Baseball Preview: Texas

The Cardinal head back out on the road this weekend for a three-game, non-conference series against the 14th ranked Texas Longhorns. Stanford is looking to build on their sweep of Fresno State and get back to .500. Texas is trying to rebound after back-to-back weekend series losses to open the year. The series begins Friday afternoon and we've got a complete preview.

Revenge should be on the minds of the Texas Longhorns this weekend after what took place last June in Austin.  Behind a John Hester grand slam and an all-around potent offensive attack the Cardinal surprised the Longhorns, 12-8, in NCAA Tournament play last season.  The defeat sent Texas into the losers bracket where they would fall to N.C. State ending a promising season that saw the home team earn a national seed.  Stanford, meanwhile, clubbed the Wolf Pack in the regional championship game to advance in the postseason tournament.  Fast forward to 2007 and Texas, with another incredibly talented ballclub, will once again host the Cardinal.

There isn't nearly at much at stake in this series, but it's still a big three games, nonetheless.  Stanford got a pair of much-needed wins over Fresno State last weekend in a rain-shortened two-game series.  Still, the Cardinal remain below .500 for the year (2-3) thanks to getting swept by Cal State Fullerton two weeks ago.

Texas began the year ranked fourth in the country by Baseball America with high hopes for another trip to the College World Series come June.  The expectation of reaching Omaha is still there, but the Longhorns haven't exactly gotten off to the start they wanted.  Texas has already lost two series' this season dropping two-of-three at home to now-#18 San Diego before managing just one win at Long Beach State last weekend.  Thanks to two midweek blowouts over in-state opponents though the Longhorns do enter this series with the Cardinal at .500 (4-4).  But due to the slow start, Texas now finds themselves ranked 14th by Baseball America.

Traditionally, the Longhorns field a club with dominant pitching and a solid offense that plays small ball to perfection.  That was the recipe for success during their four-year run at the College World Series from 2002 through 2005 (two national championships, a championship series loss, and a loss in the bracket final).  But in 2007, it may be a slightly different identity.

Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in Division I baseball history, still isn't bashful about playing small ball.  The pitching is still good, but probably not as dominant as in recent years.  But now, with a talented crop of sophomore hitters leading the way, Texas has a chance to put up some big offensive numbers this year.  Already, the Longhorns are hitting .314 as a team and scoring 7.9 runs per game. 

Four sophomores make up the beef in the middle of this potent offense led by corner outfielders Jordan Danks and Kyle Russell.  Danks was a High School All-American in 2005 and a legitimate first round talent in the draft that year.  But a strong commitment to Texas dropped him down to the 19th round and thus he decided to go to college.  Danks earned Freshman All-American honors last season when he hit .319 and is already off to a strong start in 2007.  The #2 hitter in the lineup, Danks is a big kid at 6'5", 209 lbs.  Meanwhile, Russell also catches your eye on the baseball field with his 6'4", 206 lb. frame.  One of the top power hitters in country, Russell hit ten homers as a freshman last year and has already smacked three longballs in the first two weeks of '07.

While Danks (.364 AVG) and Russell (.458 AVG) are off to sizzling starts this year, neither has quite matched the output of their classmate Bradley Suttle.  The #4 hitter in the lineup, Suttle starts at third base and has recorded 17 hits in his first 36 at-bats for a sparkling .472 batting average through eight games.  Suttle has also already hit two homers to go with 11 RBI.

The fourth standout sophomore is catcher Preston Clark.  The #3 hitter in the lineup, Clark played for the US National Team last summer and was one of their top hitters.  Clark is currently hitting .375 this season to go along with a team-high (tied) five doubles. 

And if that wasn't enough, Garrido has two experienced seniors capable of putting up some big numbers this year as well.  Center fielder Nate Peoples is a three-year starter and bats leadoff for the Longhorns.  Peoples has tremendous speed and leads the club with 12 RBI.  Meanwhile, first baseman Chance Wheeless is also a veteran of the Longhorn baseball program, has good power, and has found his name in the starting lineup for each of the last three years.

This weekend will prove to be a difficult test for the Cardinal pitching staff.  The Stanford hurlers were roughed up in Fullerton two weeks ago to the tune of 29 runs allowed in the three losses.  They rebounded against Fresno State, but only five pitchers were needed in the shortened two-game series.  The Cardinal will send out the same starting rotation this weekend with Nolan Gallagher getting the start on Friday, Jeff Inman on Saturday, and Jeremy Bleich in the series finale on Sunday.

Gallagher went the first four innings of last Saturday's series-opener before the game was suspended due to rain.  The junior right-hander, who was tagged for seven runs in three innings at Fullerton, was a completely different pitcher versus the Bulldogs yielding just one run with four strikeouts.  A big start from Gallagher on Friday afternoon would be huge as Stanford tries to set the tone for the series.

Opposing Gallagher on the mound will be left-hander James Russell.  Russell, a junior, is a JC transfer off to a good start in 2007.  In 13 2/3 innings, the southpaw has held the opposition to a .188 batting average against to go with a 3.29 ERA.  Last spring while pitching for Navarro College, Russell went 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA in 51 innings.  He was a 17th round draft pick in 2005.

While the Cardinal will be going up against an unknown in Russell on Friday, it will be a familiar face opposing them on Saturday in junior right-hander Adrian Alaniz.  Alaniz has made 34 career starts with Texas in the last 2+ seasons compiling a record of 17-8.  His numbers dropped off in 2006 (7-4, 4.18) from his standout freshman year of 2005 (8-3, 2.67), but he's still regarded as one of the better pitchers in the Big 12 Conference.  But while Russell has proven to be very difficult to hit this early season, the same can not be said for Alaniz (7 1/3 IP, 11 H, .355 opposing batting average).

