Baseball Weekend Roundup

The waiting game continues for the Cardinal. After a 30-25 regular season that included a fifth-place finish in the Pac-10, Stanford will find out their postseason fate on Monday morning. In this week's Roundup, check out an in-depth analysis of where the Cardinal stand with their NCAA Tournament chances plus other conference notes.

Pac-10 Standings (final regular season records)

                    Conf.   GB  Overall
Oregon State        16-7    -   39-14
Arizona State       14-10  2.5  36-19
UCLA                13-10  3.0  32-23
Arizona             12-12  4.5  27-28
Washington          11-13  5.5  36-25
Stanford            11-13  5.5  30-25
USC                 11-13  5.5  25-33
Washington State    10-14  6.5  36-23
California           9-15  7.5  26-28

The Oregon State Beavers claimed the outright Pac-10 championship for the second consecutive year finishing 2 1/2 games ahead of their nearest competitor.  The Beavers clinched the title with a series-opening victory on Friday night versus UCLA while the Bruins came back to even the series with a win on Sunday afternoon (the middle contest was cancelled due to rain).  As a reward for a fantastic regular season, Oregon State was named as one of the 16 regional hosts - the only Pac-10 school named this year.

Arizona State swept away California in Tempe, 13-5, 9-3, and 7-6 to finish in sole possession of second place.  Three series losses though over the final five weeks of the regular season is what probably prevented the Sun Devils from having a chance to host.  Instead, Pepperdine, despite having no lights at their stadium, garnered the third west coast site (joining OSU and CS Fullerton).  Arizona State can expect to be a #2 seed somewhere and it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if they were sent to Malibu or Fullerton in an attempt to keep as many west coast clubs together as possible.

UCLA ends the year in third place and will reach the NCAA Tournament in what has to be considered one of the great turnaround stories in college baseball this season (went just 15-41 in '05).  The Bruins could also find themselves as a #2 seed when the field of 64 is announced Monday morning.

The Arizona Wildcats had a strong finish to the year as they notched a series victory over Arizona State two weeks ago and then went up to Los Angeles and promptly swept away the struggling USC Trojans.  The sweep gives the Wildcats sole possession of fourth place, but an overall record under .500 and an RPI rating outside the top 70 will prevent this team from having their name called on Selection Day.  Still, for an incredibly young team, it was an encouraging ending to the season and one that should give Arizona plenty of hope entering 2007.

The same probably cannot be said for USC.  The Trojans lost three straight to the Wildcats at home this weekend by the scores of 10-5, 6-0, and 17-14.  USC ends the year on a ten-game losing streak while they also dropped their final six series' of the season dating back to mid-April.  It's a very disappointing year for a club ranked in the top 25 in the preseason.

USC, Stanford, and Washington end the year in a three-way tie for fifth place.  The Cardinal have a chance to become the fourth team in the Pac-10 to reach the NCAA Tournament (more on that later).  Washington, despite a series win over Washington State this weekend, played themselves out of the field with a poor final month.  The Huskies' RPI is no longer in the top 70 which means 36 wins during the regular season won't be enough.

Meanwhile, Washington State is starting to build a strong foundation after a 10-14 conference slate.  They also posted a winning overall record which is a significant improvement from the 2005 club (only 1-23 in Pac-10 action).  California ends the year in last place after losing three straight to the Sun Devils over the weekend.  Much like USC, it will go down as a disappointing year for the Golden Bears as they also garnered preseason Top 25 mention.


PAC-10 RPI UPDATE
(rankings from Boydsworld entering play on Sunday, May 28th)
23. UCLA
28. Oregon State
29. Arizona State
44. Stanford
61. USC
77. Washington
79. Arizona
88. California
115. Washington State


REGIONAL HOSTS
The 16 schools that will be hosting regionals next week:

ACC:
Clemson
Georgia Tech
North Carolina
Virginia

Big 12:
Nebraska
Oklahoma
Texas

Big West:
CS Fullerton

Conference USA:
Rice

Pac-10:
Oregon State

SEC:
Alabama
Arkansas
Georgia
Kentucky
Mississippi

WCC:
Pepperdine

The only major surprise was Pepperdine although the Waves had an excellent year finishing tied for first in the WCC regular season with San Francisco.  They also defeated the Dons in the best-of-three championship series (although the regional site announcement came before that last game was final).  Their selection gives the west coast three host schools.

Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia, and North Carolina ended the year with the top four ACC records.  They also all have RPI ratings in the top 13.  Meanwhile, it was no surprise to see Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas earn host spots out of the Big 12.  Texas won the regular season title with the Cornhuskers and Sooners both finishing 2 1/2 back.  All three have RPI's in the top ten.

The SEC received the most hosts of any conference with five schools represented.  The five teams finished with the top five conference records during the regular season with #5 Mississippi winning the SEC Tournament.  Meanwhile, Rice is ranked #1 in the country while CS Fullerton joins them in the top five.


STANFORD AND THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
It's going to be close.  It's in this observers opinion that the Cardinal have a 50-50 shot to reach the NCAA Tournament.  The field will be announced Monday morning on ESPN at 9:30 A.M. (PDT).

There are plenty of reasons to keep Stanford out of the postseason.  First off, their sub-.500 conference record would probably be reason #1 for not getting an invitation.  The Cardinal went 13-17 in games versus conference opponents this year.  Since the Pac-10 merger in 1999, it appears the worst conference record to receive a bid were the 2004 Arizona Wildcats that went 12-14 (12-12 in true conference games plus an additional 0-2 record in "non-conference" games versus rival ASU).  Last year, Stanford had a 16-14 record versus Pac-10 competition.

A 30-25 overall record isn't terribly impressive either.  Last year, the Cardinal got in as a #3 seed with a 32-23 mark at the end of the regular season.  Now, one of the reasons for fewer wins than most bubble teams has been an extremely difficult schedule.  That should weigh heavily in Stanford's favor.  Their conference record may not be particularly impressive, but their non-conference resume is outstanding.

If Stanford reaches the postseason, it will be largely because of their February success.  The Cardinal played four series' in that first month against clubs who will all be playing in the NCAA Tournament.  And Stanford was victorious in three of those series' - sweeping one of them.  The Cardinal swept RPI #4 CS Fullerton to open the year in addition to picking up a two-of-three series win over #5 Texas.  Stanford also took two games from #32 Fresno State on the road to close out the month.  The only blemish was dropping two-of-three to #34 Kansas, but at the very least, they avoided a sweep.  There are few teams in the country that can match Stanford's non-conference success.

The Cardinal also finished strong in their conference games which included a series win over NCAA Tournament-bound Arizona State.  Despite the two season-ending losses to UC Davis, Stanford did go 11-5 in their last 16 regular season games - an overall strong finish to the year.

Unfortunately, those two Davis losses did no favors to A) Stanford's overall record and B) Stanford's RPI rating.  The Cardinal fell down six spots from #38 to #44 after the two losses to the Aggies.  Stanford reached the NCAA Tournament last year with a #38 RPI, but a 44 rating becomes much more dicey.  It's certainly good enough to earn an at-large bid, but hardly puts Stanford in the "lock" category.

In terms of the RPI, the Cardinal posted an 11-11 record versus teams in the top 50.  That's a solid mark that compares favorably against other teams on the bubble :

LSU: 12-21
Stanford: 11-11
Missouri: 10-13
Mississippi State: 9-18
Wake Forest: 9-18
San Diego: 8-9
Wichita State: 7-5
South Alabama: 7-11
San Francisco: 6-5
Long Beach State: 6-14
Louisiana-Lafayette: 4-3
Kent State: 3-7
Missouri State: 2-2
Old Dominion: 2-4

Jacksonville: 0-4

There are plenty of good reasons to include the Cardinal in the field of 64, but a sub-.500 conference record, a less-than stellar overall record, and a final impression that included two losses to UC Davis may be too tough to overcome.  Stanford has to hope their solid RPI rating, strength of schedule, and February success is enough to carry them in.  It's going to be an extremely close call.

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