Baseball Weekend Roundup

The Stanford Cardinal are hot. After a convincing road sweep of Washington last weekend, Stanford has won six games in a row and eight of their last nine. In this week's Roundup, we examine what it will take in their remaining games for the Cardinal to reach the postseason. Plus, check out all of the latest from around the Pac-10 Conference.

Pac-10 Standings (records through games of Mon. 5/15)

                     Conf.   GB   Overall
Oregon State         12-6    -    35-13
Arizona State        10-8   2.0   32-17
UCLA                 10-8   2.0   27-21
USC                  11-10  2.5   25-25
Washington State      9-9   3.0   33-18
Stanford             10-11  3.5   27-21
Washington            9-12  4.5   32-23
California            9-12  4.5   25-25
Arizona               7-11  5.0   22-26

* Arizona: The Wildcats had a banner start to the weekend when they blasted visiting Washington State 29-4 on Saturday.  It was an amazing display of offense for a team that has often struggled to score runs this year.  However, Arizona was unable to build on their early success as they fell by the scores of 9-3 and 6-5 in the final two games of the series that ended on Monday afternoon.  The series loss drops the Wildcats into sole possession of last place with another home matchup - this time versus Arizona State - on the docket for this weekend.

* Arizona State: The Sun Devils took a giant step last weekend toward hosting a regional when they took two-of-three games from visiting Oregon State.  ASU rallied with a pair of huge innings late Friday and Saturday to post 10-3 and 6-3 victories respectively.  Sunday saw the Devils drop a 9-8 heartbreaker as the Beavers mustered an unearned run in the top of the ninth inning.  Still, it was an excellent weekend for the home team as ASU moved up to #13 in the current Baseball America poll while they still hold onto the top RPI ranking (#25) of any Pac-10 club.  It's an uphill climb to catch Oregon State in the conference race (two games out with six to play), but the Devils have at least put themselves into a position where they could garner a #1 seed next month - or possibly host as a #2.  ASU tries to continue their strong play this weekend when they travel south to take on rival Arizona.

* California: The Golden Bears split a pair of midweek games falling 9-5 to red-hot San Francisco before notching a 6-0 shutout of Santa Clara.  Both contests were played in Berkeley.  Cal still sits at .500 overall and again will be out of action this weekend.  The Bears have four games remaining with a midweek contest at Pacific (5/23) and a road series in Tempe versus Arizona State on the schedule.  A sweep of that final week will be needed to even gain consideration for an at-large bid.  It's probably still too late though as Cal's RPI currently sits at a less-than-impressive 84.

* Oregon State: The Beavers lost a pair of late leads at Arizona State before an impressive one-run, come-from-behind victory in the finale.  Oregon State controls their own destiny for claiming their second straight Pac-10 title and has an excellent chance to earn a #1 seed in next month's NCAA Tournament.  This weekend, the Beavers head north to battle with Washington State in Pullman.  OSU closes their regular season with a home series against UCLA over Memorial Day weekend.

* UCLA: The Bruins put themselves in a great position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with an impressive series victory over rival USC last weekend.  After suffering a loss on Friday night, UCLA came back with a pair of convincing wins - 8-3 and 12-1 - to claim the series.  Their RPI rating remains very solid at 29.  A series win against Stanford this weekend would assure an NCAA invite and possibly set the stage for a showdown at Oregon State in two weeks for a shot at the Pac-10 title.

* USC: The slumping Trojans had a difficult 1-3 week against top notch competition on the road.  After a narrow 7-6 Wednesday loss at Cal State Fullerton, USC managed just one victory in three attempts over in Westwood capped off by the 12-1 humiliation in the finale.  The Trojans have a respectable RPI rating of 43, but an overall record over .500 is needed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament - something USC no longer owns.  The schedule doesn't get much easier as they travel to #20 Pepperdine on Tuesday before a tough road series at Wichita State over the weekend.  The Trojans wrap-up their Pac-10 slate with a home series versus Arizona in two weeks.

* Washington: The Huskies' NCAA Tournament hopes took a severe blow last weekend when they were swept at home by Stanford.  Not only that, but the host team was barely competitive dropping the three contests by a margin of 29-8.  Combined with the series loss at Oregon State two weeks ago, that's a 1-5 record in their last six conference games.  Washington takes a break from Pac-10 play this weekend with a road series at Pacific.  Then a sweep will probably be required of visiting Washington State over Memorial Day weekend to have a shot at the postseason.

* Washington State: The Cougars continue to play some pretty good ball as they managed a two-of-three series win at Arizona in a matchup that ended on Monday.  Despite the 25-run loss in the opener, WSU managed to take the final two games to bring their conference record up to .500.  They have a stern test this weekend though when the Oregon State Beavers come to town.

