conference rival UC Irvine (in a series that didn't count in the Big West standings) before taking three straight from UCLA in a home-and-home set last weekend.  That's eight wins in their last nine games since the difficult weekend up in Palo Alto. 

Texas rebounded from their series loss at Stanford by posting a perfect 4-0 record last week.  Against overmatched opponents, the Longhorns knocked off Texas State in a midweek contest before an easy sweep of visiting Villanova (8-0, 4-1, 9-2).  The Longhorns are now 9-6 on the year and ranked 14th in the country by Baseball America.

Kansas went just 1-2 at USC's round-robin tournament two weeks ago losing games to the host Trojans and San Diego before a win over Vanderbilt.  Last week, the Jayhawks posted a perfect 3-0 record at a tournament in Nashville, Tennessee with victories over Belmont, Libscomb, and Vanderbilt.  Kansas is now 10-4 this season.

Dominant Starting Pitching:
Excellent starting pitching was expected to be the strength of the Pac-10 Conference heading into the season.  Four aces were projected by Baseball America to be first round draft picks in the preseason: USC's Ian Kennedy (7th overall), California's Brandon Morrow (14th), Oregon State's Dallas Buck (15th), and Stanford's Greg Reynolds (#26).  So far, all four hurlers are off to strong starts in '06:

Kennedy: 4 GS, 2-2, 1.88 ERA, 28.2 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 35 SO
Morrow: 3 GS, 2-0, 1.04 ERA, 17.1 IP, 9 H, 9 BB, 22 SO
Buck: 3 GS, 2-0, 2.50 ERA, 18.0 IP, 9 H, 10 BB, 20 SO
Reynolds: 4 GS, 1-1, 2.39 ERA, 26.1 IP, 26 H, 2 BB, 29 SO

Of course, Washington's Tim Lincecum is also one of the top pitchers in the country.  Maybe not considered first round material because of his size, Lincecum has a slightly higher ERA early on when compared to the above foursome.  But his strikeout numbers are off the charts:

Lincecum: 3 GS, 2-0, 3.71 ERA, 17.0 IP, 10 H, 9 BB, 33 SO

Meanwhile, two other pitchers are starting to make a name for themselves in UCLA's Dave Huff and Washington State's Wayne Daman.  Huff is a junior lefty who had a dominant summer in the Cape Cod League after a successful JC career.  He's actually currently starting on Saturday's for the Bruins, but that could change soon with the numbers he's putting up.  Meanwhile, Daman has been unhittable as the WSU ace early on.  The disclaimer with him is that the Cougars haven't played as tough a competition as some of the other teams in the conference:

Huff: 4 GS, 1-2, 2.10 ERA, 30.0 IP, 24 H, 7 BB, 33 SO
Daman: 3 GS, 3-0, 0.45 ERA, 20.0 IP, 10 H, 6 BB, 27 SO

Bottom line, there shouldn't be a lot of scoring on Friday night's in the Pac-10 this spring.

Stanford Notes:
* The Cardinal are 9-4 through 13 games after winning a series at Fresno State last weekend.  Stanford returned to the Baseball America poll checking in at #19 this morning.

* Stanford's team ERA is at a sizzling 3.38.  The likes of Jeremy Bleich (0.77 ERA in 11 2/3 IP), Nolan Gallagher (0.93 ERA in 9 2/3 IP), David Stringer (1.46 ERA in 12 1/3 IP) and Greg Reynolds (2.39 ERA in 26 1/3 IP) are leading the charge. 

* The pitching staff also continues to put up impressive strikeout versus walk numbers.  The ratio is currently at a 3.87-to-1 clip through the first 13 games.  For reference, last year's pitching staff (which was second in the Pac-10 in ERA at 3.77) was at 2.44-to-1 which is still quite good.  Overall, the Cardinal infield defense may not be as strong this year with the injury to Adam Sorgi and the draft loss of Jed Lowrie, but that can be negated somewhat when you have a pitching staff that is only walking just over two batters per nine innings.

* The story last week on the mound was the performance of Stringer.  The sophomore right-hander made one start (Tuesday vs. Nevada) and one relief appearance (Sunday at Fresno State) going 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA (1 ER/10.1 IP).  Stringer walked one batter and struck out 15.

* Reynolds also came through with a dominant start on Friday in Fresno racking up a career-high 11 strike outs over 7 2/3 innings in a 3-2 win.  The junior right-hander allowed just one run with no walks in picking up his first victory of the season.  The Stanford offense has scored just nine runs in Reynolds' first four starts this year.

* #2 starter Matt Manship has also picked up the pace recently.  In his last two starts, the senior righty has a 2.61 ERA (3 ER/10.1 IP).  Overall, Manship has walked just two batters compared to 13 strike outs over 16 2/3 innings.  Last Saturday, Manship set down 11 straight Bulldog hitters at one point in the contest.

* The Stanford team batting average has climbed slightly over the past two weeks as it now resides at .253.  The Cardinal did produce three straight double-digit hit totals in Fresno last weekend en route to recording a couple of victories.

* The hottest hitters are the trio of Michael Taylor, Chris Minaker, and Jim Rapoport.  Taylor now leads the club with a .340 batting average thanks to a current career-high seven-game hitting streak.  Minaker paces the club with three home runs to go with a cool .321 batting average (second to Taylor).  The senior shortstop has hit safely in six straight games.  Minaker and Taylor appeared to have found a home in the 3-4 spots in the batting order respectively.  Finally, Rapoport has seen his average climb to .292 (third on the team) thanks to a five-game hitting streak.  Rapoport has been hitting second in the order of late.

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