Baseball Preview: Cal

Two rivals get together at Sunken Diamond this weekend for a three-game, Pac-10 series. The Cardinal currently sit in last place, but are coming off an impressive series victory over nationally ranked ASU. Meanwhile, the Golden Bears have won four in a row including a victory over Stanford earlier this week. Here is a preview of the Cardinal's final home Pac-10 series of the year.

It's the final home Pac-10 weekend of the season for the Stanford Cardinal as California comes to town beginning Friday night.  Two clubs expected to reach the NCAA Tournament heading into the year now both find themselves clinging to postseason aspirations.  The Golden Bears are suddenly hot as they bring a four-game winning streak into this weekend.  After taking the final two games of their series versus UCLA, California edged Stanford in a non-conference battle on Monday before a narrow win over Saint Mary's on Tuesday.  The Bears are now 23-22 overall with an 8-10 mark in Pac-10 play.

Meanwhile, Stanford had one of their best series' of the year last weekend when they took two-of-three from the then-#16 Arizona State Sun Devils.  Both Cardinal victories were one-sided (7-1 and 11-4) and although Stanford dropped the non-conference game to Cal earlier this week, they did manage to bounce back with a 6-2 win over San Jose State on Tuesday evening.  The Cardinal check in at 20-20 overall with a 5-10 record in conference action.

The team that drops this series will essentially have no chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament.  California has just five games remaining (including a road series at ASU) after this weekend and would fall further below the .500 mark in conference play with almost no time to make it up.  Their current RPI rating of 82 also isn't strong enough to earn an at-large bid, so series wins over Stanford and at Arizona State (May 26-28) would probably be required for serious contention on Selection Day.

Stanford has more games to play with and a much higher RPI rating, but a bigger hill to climb in the Pac-10 race.  A series loss would cripple hopes of a postseason berth as despite last weekend's success, the Cardinal still find themselves in last place in the conference.  The positives are that Stanford currently boasts the #44 RPI rating (ahead of teams such as USC, Washington, and Arizona) while they find themselves just three games out of third place (with nine to play).  The Cardinal though desperately need to keep their positive momentum going so they can give themselves a chance when they head out on the road for consecutive series' versus Washington and UCLA to close the Pac-10 campaign.

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This year, California has posted conference series wins over UCLA (two-of-three, at home), Washington (two-of-three, at home), Arizona (two-of-three, at home), and Washington State (two-of-three, on the road).  However, the reason the Bears find themselves under the .500 mark is sweeps at the hands of USC (road) and Oregon State (home). 

Cal checks in with the lowest batting average of any club in the conference (.264) while they score a league-worst 4.8 runs per contest.  Brennan Boesch and Chris Errecart, a pair of outfielders who were gaining mention as possible first round draft picks at the start of the year, are both hitting under the .300 mark.  That said, they've combined for 17 home runs and each played key roles in Cal's 4-3 win over the Cardinal on Monday.  The averages may not be what was expected at the start of the year, but don't be fooled, the Bears can feature one of the most potent 1-2 hitting combos on the west coast.

Only two regulars are currently hitting above .300 in senior shortstop Allen Craig (.357, 9 HR, 30 RBI) and senior right fielder Rob Nesbitt (.326, 2 HR, 7 RBI).  Craig is a four-year starter and is headed toward an All-Conference season from the #2 spot in this lineup.  Meanwhile, Nesbitt has come on strong of late and appears to have found a home in the leadoff position.  If the Cardinal pitching staff can keep these two off the bases, then they'll significantly limit the damage that could be done off the bats of Errecart and Boesch.  Most other Cal hitters are batting in the .230-to-.250 range.

Where the Bears thrive is on the mound as Cal's 3.75 ERA is second best in the conference behind just Oregon State.  Friday starter Brandon Morrow is one of the finest pitchers in the country and headed toward a high first round draft selection next month.  Always high on potential, Morrow finally put things together last summer for a standout campaign in the Cape Cod League.  He's carried that success over to this season having posted a stellar 1.59 ERA in his first 12 starts.  That figure is the lowest for any hurler in the conference - even ahead of Washington's Tim Lincecum (1.72), one of the leading candidates for National Player of the Year. 

