Baseball regional preview

The Pac-10 sent eight teams to NCAA Tournament this year, tied for the most with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Southeastern Conference (SEC). Stanford (31-23) will play as a No. 2 seed in the Fullerton Regional, which includes No. 1 Cal State Fullerton (41-15), No. 3 New Mexico (37-20), and No. 4 Minnesota (30-28)...

The Cardinal will square off against the Lobos on Friday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and the winner will play the winner of the Titans and Golden Gophers.

Stanford

Stanford finished one game better in the Pac-10 than last year, and one win better overall. They accumulated a 10-8 record in May, winning two weekend series versus Long Beach State and Arizona, and losing two versus Washington State, also a No. 2 seed, and Arizona State, the overall No. 1 seed. Their best win of the year was arguably last Friday, when they beat Arizona State 5-2, though an opening series sweep against Rice, a No. 2 seed, was also impressive. Their longest winning streak occurred from April 10 to April 25, a span of eight games in which they swept Oregon State and California.

Stanford's Rating Percentage Index (RPI), a metric which the selection committee takes into account when deciding seeding, is No. 36 in the nation, one spot ahead of California (29-23), also a No. 2 seed, but behind Oregon, a No. 3 seed, Washington State, Oregon State, a No. 3 seed, Arizona, a No. 3 seed, UCLA, a No. 1 seed, and Arizona State. However, they come in having played a tough series versus the Sun Devils that could have gone either way.

Brett Mooneyham, the team's ace, will likely get the start against New Mexico. He's gone at least six innings in seven of his last eight starts, dating back to April 10, compiling a 4.74 earned run average overall, while leading the team with 94 strikeouts and ranking second in innings pitched (81.2). Although he led the team with 60 walks allowed, he drastically improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio from nearly 1:1 to 1.5:1 by season's end. Clearly, he made some mechanical or mental adjustment(s) that helped him improve throughout the course of the season. His performance will be a huge indicator of Stanford's postseason success.

The Stanford offense averaged about six runs per game, putting them in the middle of the Pac-10. Freshman Kenny Diekroeger leads the team with a .351 average, including five home runs, but has struck out 44 times compared to only 12 walks. Therefore, Stanford's best hitters have arguably been Jonathan Kaskow (.344/.469/.453) and Colin Walsh (.321/.432/.505), both switch hitters who are first and second on the team in on-base percentage, respectively. Walsh saw a big boost in power this year, as he led the team in home runs (seven) and slugging percentage (.505). Kaskow was fourth in the Pac-10 in on-base percentage (.469) and had seven more walks than strikeouts.

A number of players have stepped in to fortify the offense this year. Dave Giuliani has cooled off since getting his first start on May 3, but is still batting .265 and plays a solid left field. Ben Clowe has hit well while he's replaced Zach Jones at catcher, with a line of .351/.413/.436 in 94 at-bats. He batted clean-up most recently and should continue to see starts as long as he continues to bat well. Freshman Eric Smith has been the designated hitter recently, posting a batting line of .286/.333/.371 in 70 at-bats, though senior Adam Gaylord, who was red-hot to start the season, has also been placed in that role.

New Mexico Lobos

New Mexico finished second in the Mountain West Conference to Texas Christian University, a No. 1 seed, in the regular season as well as in the MWC tournament. Their RPI was 46, 10 spots behind Stanford, but about 20 spots ahead of Southern California (65) and Washington (68). They went 2-3 against the Pac-10 during the regular season, beating USC in a three-game series, but losing two games versus Arizona. They went 1-4 against TCU, but managed to take two of three on the road against then-No. 1 Texas in late February. The Lobos also won 37 games last year, though this is only their second NCAA postseason appearance in school history (their last being in 1962).

The Lobos' strongpoint has been their offense, as it averages 8.4 runs per game. Their run differential during the season was +121 compared to Stanford's +26, though Stanford played a much tougher schedule. Their best hitter is first baseman Justin Howard, who has compiled a .455/.505/.712 batting line with 10 home runs and a 29:18 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He's a left-handed batter, so it will be challenging to face the lefty Mooneyham, who is especially tough on lefties. The Lobos feature 11 hitters with at least .300 batting averages, nine of whom have at least .400 on-base percentages.

Their best pitcher is senior righty Willy Kesler, who has a 3.78 earned run average in 95.1 innings. He's struck out 92 and walked only 24, so he has good control. Beyong Kesler, no pitcher has an earned run average below 4.19 and every single one of their pitchers (besides Kesler) has given up more hits than innings pitched. Their saves leader, righty Gera Sanchez, has a 5.32 earned run average in 22 innings. Righty Edwin Carl leads the team with 25 appearances. He has a 5.57 earned run average in 42 innings. He's given up 59 hits and struck out 46.

Thoughts

New Mexico is a scary team, considering that they have a strong offense. However, Brett Mooneyham has shown that he has the ability to shut down strong offenses. Just ask Arizona State. As the saying in baseball goes: good pitching beats good offense. Still, the Cardinal better be ready to swing the bats. The Stanford offense has really struggled at times this year (they averaged 3.9 runs during an 11-game stretch and averaged 4.3 during a nine-game stretch), but now would not be the right time to start struggling.

Another positive note: Stanford is 22-16 versus righties while New Mexico is 8-6 versus lefties.

Players to Watch in the Fullerton Regional

Cal State Fullerton

Christian Colon, shortstop
Batting .347/.436/.606 with 14 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and a 30:16 walks-to-strikeout ratio.
ESPN.com's Keith Law currently has Colon going 24th in next week's MLB Draft. He ranks Colon as the No. 18 prospect in this year's draft.

Gary Brown, outfielder
Batting .438/.485/.695 with six home runs and 31 out of 36 in stolen bases.
Law has him as the No. 52 prospect in this year's draft.

Minnesota

Michael Kvasnicka, catcher
Batting .350/.462/.562 with seven home runs
Law ranks Kvasnicka as the No. 49 prospect but has heard that the Kansas City Royals may be interested in him as the No. 4 overall pick.

Stay tuned for thoughts from Friday and a preview of Stanford's next opponent on Saturday.


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