Baseball Weekend Roundup

The Cardinal dropped two-of-three games at USC last weekend in a non-conference series. With an overall record now at 11-7, Stanford will take the next 12 days off due to final exams. In this week's Roundup, we take a look at some positives and negatives of the recently-completed series, give you an early look with analysis on the RPI rankings, plus detail all of the latest from around the Pac-10.

Pac-10 Standings (overall records through games of Sun. 3/12)

Washington State      15-4
Arizona State         17-5
Washington            15-5
Oregon State          11-5
Stanford              11-7
Arizona               10-8
USC                   12-10
California             9-8
UCLA                  11-11

* Arizona: The Wildcats were swept last weekend by the 6th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville.  Arizona was certainly competitive though dropping the Friday game by a 3-2 score and the Sunday contest by a 5-4 margin.  Just by playing an SEC team in a weekend series, the Wildcats enjoyed a nice RPI bump.  But a win or two would have gone a long way for this team - a club that could very well find themselves on the bubble once late-May arrives.  Arizona will get another chance against a top ten team this weekend when they host #7 Cal State Fullerton for three games.

* Arizona State: The Sun Devils are the hottest team in the country after a perfect 3-0 weekend in Corpus Christi, Texas.  At a round-robin tournament, ASU posted victories over Texas A&M-CC (10-2), TCU (3-1), and 3rd ranked Rice (6-5).  The Sun Devils, now ranked 16th in the country, have won seven straight games and 12 out of their last 13.  With many of those wins coming against teams not from the west coast, Arizona State is currently enjoying one of the highest RPI rankings in the country.  This weekend, it's another series against a quality team not from the west when the Sun Devils welcome #24 Oklahoma to Tempe.  ASU will also battle 18th ranked Texas in a midweek road game on Tuesday.

* California: The Golden Bears traveled to Las Vegas last weekend and promptly dropped two-of-three to surging UNLV.  After a 5-1 victory in the opener behind a complete game from ace Brandon Morrow, California suffered 9-6 and 5-4 defeats en route to the series loss.  The Bears continue to hover just above .500 this season, but have a chance to rack up some victories this week with games against Saint Mary's (Tuesday) and Pacific (Friday-Sunday).

* Oregon State: The Beavers were only able to get two of their scheduled three games in last weekend down in New Mexico (snow cancelled the Sunday series finale).  After a 10-4 win on Friday, Oregon State was blown out on Saturday afternoon falling by an eye-catching 13-2 margin.  Oregon State is now ranked 13th in the country, but haven't quite posted the same results this year in the non-conference season compared to last (the Beavers certainly won't be surprising anyone in 2006).  Up next, it's a weekend series down in Los Angeles against the USC Trojans to open their Pac-10 slate.

* UCLA: The Bruins continue to post impressive results against possibly the most difficult non-conference schedule in the country.  After a midweek loss to #21 Pepperdine, UCLA returned home and took two-of-three from then-#19 Mississippi (9-2, 5-6, 6-4).  The Bruins concluded their stretch of 12 straight games against ranked opponents with a 7-5 record to recover from a slow start.  After a dismal 2005, it's looking very much like UCLA could make a run toward the NCAA Tournament this season.

* USC: The Trojans racked up their second straight home series victory over a ranked opponent when they took two-of-three from #17 Stanford last weekend (won two-of-three over now-#20 Georgia two weeks ago).  USC now sits at 12-10 on the year and will open their conference schedule with a home series against defending Pac-10 champion Oregon State this week.

* Washington: The Huskies are in the Baseball America Top 25 for the first time this season after a home sweep of Santa Clara last weekend.  The first two games saw Washington out-slug the Broncos winning 14-10 and 15-13.  Then on Sunday, Tim Lincecum (6 IP) and a reliever combined on a no-hitter in their 9-0 victory.  Lincecum struck out 11 batters, but a high walk total forced his removal from the game after six frames.  The Huskies, now 15-5, are ranked 19th in the country and host Cal Poly in a three-game series this weekend.

