Baseball Weekend Roundup

Stanford finished the Pac-10 portion of their schedule last weekend with one victory in three games at UCLA. Included in this week's Roundup is a review of the series plus all of the latest from around the Pac-10. In addition, check out notes on Stanford's chances at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid plus what's happening in all of the major conferences around the country.

Pac-10 Standings (records through games of Sun. 5/21)

                    Conf.    GB   Overall
Oregon State        15-6     -    38-13
UCLA                12-9    3.0   30-22
Arizona State       11-10   4.0   33-19
USC                 11-10   4.0   25-29
Stanford            11-13   5.5   29-23
Washington State     9-12   6.0   34-21
Washington           9-12   6.0   34-24
California           9-12   6.0   25-25
Arizona              9-12   6.0   24-28

** NCAA Tournament Analysis **

In -
* Oregon State - The Beavers clinched at least a share of the Pac-10 championship with a convincing sweep of Washington State last weekend in Pullman.  Oregon State will almost assuredly host a regional as a #1 seed.  Their current RPI rating of 29 though makes it seem unlikely that they'll be named as one of the eight national seeds (and thus be able to host a super regional if they were to advance).  The Beavers need just one win over visiting UCLA this weekend to claim the outright conference title.

* UCLA - The Bruins are still in the hunt for the Pac-10 title after a two-of-three series win versus Stanford last weekend.  UCLA though will need a sweep of the Beavers in Corvallis to earn a share of the championship.  The Bruins have the looks of a solid #2 seed in next month's NCAA Tournament.

* Arizona State - The Sun Devils have now dropped three of their last four series' when they managed just one win at Arizona last weekend.  After an easy 15-6 victory in the opener, ASU fell by the scores of 18-12 and 5-4 to lose the three-game set.  Still, the Sun Devils' RPI is at a solid #31 and a hosting possibility remains.  The lack of possible host schools on the west coast this year means Arizona State has an excellent chance to playing in Tempe the first week of June (as a #2 seed).  The Sun Devils will look to make a run at a second place finish in the conference this weekend when they welcome California to town for three games.

On The Bubble -
* Stanford - The Cardinal have had an outstanding final month of the regular season thus far despite a series loss at UCLA last weekend.  More on their NCAA Tournament chances below.

* Washington - The Huskies split a rain-shortened two-game series at Pacific last weekend.  Losing three straight to Stanford two weeks ago is what very well could keep Washington out of the NCAA's as their RPI currently sits at a less-than-impressive 73.  The Huskies need two wins at home versus Washington State this weekend to garner any sort of postseason mention.  It could very well take a sweep of their rivals (which would get their final Pac-10 record to 12-12) though to actually have a good shot at an at-large bid.

Long Shot -
* California - The Golden Bears had last weekend off and will need to win all four of their games this week for a slim possibility at the NCAA Tournament.  Cal travels to Stockton for a Tuesday game with Pacific before a difficult series at Arizona State this weekend.  A sweep of the Sun Devils would get the Bears up to an even 12-12 which would be enough to also pass Stanford (and very possibly Washington).  Still, their overall record would sit at just 29-25 and a significant bump in their RPI (from their current mark of 86) would be required.  A miracle finish is needed for California, to say the least.

Out -
* USC - The Trojans, despite a solid 11-10 conference record, were officially eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention on Sunday after getting swept at Wichita State.  The May swoon for USC has dropped their overall record to 25-29 with just four games remaining (vs. CS Fullerton, vs. Arizona - 3) on their schedule.  The Trojans now have no chance of finishing with an above .500 overall record which is required to qualify for the NCAA's.  Plus, Sunday saw USC officially eliminated from the Pac-10 race as they trail Oregon State by four games for the automatic bid.

* Washington State - The Cougars had a difficult weekend versus the Beavers as they were swept by the combined score of 39-6.  It's been a great turnaround season for WSU, but even a sweep of host Washington this week (to get their final conference record to 12-12) won't be enough to make up for an RPI rating that's not even in the top 100 nationally.

* Arizona - As expected, it was a rebuilding year down in Tucson for the young Wildcats.  Losing their top two pitchers (Berger and Melancon) for most of the conference season also didn't help matters.  Still, Arizona managed a series win over their in-state rival ASU last weekend.  The Wildcats can get to 12-12 in conference play with a sweep of reeling USC this weekend, but that would still leave Arizona short of the .500 mark when it comes to their overall record.