Morrow has posted a 7-2 record while also holding the opposition to a .200 batting average against.  He's racked up 85 strikeouts in just 85 innings to go with 36 walks.  The junior right-hander regularly sits in the mid 90's with his fastball and should present a major problem to the Cardinal offense Friday evening. 

Freshman righty Tyson Ross will get the ball on Saturday.  Ross has put forth a very solid rookie campaign having posted a 3.78 ERA and a 4-4 record as a member of the starting rotation all year.  Stanford didn't see Ross in March as he was scheduled to start in the Sunday contest that was rained out.  Saturday's affair at Sunken Diamond should be the first of many Ross-vs.-Stanford matchups in the coming years.  Ross allowed just two hits and one earned run over five innings versus UCLA (5 BB, 7 SO) last weekend.

The Bears feature a deep bullpen with many guys playing key roles.  The Sunday starting spot is up in the air as Michael Cooper (1-3, 5.70 ERA) has struggled of late in the rotation.  The Cardinal also knocked Cooper around for five runs on seven hits in just 1 1/3 innings last March.  California has not yet officially announced a starting pitcher for the series finale.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Rob Nesbitt, RF  (Sr., .326, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1 SB)
2. Allen Craig, SS  (Sr., .357, 9 HR, 30 RBI, 6 SB)
3. Chris Errecart, LF  (Jr., .275, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 3 SB)
4. Brennan Boesch, CF  (Jr., .288, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB)
5. Travis Howell, 3B  (So., .218, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB)  or  Josh Satin, 3B  (So., .223, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 6 SB)
6. Mike Van Winden, 1B  (So., .254, 0 HR, 19 RBI, 3 SB)
7. Garrett Bussiere, C  (Jr., .258, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 1 SB)
8. Jordan Karnofsky, DH  (So., .273, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB)
9. Kyle Spraker, 2B  (So., .196, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 0 SB)

Fri- Brandon Morrow, RHP  (Jr., 7-2, 1.59 ERA, 85.0 IP, 36 BB, 85 SO)
Sat- Tyson Ross, RHP  (Fr., 4-4, 3.78 ERA, 64.1 IP, 34 BB, 64 SO)
Sun- TBA

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The Cardinal snapped their five-series losing streak last weekend when they managed a pair of victories over the nationally ranked Sun Devils.  After splitting two non-conference games earlier this week, Stanford checks in with an even .500 overall record (20-20).  The Cardinal are in danger of not reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1993 season.

What Coach Marquess is going to do with the starting rotation this weekend is still very much up in the air.  Reigning Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week Greg Reynolds, of course, gets the ball on Friday night.  Reynolds (4-3, 3.66 ERA) fired a complete-game three-hitter with just one run allowed against a potent ASU club last weekend.  The scouts will certainly be out in full-force on Friday to see Reynolds match-up with Morrow in a game featuring two expected very high draft picks next month.  The series opener, without a doubt, has a chance to be one of the finest pitched games of the season at Sunken Diamond.

Marquess has yet to officially tab starters for either Saturday or Sunday.  Frosh Jeremy Bleich (2-4, 3.79 ERA) is a good bet to start one of those games.  Bleich had a quick hook on him last Saturday as he was pulled after allowing three earned runs in two-plus innings versus the Sun Devils.  The brief outing gave Bleich a chance to get some work on Tuesday against San Jose State and the southpaw delivered with three solid innings of work (3 H, 1 R, 1 SO) in a starting role.

Junior Matt Leva (2-0, 3.60 ERA) returned to the weekend starting rotation last weekend after a pair of dominant Tuesday starts.  Leva allowed two earned runs over four innings versus Arizona State and could be in line for another start this weekend.  Meanwhile, Nolan Gallagher (2-3, 3.27 ERA) started on Monday in Berkeley and fired six spectacular innings with just one run and four hits surrendered.  It was Gallagher's first start of the year.  Finally, senior Matt Manship (2-5, 5.13 ERA) has had an inconsistent year in the starting rotation and was moved to the bullpen for the ASU series.  The veteran responded nicely to the change with five quality innings of work (7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 SO) to record the win on Sunday.  Whether that means Manship has found a home in the bullpen or will be given another shot as a starter remains to be seen.