This Weekend
* Stanford at UCLA
* Arizona State at Arizona
* Oregon State at Washington State
USC at Wichita State
Washington at Pacific
California off

* - Pac-10 series

Baseball America Rankings
- Pac-10 -
6. Oregon State (35-13)
13. Arizona State (32-17)

- West Coast -
2. CS Fullerton (36-12)
6. Oregon State (35-13)
13. Arizona State (32-17)
20. Pepperdine (36-18)

- Top Ten -
1. Rice (42-10)
2. CS Fullerton (36-12)
3. Texas (38-15)
4. Clemson (39-13)
5. North Carolina (41-11)
6. Oregon State (35-13)
7. Kentucky (40-11)
8. Nebraska (37-12)
9. Virginia (41-11)
10. Alabama (36-17)

Pac-10 RPI Update
(rankings from Boydsworld through Sunday, May 14th)
25. Arizona State
29. UCLA
35. Oregon State
36. Stanford
43. USC
69. Washington
84. California
88. Arizona
125. Washington State

Stanford Update
It's been quite the turnaround for the Cardinal over the last three weeks as they've put themselves into serious contention to reach the NCAA Tournament.  Last weekend's convincing sweep of Washington gave Stanford their third straight Pac-10 series win while their conference record has moved to within one game of .500.  A remarkable feat considering the Cardinal sat at the bottom of the Pac-10 with a 3-9 mark at the halfway point just three weeks ago.

If the season were to end today, the Cardinal would very likely be in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their strong finish.  Of course, the season does not end today, so the focus becomes how many wins are necessary in the final seven games to qualify for the postseason.  While there's no magic number (outside of at least an above .500 overall record), that won't stop The Bootleg from speculating on what it will take.

First and foremost, Stanford absolutely cannot be swept at UCLA this weekend.  While the Cardinal should be "in" right now, it's hardly a solid grip on an NCAA berth.  Losing three straight in Westwood would knock Stanford down to 10-14 in conference play plus the stigma of getting swept in their final Pac-10 series (not exactly finishing strong which is something the selection committee values heavily).

Even with just one win at UCLA, there should be plenty of hope for an NCAA appearance.  While just one victory keeps the Cardinal under .500 in conference action (11-13), it would still be an overall strong finish to the season considering how the first half of the Pac-10 slate went.  Plus, because of UCLA's strong RPI, not much of a loss would be suffered in terms of Stanford's power rating.  If just one win is accomplished down in Los Angeles, then the Cardinal will have to pick some of the slack in these four remaining non-conference games (vs. Santa Clara, at Pacific, vs/at UC Davis).  While it's impossible to know exactly how many of those four games would be needed to reach the postseason in this scenario, the smart money is that at least three victories would still garner strong NCAA consideration.  Specifically, not losing to UC Davis will be key.  The Aggies currently possess a terrible RPI rating of 191 and even just playing them could result in a lower ranking for Stanford.  And if the Cardinal were to drop a game, a multi-point RPI loss in the days leading up to the announcement of the NCAA field would not be ideal.

The bottom line, Stanford will be feeling a lot better about themselves on Selection Day with a series win versus the Bruins.  This scenario gets the Cardinal up to an even 12-12 in Pac-10 play plus the feather in their cap of having won their last four conference series'.  Stanford's RPI rating has steadily increased over the last three weeks and a continued movement upward would be expected with a favorable weekend result at UCLA.  The only way the Cardinal would possibly not reach the postseason after a series victory in Los Angeles is if they completely tank their non-conference games.  Losing two straight to UC Davis, for example, would be a tremendous RPI blow and that kind of result in the same weekend as Selection Day would be frowned upon.  Because Stanford still has three non-conference tilts after the UCLA series, I'll stop short of calling the Cardinal "a lock" for the NCAA's with a two-of-three series win.  However, it would be awfully surprising if the committee doesn't take Stanford, even with non-conference struggles.  Four straight conference series victories to end the year (plus very impressive results against the likes of Fullerton, Texas, and Fresno State) should do the trick.

Last year, Stanford reached the postseason with a 32-23 overall record and a 12-12 conference mark.  Their RPI on Selection Day last May was 38 (according to Boyd's World), so the current ranking of 36 certainly looks good at this point in time.  A 5-2 record (including 2-1 at UCLA) in these final seven games would equal the 2005 regular season output.

On Deck
The Cardinal return to action on Tuesday evening with a single non-conference game versus the Santa Clara Broncos.  First pitch at Sunken Diamond is scheduled for 6:00 P.M.  Based on their first two meetings of the season, a close game is expected.  The Broncos won a 6-1, ten-inning affair on the Farm back on April 25th.  Then just last Tuesday, it was Stanford's turn to explode in the extra innings when the Cardinal plated four in the top of the 15th for an 8-4 win.

Santa Clara enters Tuesday's contest with a 28-25 overall record.  Even though the Broncos will be missing the NCAA Tournament, you have to figure they'll be very much up for this game as it's their last of the regular season.  Santa Clara also will have a chance to claim the series-season over the Cardinal for the second consecutive year.

The Broncos though have been struggling of late.  Despite a home series win over Portland (the last-place team in the WCC) last weekend, Santa Clara has lost six out of their last eight games.  In addition to dropping the extra-inning tilt with Stanford, they also fell in a non-conference game to California (6-0) last week.  Santa Clara's final WCC record of 9-12 has them tied for fifth in the eight-team league.

Stanford's crucial series with UCLA begins Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium (6:00 P.M.).

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