This Weekend
* Arizona at USC
* California at Arizona State
* UCLA at Oregon State
* Washington State at Washington
UC Davis at/vs. Stanford  (Friday-Saturday)

Pac-10 RPI Update
(rankings from Boydsworld through Sunday, May 21st)
25. UCLA
29. Oregon State
31. Arizona State
40. Stanford
47. USC
73. Washington
78. Arizona
86. California
116. Washington State

Baseball America Rankings
-- Pac-10 --
5. Oregon State (38-13)
19. Arizona State (33-19)

-- West Coast --
2. CS Fullerton (39-13)
5. Oregon State (38-13)
19. Arizona State (33-19)
20. Pepperdine (38-18)
21. Fresno State (39-16)
23. San Francisco (37-19)
24. Hawaii (40-13)

-- Top Ten --
1. Rice (46-10)
2. CS Fullerton (39-13)
3. Clemson (43-13)
4. North Carolina (45-11)
5. Oregon State (38-13)
6. Texas (38-18)
7. Virginia (45-11)
8. Alabama (39-17)
9. Georgia (38-17)
10. Kentucky (42-13)

Stanford/UCLA Series Review
The Cardinal managed just one win in Los Angeles last weekend against the host Bruins.  After three consecutive complete games, Greg Reynolds was tagged for seven runs (six earned) on ten hits in six innings Friday night.  UCLA jumped out to an early 6-0 lead after three innings and cruised to an 8-1 victory.

Hector Ambriz was magnificent on the mound for the Bruins yielding just one run and seven hits over eight innings.  The junior right-hander struck out eight batters compared to no walks.  Stanford's lone chance at a big inning came in the top of the sixth when they scored a single run to cut the deficit down to 7-1.  But with runners on the corners and none out, Ambriz was able to bear down inducing Michael Taylor to pop out before back-to-back strikeouts of Randy Molina and Chris Lewis to keep the UCLA lead at six runs. 

Chris Minaker (3-for-4) and Grant Escue (2-for-4) recorded five of Stanford's seven hits.

Saturday was a completely different story for the Cardinal as Nolan Gallagher tossed a complete-game en route to a 6-2 Stanford victory.  Gallagher, who was making just his third start of the season, surrendered just one earned run on seven hits.  The sophomore right-hander walked only one and struck out seven during his 125-pitch effort on the mound.  Gallagher (4-3, 2.52 ERA, .241 opponents average) seems to have settled into the Saturday spot in the starting rotation after a dominant month of May giving the Cardinal a formidable 1-2 punch in their rotation (Reynolds: 6-4, 3.51 ERA, 102 2/3 IP, .255 opponents average).

Offensively, Stanford used the longball to account for four of their six runs.  Minaker got the scoring started with a two-run blast off of UCLA lefty Dave Huff in the top of the fourth.  It was Minaker's team-leading 11th round-tripper of the season.  Solo homers from Taylor (5th inning) and Lewis (8th inning) extended the Cardinal lead.  Stanford finished with 11 hits with Lewis (2-for-4, HR, RBI) and John Hester (2-for-4, SB) leading the way.

Sunday was certainly one of the toughest losses of the season as UCLA's Tim Stewart smacked a walkoff, solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning for an 8-7 Bruin victory.  Taylor connected for a solo homer in the top of the eighth inning for Stanford giving the Cardinal a 7-6 lead.  But Matt Manship, who excelled in relief over the sixth and seventh innings (no runs allowed), allowed a solo blast to Blair Dunlap to leadoff the bottom of the eighth which tied the game.  Then with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, Stewart took an 0-1 pitch from the senior and blasted it well over the fence in straightaway left field for the game-winning hit.

The Cardinal were unable to hold an early 5-0 lead as Stanford plated four runs in the top of the first inning before a single tally in the fourth.  Jeremy Bleich earned the start and dominated through four innings with just one hit allowed and three strikeouts.  But four hits (with just one out recorded) surrendered in the bottom of the fifth signaled the end of his outing.  Erik Davis entered the contest and promptly allowed a single and a Stewart three-run homer.  All of a sudden, the Bruins had turned a 5-0 deficit into a 6-5 lead.

Stanford's power-surge at the plate continued as Lewis and Taylor both homered for the second consecutive afternoon.  Lewis finished with three hits in four at-bats to raise his batting average to a season-high .290.  The senior second baseman is also second on the club with seven homers.  Meanwhile, Taylor has now clubbed three homers in his last five games after just one longball in the first 47 games of the season.  The rightfielder is second on the team with a .316 average and third in RBI (33).

