baseball

CBD Column: SoCal Wk 2 Weekend Preview

Home Sweet Home!

Ten of the 11 Southern California squads will play host this weekend as several teams try to rebound from average to sub-par opening weeks.

Things have been upside down in the first week as the only undefeated is USC — a team that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2005. The two squads ranked preseason, UCLA and Fullerton, both lost their opening weekend series.

This weekend, teams from both Big 12 country (Baylor, Kansas State and TCU) and the Midwest (Akron and Northwestern) make ventures to Southern California. Only UC Riverside is on the road as they head to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils.

Where They’ll Be This Weekend:

In SoCal:
#15 Texas Christian at Cal State Fullerton
Northwestern at Cal State Northridge
Cal at Long Beach St.
Cal Poly at Loyola Marymount
Fresno St. at Pepperdine
Washington at UC Irvine
#25 Baylor at #22 UCLA
Akron at USC

USD Tournament featuring San Diego & San Diego St.
- Fri: Kansas St. at San Diego
Pacific at San Diego
Oregon St. at San Diego St.
- Sat: Oregon St. at San Diego
Kansas St. at San Diego St.
Pacific at San Diego St.
- Sun: Pacific at San Diego

On the Road:
UC Riverside at Arizona State

All Eyes On:

UCLA Bounce Back? – The Bruins were a major disappointment on opening weekend, dropping two of three to Maryland. Scott Griggs blew a save on Friday night and UCLA was only able to muster single runs in losses Friday and Sunday.

The offense rebounded on Tuesday in a wind-aided affair at Cal State Northridge, but will the Bruins be able to sustain any of that momentum this weekend? Baylor comes to town sporting a 5-0 record after sweeping perennial Summit League power Oral Roberts and taking games against Baylor and at Texas State.

The Bears are off to a great start thanks to their pitching. They have held opponents to only seven runs and 22 hits. That’s 1.4 runs on 4.4 hits per game and a .147 opponents batting average. Veteran southpaw Josh Turley leads the staff. The junior should present an interesting Friday night matchup with UCLA’s Adam Plutko. Neither pitcher gives many free passes.

Turley set the Big 12 record for fewest walks per nine innings last year with only 1.36. He only walked 19 in 95 2/3 innings. Plutko was equally successful in limiting walks with 24 in 107 2/3 innings pitched.

UCLA will need its veteran outfield of Cody Keefer, Beau Amaral and Jeff Gelalich to provide leadership, but more importantly good at bats. Amaral can set the tone at the top of the lineup, but he’s going to have to do better than the .167 average he’s compiled after the first four games.

Around the Horn:

Who’s For Real? - Both Texas Christian and Cal State Fullerton have high hopes for this season and big expectations. Neither is off to a roaring start after the first weekend. Fullerton dropped two of three to No. 1 Florida while TCU split a pair of games with No. 20 Ole Miss and lost to No. 25 Baylor on Tuesday.

Both teams have relatively inexperienced rotations that are led by quality Friday night starters (Andrew Mitchell and Dylan Floro). Mitchell was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American last year after compiling a 6-1 record and a 2.84 ERA in 22 appearances (10 starts). Floro is one of only two pitchers that returned from a Fullerton staff that was in the top 10 nationally in several statistical categories.

However, both teams have restocked with quality arms. Titans freshman Koby Gauna threw well in a pair of relief appearances at Florida and TCU’s Preston Morrison was named the Mountain West Pitcher of the Week after he picked up the Horned Frogs lone win with 3 1/3 scoreless, hitless innings.

The Horned Frogs replaced their entire infield and they have struggled at the plate early. As a team, TCU is batting only .205 through the first three games. Even more concerning for coach Jim Schlossnagle has to be the two-out runs given up by his pitching staff. TCU has surrendered nine two-out runs in only three games.

These two programs have met early in the nonconference schedule the past four years and as Aaron Fitt points out, the visiting team has won all four series. Will TCU make that happen for the fifth consecutive year? If so, the Horned Frogs would keep another streak alive that dates back to last year’s Fullerton series — that was the last time TCU lost a series.

Like the Old Days? – USC is the only SoCal team remaining undefeated. The Trojans haven’t played the ranked teams that some other SoCal squads have, but they’ve taken care of the teams on their schedule. Can they continue that trend against an Akron squad that was picked to finish near the bottom of the MAC?

The Zips dropped their first three games of the season under first-year head coach Rick Rembielak and come in sporting a .133 batting average and a 6.84 ERA as a team. Failing to get a sweep would be a disappointment for the hot USC squad that has been led by its pitching staff (2.25 ERA).

As I pointed out in Tuesday’s 5 Things to Take Away from USC’s win at Long Beach State, the last time the cardinal and gold started out 6-0 was also the last time they advanced to the College World Series.

Magic Act? – Also in that 5 Things to Take Away article, Long Beach State head coach Troy Buckley said his team’s “bats disappeared.” Will Buckley and the Dirtbags be able to make them reappear this weekend against a strong Cal pitching staff?

After missing the College World Series due to a strained bicep last year, left-hander Justin Jones leads the way for a Golden Bears staff that comes in with a 2.00 ERA. Former closer Matt Flemer has joined Jones in the rotation this year.

The Dirtbags’ weekend rotation pitched well against VCU last week, but Cal will presented a completely different dynamic beginning with preseason All-American second baseman Tony Renda at the top of the lineup. Renda comes in batting .545 (6-for-11) and having stolen four bases already.

For an upset series win, Long Beach State needs its No. 3 hitter Matt Duffy (2-for-14) to come to life and play up to his potential All-American talent.

Rebound Weekend? – Can either of the San Diego teams bounce back? In our Week 1 SoCal Power Rankings, San Diego and San Diego State weren’t at the bottom just because of their geographic location. The two squads are a combined 2-6 after San Diego State’s loss to Kansas State last night.

It’s still really, really early in the season. That doesn’t mean a strong weekend at the USD Tournament couldn’t go a long way. Along with Kansas State, both teams get an opportunity to take on Pacific and No. 21 Oregon State.

For San Diego, the bullpen needs to be shored up after 12 of the 16 runs allowed in last weekend’s series against Sam Houston State came in the final three innings against the bullpen. San Diego State, on the other hand, need the entire pitching staff to step up. The Aztecs have a 6.14 team ERA.