Baseball Preview: Washington

The home stretch of the 2006 season is here. The Cardinal, fresh off a pair of non-conference victories, try to continue their strong play this weekend in Seattle. Stanford has won two Pac-10 series' in a row, but have struggled on the road for the majority of the year. They'll take on the Washington Huskies - a club with some of the top power hitters in the conference and possibly the National Player of the Year headlining their pitching staff.

The Washington Huskies are in a similar boat to the Stanford Cardinal - a strong finish is needed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.  Where the teams differ is that the Huskies play their final Pac-10 series' at their own ballpark while the Cardinal have to head out on the road.  Washington also sits two games up on Stanford in the Pac-10 race, but the Cardinal have an RPI rating nearly 15 points higher.

The Huskies (32-20, 9-9 Pac-10) feature the most physical offensive club in the conference plus a starting pitcher that may be taking home all the National Player of the Year honors next month. 

Washington has often struggled on the mound this year as their team ERA currently resides at 4.96 - just seventh best in the conference.  On Friday nights, however, there may not be a tougher team to beat in the country thanks to the incredible work of hard-thrower Tim Lincecum.  The rubber-armed right-hander stands just 6'0" tall and weighs 165 lbs., but you won't find a more dominant pitcher in the conference and probably the entire country.  Lincecum is a sure-bet for First Team All-American honors, is a leading candidate for National Player of the Year, and could become the first player chosen in next month's draft.

The numbers are absolutely mind-boggling.  His 11 wins lead the country while he's also chalked up the most strikeouts of any hurler in the Pac-10 (169).  Lincecum's strikeout per nine inning total (14.9) is also best in the collegiate ranks while the opposition is hitting a paltry .154 against him.   He combined on a no-hitter back in March against Santa Clara and six times this year has been named National Pitcher of the Week. 

But it doesn't stop there.  Lincecum set the Pac-10 career record for strikeouts (461) last weekend in a masterful winning performance against Pac-10-leading Oregon State.  He had a streak earlier this season in which he went 37 1/3 innings without allowing a single run.  His best performance of the year came against UCLA back on March 31st when he fired a complete-game, two-hit shutout with a whopping 18 strikeouts.  In fact, over his last 65 innings, Lincecum has allowed just 26 hits and six earned runs for an eye-catching 0.83 ERA.  Greg Reynolds has been dominant in his last two trips to the mound throwing complete games in each appearance.  But the Cardinal ace will likely have to take it to an entirely new level this weekend if the Cardinal are going to steal a game from Lincecum and the Huskies.

Once you get past Lincecum though, there should be a chance for Stanford to have some success at the plate.  Husky Ballpark is generally more favorable to the hitter and Washington's team ERA balloons up to 5.82 when Lincecum is out of the equation.

Junior right-hander Kyle Parker (3-1, 5.81 ERA) gets the ball on Saturday afternoon.  Parker is one of the most experienced hurlers in the conference having pitched in this starting rotation each of the last three years (36 GS, 15-11 career record).  However, Parker has suffered through an inconsistent year and often will have difficulty finding the plate.  In 57 1/3 innings, he's walked a whopping 41 batters compared to 41 strikeouts.

Sophomore Elliott Cribby starts on Sunday and the converted closer is having a strong year.  Cribby has racked up nine saves this season, but the lack of quality starting pitching past Lincecum forced UW head coach Ken Knutson to move his ace reliever to the rotation a few weeks ago.  Cribby has a solid 2.90 ERA, but is still new to starting at this level.  And his absence from the relief corps leaves a big hole in the Washington bullpen (to the point where Lincecum sometimes comes in to a face few batters in relief later in the series).  The Cardinal should never be out of a game this weekend and will need a relentless offensive attack considering the Huskies' tremendous team power on the other side.

On the year, Washington has blasted a remarkable 75 home runs in their first 52 games.  That, by far-and-away, leads the Pac-10 with the next closest figure at just 42 (California).  The two leading home run hitters in this conference reside in the UW lineup with Zach Clem (20 HR) and Matt Stevens (16 HR) doing most of the damage.  The 36 home runs from those two players easily surpasses the 24 that Stanford has hit all-together as a team this year.

Washington really has an all-or-nothing offensive club.  But with their power and if the wind is blowing out at Husky Ballpark, the Huskies can become one of the better hitting groups on the west coast.  Washington bats at .284 as a team - just sixth best in the conference.  Their 6.8 runs per game ranks right in the middle of the Pac-10.  They thrive off of their home runs with many more power threats even past Clem and Stevens.  The Huskies strike out a ton and almost never lay down a sacrifice bunt, so it's the definition of a team that waits for the three-run homer to enjoy success.  And Washington has played very well in the Pac-10 this year having already notched series wins over the likes of Arizona (home), USC (road), and UCLA (home).  Of course, it always helps to start basically every series up one game as few clubs have figured out Lincecum in 2006.

#2 hitter Matt Hague is tops on this club in batting with his .389 average.  A Freshman All-American in 2005, Hague is second in the conference (behind WSU's Jared Prince - .436) for the top batting average.  He does an excellent job setting the table for Clem (.302 AVG) and Curt Rindal (.352, 9 HR, 43 RBI) who bat third and fourth in the order respectively.  Clem is the top power threat in the conference while Rindal is an excellent pure hitter having hit safely in 21 straight games earlier this season.  The averages fall off after Rindal, so there's a chance for the Cardinal pitching staff to have plenty of success.  But beware of the power - #5 hitter Matt Lane has blasted eight round-tripper while Stevens bats right behind him. 

