Baseball Preview: Oregon State

Weather permitting, Stanford has another important series on the docket this weekend. The Cardinal look to get back on track in conference play when they travel north to take on the 11th ranked Beavers. Oregon State, the defending Pac-10 champions, advanced to the College World Series a year ago with nearly every player returning from that club. Here is a complete series preview.

The Oregon State Beavers are coming off a standout 2005 season that saw the club advance to the College World Series for the first time in 53 years.  To outsiders, the success came completely out of nowhere as the Beavers were picked by all the "experts" to finish in the middle of the Pac-10 - at best.  Instead, Oregon State rolled through the non-conference portion of the schedule.  If there were still any doubters, they quickly ceased to exist once the Pac-10 season began.  In a highly competitive conference last year, the Beavers smoked the competition to the tune of a 19-5 mark en route to the championship. 

Oregon State easily won their own regional before knocking off USC in the supers.  In Omaha, the Beavers were a quick two-and-out, but the impression had been made - Oregon State baseball is for real.

Entering 2006, the Beavers faced extraordinarily high expectations.  All but two regular starting position players were back plus all three starting pitchers and a standout closer.  Everybody tabbed Oregon State as a preseason top-ten club and as the favorites to repeat as Pac-10 champions.

Thus far in '06, Oregon State hasn't been quite as dominant as last year's special group, but many still feel they are the team to beat in the conference.  The Beavers enter this weekend's series versus the Cardinal with a 22-9 overall record and the #11 national ranking according to Baseball America.  In conference play, Oregon State checks in at 3-3 - one game behind second-place Arizona State (4-2) and 2 1/2 games back of front-runner USC (7-2).

Last year's Oregon State had it all, but there was no doubt that starting pitching was what fueled their success.  Dallas Buck (12-1, 2.09 ERA in '05) and Jonah Nickerson (9-2, 2.13 ERA) both earned All-American honors for their efforts a season ago.  With those two on the mound, the Beavers were practically unbeatable.  Buck entered this year as a legitimate first round prospect while Nickerson is coming off a summer in which he played for the US National Team.

The #1 starter Buck is 6-0 through the first half of the season, but hasn't been quite as dominant compared to last year as evident by his 3.99 ERA.  The junior right-hander has had bouts of poor control at times as he's issued 27 walks in just 49 2/3 innings.  His velocity may be down a bit this year, but the talented hurler still possesses a .220 opponents average and his 18-1 combined record over the last two seasons pitching as the team's ace speaks for itself.

Nickerson has the top numbers of any OSU starting pitcher for the year.  In eight starts, the junior right-hander is 5-3, but with a sizzling 2.47 ERA.  Nickerson is much more of a control pitcher as he's walked just 13 batters compared to 46 strike outs in 51 innings this year.  He's been slightly more hittable than Buck thus far (.267 opponents average), but this is a guy who won't beat himself with poor control.

Buck and Nickerson could certainly give the Cardinal offense fits this week, so Saturday's series finale is, without a doubt, Stanford's best chance to assure themselves of at least one victory this weekend.  Junior lefty Anton Maxwell has had an up-and-down year as he brings a 3-3 record and a 5.52 ERA into this series.  Last weekend, Oregon State hosted Arizona and posted 10-5 and 10-2 victories in the first two games.  But the Wildcats came storming back against Maxwell and the Beavers in the finale for an impressive 8-1 win to salvage a game in the series. 

Maxwell went 11-1 last year, but certainly benefited from fantastic run support all season long.  As a sophomore, Maxwell posted a 4.33 earned run average.

Offensively, Oregon State is a scrappy club.  They feature plenty of team speed (45 stolen bases in 31 games) and aren't afraid to play a lot of small ball.  The home run isn't a big part of their game as the Beavers have blasted just 17 round-trippers this year.  But this is an offense that produces and is certainly capable of putting up plenty of crooked numbers this weekend.  As a club, Oregon State is hitting a cool .308 while scoring 6.9 runs per game.  That kind of production, combined with the usual stellar performances of Buck and Nickerson, has led to a near perfect mark when it comes to series victories this year.

Oregon State has had to deal with the losses of their top two offensive threats from a year ago in Jacoby Ellsbury (.406 AVG, 6 HR, 26 SB) and Andy Jenkins (.388 AVG, 6 HR, 56 RBI).  Ellsbury was named the Co-Pac-10 Player of the Year and was drafted in the first round.  His lack of presence as possibly the top leadoff hitter in college baseball and a standout defensive center fielder could be reason #1 why the Beavers haven't been quite as dominant this year ... so far.