Inman is coming off a solid performance against Fresno State when he allowed one run in five innings to pick-up his first collegiate victory. 

On Sunday, it will be Bleich on the hill while Texas has yet to officially announce a starter.  Candidates include sophomore lefty Austin Wood (1-0, 3.86 ERA; 7 saves last year), senior right-hander Randy Boone (0-2, 3.38 ERA), and senior left-hander Joseph Krebs (1-0, 3.46 ERA). 

Texas doesn't appear to have a deep pitching staff this year, but there's plenty of talent there for a very successful season.  Questions still remain about who will emerge as their three starting pitchers.  Six different pitchers have already started games this year.

Stanford Cardinal (2-3)  at  #14 Texas Longhorns (4-4)

Texas Projected Lineup
C - Preston Clark  (So., .375, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
1B - Chance Wheeless  (Sr., .310, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
2B - Travis Tucker  (So., .333, 0 HR, 6 RBI)
3B - Bradley Suttle  (So., .472, 2 HR, 11 RBI)
SS - Pat McCrory  (So., .105, 0 HR, 1 RBI)  or  Chais Fuller  (Sr., .000, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
LF - Jordan Danks  (So., .364, 0 HR, 6 RBI)
CF - Nate Peoples  (Sr., .219, 0 HR, 12 RBI)
RF - Kyle Russell  (So., .458, 3 HR, 11 RBI)
DH - Michael Demperio  (Fr., .200, 0 HR, 1 RBI)

Fri. - James Russell, LHP  (Jr., 0-1, 3.29 ERA, 13.2 IP, 6 BB, 6 SO)
Sat. - Adrian Alaniz, RHP  (Jr., 2-1, 4.91 ERA, 7.1 IP, 2 BB, 7 SO)
Sun. - TBA

Stanford Projected Lineup
C - Brian Juhl  (Jr., .389, 1 HR, 2 RBI)
1B - Brent Milleville  (So., 1-for-6, 0 HR, 0 RBI)  or  Jason Castro  (So.)
2B - Austin Yount  (So., .350, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
3B - Cord Phelps  (So., .333, 0 HR, 1 RBI)  or  Ryan Seawell  (Sr., 1-for-6, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
SS - Adam Gaylord  (Fr., .294, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
LF - Toby Gerhart  (Fr., .286, 1 HR, 3 RBI)
CF - Sean Ratliff  (So., .292, 0 HR, 1 RBI)
RF - Michael Taylor  (Jr., .250, 1 HR, 4 RBI)

Fri. - Nolan Gallagher, RHP  (Jr., 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 7.0 IP, 1 BB, 5 SO)
Sat. - Jeff Inman, RHP  (Fr., 1-0, 5.59 ERA, 9.2 IP, 3 BB, 10 SO)
Sun. - Jeremy Bleich, LHP  (So., 0-1, 6.10 ERA, 10.1 IP, 3 BB, 5 SO)

The Stanford offense has been productive through five games scoring an average of seven runs per contest.  The lineup should continue to improve as previously injured players Ryan Seawell and Brent Milleville get their timing back at the plate.  Both players received six at-bats in the short series against Fresno in addition to time in the starting lineup on Tuesday in the exhibition contest versus Rikkyo University of Japan.  Furthermore, Jason Castro continues to recover from his hand injury as the sophomore first baseman went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles in the exhibition game on Tuesday - his first live game action in a month.  Castro is expected to be one of the team leaders at the plate this year, possibly batting in the clean-up spot in the lineup behind Michael Taylor.

All three players (Seawell, Milleville, and Castro) should be key contributors to the offense this season.  It will be interesting to see how much each gets a chance to play this weekend and where they might fit in defensively.  At this point, it's going to be hard to keep the bats of Sean Ratliff and Toby Gerhart out of the lineup, so Seawell may get a look at third base where he's been working out in practice the last couple of weeks.  Castro and Milleville could both see action at first base or possibly designated hitter.

* Texas went 41-21 last year and earned one of the eight national seeds before being upset in the Austin Regional.  The top two hitters from that club have moved on in first round pick Drew Stubbs (.342, 12 HR, 58 RBI, 26 SB) and Carson Kainer (.364, 4 HR, 66 RBI).  However, seven regular position player starters are back in 2007.  Top starting pitcher Kyle McCulloch (8-5, 3.61 ERA) was a high draft pick last June.

* This series will be played at Dell Diamond in Round Rock - just a short drive from Austin.  Disch-Falk Field is currently undergoing renovations as the Longhorns won't play their first game there until next week.  Dell Diamond is the home of the AAA Round Rock Express.

* These teams feature two of the most talented sophomores classes in the country.  Upon the start of their college careers (October, 2005), Texas was rated as having the third-best freshman class in the country according to Baseball America.  Stanford, led by the likes of Bleich, Milleville, and Ratliff, received the #9 ranking. rated Texas #2 and Stanford #4 in the country.

* Texas' 2007 record may not catch your eye, but three of their four losses have been by one run.

* On Tuesday, the Longhorns routed UT-Pan American 19-0 on the strength of a school-record 11 doubles.

Stanford at Texas
FRIDAY: 12:30 P.M.
SATURDAY: 11:00 A.M.
SUNDAY: 11:00 A.M.

(all times are Pacific)

After two difficult road trips in the first three weekends of the season, the Cardinal will get to stay in the Bay Area for an entire month.  Stanford will play ten of their next 11 games at Sunken Diamond (at Santa Clara on March 6th the only exception) through the start of finals break.  Up first is a single non-conference game against the San Francisco Dons on Tuesday at 5:00 P.M.  The Cardinal will then host the Kansas Jayhawks in a three-game series next Friday-Sunday, February 23-25.

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