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Jake Rife, CF  (Fr., .239, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB)
2. Matt Hague, DH  (So., .389, 5 HR, 42 RBI, 7 SB)
3. Zach Clem, LF  (Sr., .302, 20 HR, 51 RBI, 3 SB)
4. Curt Rindal, 1B  (Jr., .352, 9 HR, 43 RBI, 3 SB)
5. Matt Lane, C  (Jr., .273, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 0 SB)
6. Matt Stevens, 3B  (So., .259, 16 HR, 44 RBI, 5 SB)
7. Danny Cox, SS  (Fr., .260, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 6 SB)
8. Ryan Anderson, 2B  (So., .273, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 7 SB)
9. Cory Rickard, RF  (Sr., 9-for-28, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB)

Fri- Tim Lincecum, RHP  (Jr., 11-2, 1.93 ERA, 102.1 IP, 54 BB, 169 SO)
Sat- Kyle Parker, RHP  (Jr., 3-1, 5.81 ERA, 57.1 IP, 41 BB, 41 SO)
Sun- Elliott Cribby, RHP  (So., 6-5, 2.90 ERA, 59.0 IP, 25 BB, 36 SO)

Notes: Hague has a career .401 batting average after a fantastic freshman campaign in '05 ... His .419 average a year ago was just shy of qualifying for the league leaders as he started the season as a relief pitcher ... Clem's slugging percentage currently sits at a lofty .682 ... His 41 career home runs is one behind the Washington school record (Ed Erickson - 42) ... Stevens has the outstanding home run total, but he's also struck out an amazing 69 times in 50 games played (2.5 AB/K) ... Andy Lentz (.286, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 2 SB) returned to the UW lineup on Tuesday at DH after missing the past seven weeks with a groin injury.

The Cardinal have dropped their last three road series' (USC, Oregon State, and Arizona) and are in dire need of a couple victories this weekend to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.  Stanford has already notched a pair of non-conference victories this week over the likes of Santa Clara and Sacramento State to improve their overall record to 24-21.  They've also won their last two Pac-10 series' having taken two-of-three from Arizona State and California the past two weekends at Sunken Diamond.  The recent hot stretch has given the Cardinal a chance at the postseason, but now they must win on the road - something they've had plenty of difficulties with this year - to seal the deal.

The matchup on Friday night should be a great one when Lincecum locks up with Reynolds under the lights at Husky Ballpark.  Reynolds has been the driving force behind the last two series wins with back-to-back complete game victories over the Sun Devils and Golden Bears.  The towering right-hander continues to move up the draft charts as well meaning Friday's opener could be a matchup between a pair of high first round picks.  For the year, Reynolds has a 5-3 record to go with a 3.49 ERA and a stellar .244 opponents batting average.

Last weekend, the Cardinal went with Matt Leva (2-1, 3.63 ERA) on Saturday and the junior right-hander pitched relatively well.  In 4 2/3 innings, he allowed just two earned runs and four hits to go with a pair of strike outs.  Leva probably gets another chance to start in one of the two remaining games this weekend.  Meanwhile, Matt Manship (2-5, 5.24 ERA) had a rocky Sunday start against Cal when he was tagged for eight hits and three runs in just four-plus innings of work.  It'll be interesting to see if Manship returns to the bullpen (where he threw very well against ASU two weeks ago) or stays in the rotation.  If he's needed in relief early in the series, then possibly freshman Jeremy Bleich (3-4, 3.60 ERA, 7 SV) gets another chance to start.  The southpaw fired 4 1/3 quality innings in relief of Manship last Sunday allowing just one run and two hits.

The Cardinal pitching staff has clearly been the key to their success in this recent stretch of games.  Stanford has won seven out of their last ten with the staff compiling a 3.22 ERA.

Offensively, Stanford still ranks eighth in the conference in both batting average (.266) and runs per game (5.0) and have been relying on the timely hit to complement their stellar pitching and improved defense.  Chris Minaker appears headed toward All-Conference honors as he currently boasts a .349 average, eight home runs, and 48 RBI.  The senior shortstop continues to lead the Cardinal in most offensive categories.  Stanford is still expected to be without senior catcher John Hester (.266, 1 HR, 15 RBI) who is recovering from an infection in his knee.  That means sophomore Brian Juhl (8-for-30, 1 HR, 2 RBI) remains behind the dish while freshmen Jason Castro (.239, 1 HR, 10 RBI) and Brent Milleville (.205, 2 HR, 12 RBI) also should stay in the lineup on a regular basis. 


                     Conf.   GB   Overall
Oregon State         11-4    -    34-11
USC                  10-8   2.5   24-23
Arizona State         8-7   3.0   30-16
UCLA                  8-7   3.0   25-20
Washington            9-9   3.5   32-20
Washington State      7-8   4.0   31-17
California            9-12  5.0   25-25
Arizona               6-9   5.0   21-25
Stanford              7-11  5.5   24-21

This Weekend:
* Stanford at Washington
* Washington State at Arizona  (Saturday-Monday)
* Oregon State at Arizona State
California off

* - Pac-10 series

This Week's Results:
- Monday -
at Washington 8, Portland 1
at Washington State 6, Utah Valley State 5

- Tuesday -
Stanford 8, at Santa Clara 4 (15 innings)
San Francisco 9, at California 5
at UC Santa Barbara 4, UCLA 3
Portland 7, at Washington 6

- Wednesday -
Stanford 5, at Sacramento State 4
at California 6, Santa Clara 0
at CS Fullerton 7, USC 6

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