* Washington State: The Cougars hosted lowly Chicago State last week for three games in Pullman.  After a convincing 20-4 victory in the opener, WSU suffered a 6-5 loss in the middle contest.  Washington State did rebound with an 8-0 shutout to take the series as their overall record now sits at 15-4.  This week, the Cougars will play six games in six days at Fresno State's annual round-robin tournament.  Starting on Monday, WSU takes on Bucknell, Binghamton, Lafayette, Fresno State, Gonzaga, and Miami (Ohio).


This Weekend:
* #13 Oregon State at USC

#7 CS Fullerton at Arizona
#24 Oklahoma at #16 Arizona State
California vs./at Pacific
San Diego State at UCLA
Cal Poly at #19 Washington  (Saturday-Monday)
Washington State at Fresno State Tournament  (Monday-Saturday)

* - Pac-10 series


Pac-10 RPI Update
As of Sunday, here are the Pac-10 RPI rankings (data from Boyd's World at boydsworld.com)

12. Arizona State
13. Washington
17. Stanford
18. UCLA
22. USC
49. Arizona
56. Oregon State
105. Washington State
113. California

You probably can't start seriously looking at the RPI until the conference season is about halfway complete (late-April/early-May), but it is interesting to note where each teams stands heading into the start of Pac-10 play.  The conference received five bids to the NCAA Tournament last season and with the incredible strength top-to-bottom this year, it would certainly seem possible that six clubs could get an invite. 

Arizona State has jumped up considerably over the last month with their red-hot play while Washington and Stanford have high marks with solid records against tough non-conference opposition.  UCLA rebounded from their slow start and checks in at #22 in the RPI rankings this week thanks to back-to-back series wins (5-1 record) against N.C. State and Mississippi.  The Bruins went just 15-41 last season (4-20 in the Pac-10), but would appear to be a completely different team this year.

USC and California have overall records just above .500, but vastly different RPI rankings.  The Trojans and Bears have both played weekend series' against Stanford and Long Beach State, but USC is benefiting from impressive results against the likes of Georgia, Kansas, and Vanderbilt.  California, meanwhile, is playing nearly all of their weekend series' versus west coast clubs with games already in the books versus UC Santa Barbara and UNLV (with Pacific on tap).  West coast clubs tend to have lower RPI rankings because there are fewer teams out here and thus the collective winning percentages of everyone will hover around .500.  It's then up to the teams out here to try to schedule matchups against clubs from power conferences such as the Big 12, SEC, and ACC to make-up for this. 

Arizona State's Pat Murphy has clearly gotten the message in the last few years while USC and UCLA are playing a schedule this season to help their RPI status.  Teams like California and Oregon State though are taking on opponents almost exclusively from the west and even though they have solid records in the non-conference season (the Beavers especially), they aren't getting any sort of RPI bump.  The Golden Bears could be hurt tremendously by their entire series at Baylor a few weeks ago getting washed out by poor weather.  If neither Cal nor Oregon State finish in the top two or three in the Pac-10 (and thus are "on the bubble"), then their west-coast heavy non-conference schedules could lead to poor seedings or perhaps not even an invitation to the NCAA's.

Also of note, Washington State has the top overall record among any team in the Pac-10 right now.  But their less-than-spectacular schedule has their RPI residing at just 105 this week.  Still, for a team that went only 1-23 in conference play last year, their turnaround this season is quite remarkable and the reason why the Pac-10 may be the top conference in the country this season in terms of top-to-bottom strength.


Baseball America Rankings:
-- Pac-10 --
13. Oregon State (11-5)
16. Arizona State (17-5)
17. Stanford (11-7)
19. Washington (15-5)

-- West Coast --
7. CS Fullerton (14-6)
13. Oregon State (11-5)
16. Arizona State (17-5)
17. Stanford (11-7)
19. Washington (15-5)
21. Pepperdine (12-10)

-- Top Ten --
1. Georgia Tech (16-1)
2. Clemson (10-3)
3. Rice (15-5)
4. North Carolina (13-2)
5. Tennessee (13-2)
6. Mississippi State (11-0)
7. CS Fullerton (14-6)
8. Florida State (18-1)
9. South Carolina (13-2)
10. Arkansas (16-1)


Opponents Update:
Cal State Fullerton remained red-hot after a convincing home sweep of East Carolina last weekend.  The Titans outscored the Pirates by a combined margin of 23-1 (5-0, 8-0, 8-1) en route to the three victories.  For reference, Fullerton's RPI this week is at #11 (the highest among any west coast team).