But every other starter, besides the above two, did return for Oregon State.  Shortstop Darwin Barney is the new team-leader after winning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors last spring.  Barney, the #3 hitter in the lineup, is not a home run threat (zero this season), but is an excellent pure hitter.  He currently sits at .360 on the season to go with a team-best ten stolen bases.

Barney is sandwiched in between the only two serious home run threats in the Oregon State lineup.  Sophomore catcher Mitch Canham bats second while junior left fielder Cole Gillespie hits fourth.  Canham was a medical redshirt in 2004 and then burst onto the scene last year by hitting .325 with eight homers.  The top returning power hitter on the club, Canham is having a terrific '06 campaign (.344 AVG, 5 HR).  Meanwhile, Gillespie leads the team with six round-trippers while also chipping in a .349 average and nine stolen bases.

Eight of the regulars are batting at .300 or above, so there aren't any breaks in this lineup.  And depth is certainly the name of the game for Oregon State baseball.  Head coach Pat Casey has used 15 different players as regular starters this year.  Meanwhile, the Beavers have one of the deepest pitching staffs in the conference with currently seven regulars boasting ERA's below four.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Chris Kunda, 2B  (Sr., .344, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB)
2. Mitch Canham, C  (So., .344, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 5 SB)
3. Darwin Barney, SS  (So., .360, 0 HR, 17 RBI, 10 SB)
4. Cole Gillespie, LF  (Jr., .349, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 9 SB)
5. Shea McFeely, 3B  (Sr., .318, 1 HR, 26 RBI, 4 SB)
6. Bill Rowe, 1B  (Sr., .330, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 1 SB)
7. Tyler Graham, CF  (Jr., .276, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 2 SB)
8. John Wallace, RF  (Fr., .346, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 3 SB)
9. Mike Lissman, DH  (Jr., .311, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB)

Thu- Dallas Buck, RHP  (Jr., 6-0, 3.99 ERA, 49.2 IP, 27 BB, 40 SO)
Fri- Jonah Nickerson, RHP  (Jr., 5-3, 2.47 ERA, 51.0 IP, 13 BB, 46 SO)
Sat- Anton Maxwell, LHP  (Jr., 3-3, 5.52 ERA, 31.0 IP, 17 BB, 19 SO)

Notes: Barney stands just 5'10" and weighs 175 lbs., but is quickly becoming one of the top prospects for the 2007 draft ... He has though committed 14 errors this year from his shortstop position ... Gillespie didn't hit a single home run all of last season despite being a regular starter ... McFeely is one of the most experienced players in the conference having started 140 games over the last 2 1/2 years ... Rowe spent the last three seasons playing for UC Santa Barbara earning letters in each year.



STANFORD NOTES
The Cardinal are in dire need of a series win having not accomplished the feat since taking two-of-three at Fresno State back in late-February.  Stanford currently checks in at just 2-4 in the Pac-10 after losing a pair of home series' to Washington State and USC.  The Cardinal have had difficulty getting games in of late with all of the wet weather in the Bay Area.  However, when they've played, Stanford has been able to cash in.  Last Saturday, the Cardinal smoked host San Jose State 13-3 before a narrow 2-1 victory over Pacific on Monday night at Sunken Diamond.

The pitching staff has been especially effective of late as their combined ERA has dropped all the way down to 4.11.  Coach Marquess seems to have settled on a main group of six hurlers to carry the load.  Greg Reynolds (2-2, 3.81), David Stringer (2-2, 3.41), and Matt Manship (1-3, 4.39) should again garner the starting nods this weekend.  Reynolds fired six dominant innings with just one earned run allowed on three hits with six K's at San Jose State last weekend.  Meanwhile, Stringer (3 2/3 IP, 0 H, 4 SO) and Manship (4 1/3 IP, 6 H, 7 SO) combined on eight innings with no earned runs allowed versus the Tigers earlier this week.  No official announcement has been made as of late Tuesday night on the rotation, but in all likelihood, it should be the trio of Reynolds, Stringer, and Manship in that order.

Out of the bullpen, Jeremy Bleich continues to lead the way with his impressive 2.25 ERA and eye-opening seven saves.  The freshman lefty has appeared in a whopping 15 of Stanford's first 26 games.  Meanwhile, sophomore right-handers Nolan Gallagher (2-2, 1.59 ERA) and Erik Davis (0-1, 2.25 ERA, 1 SV) have also put up stellar numbers during the first half and have emerged as the go-to righties out of the bullpen for Marquess.