The Cardinal's 4.48 team ERA is fifth-best in the Pac-10.

Offensively, Stanford (.268 AVG, 5.1 runs/game) no longer possesses the worst offense in the conference after last weekend's impressive performance against the Sun Devils.  Chris Minaker is red-hot as he brings a ten-game hitting streak into this series with the Bears.  Headed toward an All-Conference season, Minaker paces the club in batting average (.353), doubles (13), home runs (6), RBI (46), and stolen bases (5).  He's also struck out just eight times in 180 plate appearances.

The Cardinal though will be facing a tougher pitching staff this weekend compared to last as the Bears send out some of the better hurlers in the conference.  Experienced players such as Michael Taylor, John Hester, and Chris Lewis need to produce for Stanford to have a chance in this series.  Role players such as Ryan Seawell (.337, 1 HR, 7 RBI) and Randy Molina (.329, 0 HR, 4 RBI) have been pleasant surprises this year and appeared to have solidified spots in the starting lineup.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Joey August, DH  (Fr., .267, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 SB)
2. Jim Rapoport, LF  (Jr., .246, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 2 SB)
3. Chris Minaker, SS  (Sr., .353, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 5 SB)
4. Michael Taylor, RF  (So., .294, 1 HR, 25 RBI, 1 SB)
5. Randy Molina, 3B  (So., .329, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB)
6. Jason Castro, 1B  (Fr., .242, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 3 SB)
7. John Hester, C  (Sr., .266, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 3 SB)
8. Chris Lewis, 2B  (Sr., .259, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB)
9. Ryan Seawell, CF  (Jr., .337, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB)

Fri- Greg Reynolds, RHP  (Jr., 4-3, 3.66 ERA, 78.2 IP, 21 BB, 67 SO)
Sat- TBA
Sun- TBA


ODDS AND ENDS
* Saturday's middle game is scheduled for a 4:00 P.M. first pitch.  The change from the original 1:00 P.M. start was due to television as the game will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports Net (FSN Bay Area locally).

* After this weekend, The Cardinal have just two home games remaining: Tue. 5/16 (Santa Clara) and Fri. 5/26 (UC Davis).

* California currently leads the season-series by a 2-1 margin with all three games decided by one run (7-6 Cal, 6-5 Stanford, 4-3 Cal).

* Boesch is tied for third in the Pac-10 with ten home runs.  He's one of four players in the conference to have reached double figures in homers.

* The Bears have struggled mightily on the road having posted a 5-12 record away from Berkeley this season.  They are 18-10 at Evans Diamond.

* In addition to leading the league in ERA, Morrow is third in strikeouts (85).  He won't catch Lincecum though as the UW ace has notched a mind-boggling 152 punchouts in just 94 innings this year.

* Stanford's 25 runs scored against Arizona State last weekend was the most they've pushed across in a weekend series this year.

* California has not won a three-game series at Sunken Diamond since the Pac-10 merger in 1999.  Prior to that year, the Cardinal and Bears would play home-and-home three-game sets.


PAC-10 STANDINGS

                      Conf.   GB   Overall
Oregon State           9-3    -    32-10
USC                   10-8   2.0   24-22
Arizona State          8-7   2.5   30-16
Washington             8-7   2.5   30-17
UCLA                   8-7   2.5   25-19
Washington State       7-8   3.5   29-16
California             8-10  4.0   23-22
Arizona                6-9   4.5   20-23
Stanford               5-10  5.5   20-20

This Weekend:
* California at Stanford
* Washington at Oregon State
UNLV at Arizona
Utah Valley State at Washington State (Saturday-Monday)
Arizona State off
UCLA off
USC off

* - Pac-10 series


Monday's Result:
at California 4, Stanford 3 (non-conf)

Tuesday's Results:
at Stanford 6, San Jose State 2
at Arizona State 22, Arizona 8 (non-conf)
California 7, at Saint Mary's 6
UCLA 9, at UC Riverside 4
Lewis-Clark State 9, at Washington 7

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