Texas also had an impressive week posting a 3-1 record against ranked opposition.  The Longhorns went into Houston and notched a 9-5, midweek victory over the third ranked Rice Owls.  Texas is now 2-0 against their in-state rival this year.  Then over the weekend, the Longhorns returned home and won two-of-three games over then-#22 Long Beach State (4-3, 3-5, 7-3).  Texas is now 13-9 on the year and ranked 18th according to Baseball America.

Kansas nearly pulled off their second road series win over a ranked opponent as they dropped two-of-three to the 2nd ranked Clemson Tigers last weekend.  After a 7-2 loss in the opener, the Jayhawks edged the host club by a 6-5 margin on Saturday.  With former Stanford hurler Kodiak Quick on the mound, Kansas had a lead throughout much of Sunday's series finale before the Tigers rallied in the later frames for a 4-3 win.  The Jayhawks, now 15-6 on the year, held steady at #25 in Baseball America's poll.

Fresno State is also playing good baseball having won six in a row since their series with the Cardinal (13-8 overall record).


Stanford Notes:
The Cardinal dropped two-of-three games to the host USC Trojans last weekend in a non-conference series.  The Stanford pitching staff had a tough weekend against the top hitting team in the Pac-10 surrendering 23 runs over the final two games (both losses).  One bright spot was the effective Sunday start of David Stringer.  Making the first weekend start of his career, Stringer breezed through four innings allowing just one hit with six strike outs.  The Trojans then manufactured a run off of the sophomore right-hander in the fifth before the decisive two runs in the sixth to take a 3-2 lead (they eventually won 7-2).  The go-ahead run scored on a two-strike, suicide-squeeze bunt play with one of USC's top power hitters at the plate.  Stringer finished that sixth inning before the Trojans exploded four four runs in their final two at-bats against relievers Jeremy Bleich and Erik Davis.

For Stringer, despite picking up the loss, it was another impressive stint on the mound (6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 7 SO).  Stanford doesn't play again for 12 more days due to final exams, but there's a strong likelihood that Stringer will remain in the starting rotation.  Based on what took place in Los Angeles last weekend against a potent offense plus five other series' worth of data, it would seem that Greg Reynolds (1-1, 3.11 ERA, 37.2 IP, 8 BB, 35 SO) and Stringer (2-2, 2.45 ERA, 18.1 IP, 2 BB, 24 SO) are the top two pitchers on the club.  Matt Manship (0-2, 5.92 ERA, 24.1 IP, 5 BB, 16 SO) and Matt Leva (1-0, 5.50 ERA, 18.0 IP, 11 BB, 14 SO) also have significant starting experience this year.  What Coach Marquess decides to do with his starting rotation once play resumes on March 25th (start of the Pac-10 season) will certainly be of major interest.

Offensively, Stanford had a solid roadtrip recording seven double-digit hit totals among their eight games.  That said, Sunday's series finale at USC was a difficult afternoon as the final 15 Cardinal hitters to step to the plate were all retired.  Stanford has slowly raised their team batting average up to their current mark of .265, but that number will have to continue to rise if the Cardinal are to make any noise in the Pac-10.  Specifically, experienced players such as Jim Rapoport (.242 AVG, 5 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI), John Hester (.219 AVG, 2 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI), and Chris Lewis (.217 AVG, 1 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI) will be looking for much better overall production once the Pac-10 season begins.  Lewis has started to pick things up of late, but for three players who have started every single game this year and are counted on to play leading roles on the team, their improvement will be paramount to Stanford's success.  The fact the Cardinal are 11-7 against one of the toughest schedules in the country (with series wins against Fullerton and Texas) with such little production from a handful of important hitters could be looked at as a positive.  If the trio of Rapoport, Hester, and Lewis even just return to their production of a year ago (although overall improvement from their 2005 numbers is probably expected by the coaching staff), then the Cardinal could really take off.

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