Other multi-hit games on Sunday came from Ryan Seawell (2-for-4, SB), Jason Castro (2-for-4, 2B, RBI), and Escue (2-for-3).  Castro extended his hitting streak to ten games while Minaker has now hit safely in nine straight contests.  Stanford finished Sunday with 13 hits.

NCAA Tournament
Selection Day is just one week away so Stanford's chances at an NCAA Tournament bid are certainly on the minds of Cardinal fans right now.  Stanford will have to settle for a sub-.500 conference record as Sunday's heartbreaking defeat at Jackie Robinson Stadium ends the Pac-10 portion of their schedule with an 11-13 mark. 

Meanwhile, combined with the six earlier "non-conference" tilts versus Cal and USC back in late-February/early-March, the Cardinal will bring a 13-17 record in games versus Pac-10 teams into Selection Day.  The committee will look at both that record plus Stanford's finish relative to other teams in the conference race.  That second point could be very important this upcoming weekend as the Cardinal try to maintain their hold on fifth place.  All eight other Pac-10 teams are playing conference games this weekend, so the placement of every club in the standings has hardly been decided.  From Stanford's perspective, they will be rooting against Washington State, Washington, California, and Arizona to sweep this weekend.  As long as none of those four teams records a sweep this weekend, the Cardinal will at least find themselves in a tie for fifth place on Sunday night. 

A sub-.500 conference record is a significant knock against Stanford on their resume, so it's going to take strong results in the other criteria that the committee uses to earn an at-large bid.  On the line this weekend will be final standing in the Pac-10 race.  A fifth place finish will look much better than a seventh place finish in the eyes of the committee. 

Stanford, as of now, has a very strong non-conference resume.  Series wins over RPI top-ten clubs Cal State Fullerton (sweep) and Texas will carry huge weight in the eyes of the committee.  Plus, the Cardinal also notched a road series win versus WAC champion and RPI Top 40 Fresno State.  They've also held their own in other non-conference matchups avoiding any really bad losses.

However, much like their final placement in the Pac-10 race, the non-conference portion of their resume is still not yet completed.  Stanford has three games remaining on their schedule:

Wednesday - at Pacific (2:00 P.M.)
Friday - vs. UC Davis (6:00 P.M.)
Saturday - at UC Davis (2:00 P.M.)

That means the Cardinal's RPI rating can still very much change before Selection Day.  As of now, it's a solid 40 and that figure almost always is good enough for a bid into the NCAA Tournament (in 2005, 38 of the top 40 teams in the RPI received invitations to the postseason ... including #38 Stanford).  Stanford though needs a strong finish this week to maintain that solid computer ranking.  Pacific has an RPI rating of 87 while UC Davis is a dreadful 199 - the worst of any Stanford opponent this year.  The Aggies are one of only two Cardinal opponents not in the Top 150 (Sacramento State).  Stanford probably won't see much of an improvement in their RPI rating with three wins this week because of how poor a season UC Davis is having, but one loss (especially to the Aggies) could see a significant drop.  A drop certainly not needed for a bubble team at this time of the year.

Other factors the committee looks at are road record and how you finish the season.  A pair of wins on Wednesday and Saturday would give Stanford an above-.500 record away from Sunken Diamond (14-12).  Meanwhile, three wins this week would classify the Cardinal as one of the hottest teams in the country at the end of the regular season (13 wins in last 16 games under this scenario).  The latter point is especially noteworthy for a bubble team.

Bottom line, despite having already concluded their Pac-10 season, this week is an incredibly important one for Stanford.  With three wins, the Cardinal can equal last year's final regular season record of 32-23 (when they were a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament).  Stanford will have to deal with a sub-.500 final Pac-10 mark.  But still at stake is holding onto a share of fifth place, notching an overall strong finish to the regular season, and the all-important RPI rating.

Conference Races
(RPI rating in parenthesis)

Atlantic -
Clemson            24-6     -    43-13  (#1)
Florida State      16-13   7.5   39-17  (#15)
N.C. State         16-13   7.5   35-19  (#17)
Wake Forest        16-13   7.5   33-20  (#20)

Coastal -
North Carolina     22-8     -    45-11  (#9)
Virginia           21-9    1.0   45-11  (#12)
Georgia Tech       19-11   3.0   42-14  (#4)
Miami              17-13   5.0   35-19  (#14)

It looks as if the RPI-inflated ACC will received eight bids to the NCAA Tournament this year.  N.C. State and Wake Forest, both slumping teams, could be in trouble with a quick two-and-out at the ACC Tournament this week.  Clemson has won 15 in a row and has a shot at the #1 overall national seed.  North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia Tech should also host.  Florida State or Miami could also find themselves playing at home the first week of June giving this conference five host schools.  Three national seeds may come from this conference. 

Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday.

Big 12
Texas              19-7     -    38-18  (#5)
Oklahoma State     18-9    1.5   39-15  (#13)
Nebraska           17-10   2.5   39-14  (#7)
Oklahoma           17-10   2.5   39-17  (#10)
Kansas             13-14   6.5   38-23  (#42)
Baylor             13-14   6.5   34-22  (#30)
Missouri           12-15   7.5   29-24  (#55)

Despite getting swept by Missouri last weekend, Texas still had enough to finish atop the Big 12.  The Longhorns will again host and look good for a national seed.  Oklahoma State, Nebraska, and Oklahoma could give this conference four host schools.  Baylor should be the fifth team in the NCAA Tournament from the Big 12 while Kansas and Missouri still have a shot.

Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday.

Conference USA
Rice               22-2     -    46-10  (#2)
Houston            18-6    4.0   36-19  (#19)
Tulane             15-9    7.0   39-17  (#27)
Southern Miss      13-11   9.0   37-19  (#36)
Memphis            13-11   9.0   30-26  (#79)
East Carolina      10-14  12.0   32-24  (#57)

The Owls are ranked #1 in the country according to Baseball America and have a good chance at the top overall national seed.  Houston and Tulane are probably on the outside-looking-in right now in terms of hosting possibilities.  Southern Miss should give this conference four bids into the tournament.

Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday.

West -
Alabama            20-10    -    42-13  (#3)
Arkansas           18-12   2.0   38-17  (#11)
Mississippi        17-13   3.0   36-20  (#22)
LSU                13-17   7.0   34-22  (#38)
Mississippi State  12-17   7.5   35-21  (#33)

East -
Kentucky           20-10    -    42-13  (#23)
Georgia            18-12   2.0   38-17  (#6)
Vanderbilt         16-14   4.0   33-23  (#43)
South Carolina     15-15   5.0   36-20  (#28)

The SEC is looking good for four hosts this year.  Kentucky and Alabama split the regular season title and both are in the running for national seeds.  Georgia is also in the picture thanks to a strong RPI.  Arkansas should be the fourth team from this conference to host.  Meanwhile, there's still a chance that nine schools will receive invites to the NCAA Tournament.  LSU is in danger of not reaching the postseason thanks to a sub-.500 conference record and a poor regular season finish.  Mississippi State was ranked #1 in the country back in March, but lost seven of their final eight series'.  Will the Bulldogs receive an at-large bid even though they didn't even qualify for the SEC Tournament (top eight teams)?

Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday.

Big West
CS Fullerton        15-3     -    39-13  (#8)
Long Beach State    12-6    3.0   29-24  (#44)
UC Irvine            9-9    6.0   34-20  (#37)
UC Riverside         8-10   7.0   28-23  (#65)
Cal Poly             8-10   7.0   27-26  (#85)

No conference tournament in the Big West, so still one week of regular season play remaining.  CS Fullerton can probably lock up a national seed with a win in Long Beach this week (thereby clinching the outright conference title).  The Dirtbags are right on the bubble and may need a series win over the Titans.  Irvine has a better RPI and an easier opponent this weekend (UC Riverside).  This conference definitely has a chance for three bids.

Fresno State        18-6     -    39-16  (#35)
Hawaii              17-6    0.5   40-13  (#34)
San Jose State      12-12   6.0   33-24  (#89)

Fresno and Hawaii were the class of the WAC this year and both are looking strong for bids to the NCAA Tournament.  If another team wins this conference tournament, then it could be bad news for a bubble team somewhere.

Conference Tournament begins on Thursday.

Pepperdine          15-6     -    38-18  (#16)
San Francisco       15-6     -    37-19  (#51)
San Diego           13-8    2.0   32-23  (#54)

The Waves and Dons meet this weekend in San Francisco in the best-of-three WCC Championship Series.  The winner receives the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.  Pepperdine is headed to the postseason regardless of this weekend's outcome.  The fates of San Francisco (if they don't win this weekend) and San Diego are still very much up in the air.

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