Veterans Matt Leva (1-0, 5.40 ERA) and Blake Holler (1-0, 8.71 ERA) along with freshmen Austin Yount (2-0, 2.08 ERA), Max Fearnow (1-0, 5.79 ERA), and Sean Ratliff (1-0, 8.44 ERA) should have the opportunity to see much more action in the coming weeks with all of the scheduled games on the docket. 

On the hitting side, it's been the Chris Minaker Show all season long.  The senior shortstop has stepped up his game and is leading an offense that has largely been inconsistent all year.  Minaker is currently batting .345 with team-best totals of five home runs, 32 RBI, and four stolen bases.  Stanford did enjoy a fabulous offensive output last Saturday at San Jose State posting season-high totals of runs (13-tied), hits (18), doubles (7), and home runs (2-tied).

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Joey August, LF  (Fr., .288, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB)
2. John Hester, C  (Sr., .253, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB)
3. Chris Minaker, SS  (Sr., .345, 5 HR, 32 RBI, 4 SB)
4. Michael Taylor, RF  (So., .315, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB)
5. Randy Molina, DH  (So., .395, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB)
6. Jason Castro, 1B  (Fr., .246, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 SB)
7. Chris Lewis, 3B  (Sr., .244, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB)
8. Jim Rapoport, CF  (Jr., .256, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 2 SB)
9. Cord Phelps, 2B  (Fr., .232, 0 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB)

Thu- Greg Reynolds, RHP  (Jr., 2-2, 3.81 ERA, 56.2 IP, 14 BB, 45 SO)
Fri- David Stringer, RHP  (So., 2-2, 3.41 ERA, 29.0 IP, 4 BB, 33 SO)
Sat- Matt Manship, RHP  (Sr., 1-3, 4.39 ERA, 41.0 IP, 10 BB, 30 SO)

Notes: Hester pounded out four hits (two doubles, two RBI) in five at-bats at San Jose State last Saturday ... it was the first game this season that the senior catcher hit second in the order ... Minaker drove home the winning run on Monday with a single in the bottom of the ninth inning ... Lewis has hit safely in five consecutive games (.450 AVG, 4 RBI) ... Phelps does not have an extra base hit in 56 at-bats this season ... Manship owns a 2.16 ERA (4 ER/16.2 IP) in three starts since getting pounded at USC a month ago.



ODDS AND ENDS
* Stanford has actually had plenty of success against Buck during his career.  As a freshman in 2004, he was torched for seven earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings in a start.  Then last year, the Cardinal plated seven runs (three earned) on 11 hits over seven innings against Buck.  Chris Lewis delivered a grand slam late in the game.

* Stanford's scheduled game on Tuesday this week versus San Francisco was postponed due to rain.  The Cardinal and Dons have rescheduled the contest for this Monday, April 17th at 5:00 P.M.  Stanford will then host Sacramento State the following evening.

* Oregon State has played just four non-conference games against ranked opponents.  They defeated Arizona State in a single game at a tournament before dropping two-of-three at Peppedine (now no longer ranked).

* Casey has done an excellent job of building this program using in-state talent.  26 players on the current roster are from Oregon.  Only three hail from California.

* The Beavers are a very solid defensive team as they boast a .971 fielding percentage.

* Oregon State is led in the bullpen by closer Kevin Gunderson.  A member of Team USA last summer, Gunderson has notched seven saves this year to go with a spectacular 1.69 ERA (4 ER/21.1 IP).  He is left-handed.  Meanwhile, sophomore righty Mike Stutes gives the Beavers another option for the starting rotation.  A transfer from Santa Clara, the Oregon native has made five starts already this season while his overall ERA currently sits at 3.69.  In 31 2/3 innings, Stutes has struck out 38.

* The Beavers are 12-1 at home this year.  They're averaging 8.2 runs per game at Goss Field.

* Rain is expected to roll into the Corvallis area late Thursday evening and last through the remainder of the weekend.



PAC-10 UPDATE

                   Conf.  GB   Overall
USC                7-2    -    21-14
Arizona State      4-2   1.5   25-10
Oregon State       3-3   2.5   22-9
UCLA               3-3   2.5   18-14
Washington State   4-5   3.0   22-12
Washington         4-5   3.0   22-13
California         4-5   3.0   16-16
Stanford           2-4   3.5   15-11
Arizona            2-4   3.5   14-16

This Week's Results:
Monday -
at Stanford 2, Pacific 1

Tuesday -
Oregon State 14, at Portland 9
at USC 17, UC Riverside 9


This Weekend's Schedule:
* Stanford at Oregon State
* UCLA at Arizona
* USC at Arizona State
* California at Washington State
BYU at Washington

* - Pac-10 series
All series' this weekend are scheduled for Thursday-Saturday

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