baseball

CBD Column: SoCal Wk 4 Weekend Preview

Two of the nation’s top matchups this weekend will feature Southern California teams on the road. No. 16 UCLA has its first road test as they travel to No. 9 Georgia and No. 19 Cal State Fullerton tries to bounce back from a Tuesday loss to USC with a strong series at No. 6 Texas A&M.

Two other schools, San Diego and Loyola Marymount head on the road to play a pair of traditional powers that have struggled early this season.

In SoCal, Long Beach will try to claw out a series win against No. 11 Arizona State after four consecutive final at bat losses. BYU also comes into town from the Mountain time zone while Cal State Northridge hosts its second Big 10 school when Indiana visits. Pepperdine also hosts another distant foe as Rhode Island makes the long journey from the frigid Northeast all the way across the country to Malibu.

Where They’ll Be This Weekend:

In SoCal:
Indiana at Cal State Northridge
#11 Arizona St. at Long Beach St.
Rhode Island at Pepperdine
St. Mary’s at San Diego St.
Brigham Young at UC Irvine
Sacramento St. at UC Riverside
Cal State Bakersfield at USC

On the Road:
#16 UCLA at #9 Georgia
Loyola Marymount at Texas
#19 Cal State Fullerton at #6 Texas A&M
San Diego at Vanderbilt

All Eyes On:

UCLA On the Road – We’ll find out a lot about the Bruins this weekend when they embark on their first road trip of the season — going 20 minutes up the 405 freeway to Northridge for a midweek game doesn’t really count.

The Bruins arrived in Atlanta earlier today and will make sure to get plenty of rest before heading to Foley Field in Athens. This is UCLA’s biggest non-conference series of the season. A series win could go a long way toward selection and seeding for the NCAA Tournament.

Georgia features a strong pitching staff that is 11-2 on the season with a 2.00 ERA. The Bulldogs Friday night starter, Alex Wood, had his coming out party last year when he outdueled eventual No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles. The lefty will face a lefty-heavy lineup that has been hot recently.

Behind Wood, coach David Perno has elected to move redshirt sophomore Pete Nagel into the Saturday slot and push senior Michael Palazzone, last year’s Friday night starter much of the year, to the bullpen where Tyler Maloof continues to be out due to a muscle strain in his right side.

Georgia’s pitching staff is the toughest UCLA has faced so far, but the Bruins have seen better offenses. Despite playing a light schedule early this season, the Bulldogs haven’t excelled at the plate, batting .274. But the Bruins’ pitching staff is going to have to limit the walks. They have allowed more than five per game so far this year.

Around the Horn:

Back on the Grind - After playing non-ranked opponents the last six games, No. 19 Cal State Fullerton will play its seventh, eighth and ninth games against a top 15 squad. The Titans travel to College Station, Texas to take on No. 6 Texas A&M at the newly opened Blue Bell Park.

Will the Titans continue to play to the level of their opponents? They’ve played their best ball of the season against No. 1 Florida the opening weekend, but have played down to their competition in narrow wins against Loyola Marymount (4-7) and Utah Valley State (2-8).

The inconsistency has been especially frustrating to coach Rick Vanderhook, who let his players hear about it during a 10-15 minute verbal undressing in the outfield huddle Tuesday after Fullerton managed only five hits in a loss to USC.

Vanderhook said afterwards Tuesday that the coaching staff plans to “find out who the nine toughest guys are that are going to compete and they get to play. I don’t even care what position they play. We’ll put guys wherever we need to put them so they can at least go up and compete.”

It will be interesting to see if Vanderhook follows through with his promise. He’ll need someone to compete offensively because the Aggies pitching staff has held opponents to a .196 batting average and hold a team ERA of 2.33. Starters Michael Wacha, Ross Stripling and Rafael Pineda have been phenomenal. The trio has allowed a combined nine earned runs in their nine starts.

The Friday night showdown between Wacha and Dylan Floro should be another great matchup. Floro and the Titans’ pitching staff will have to keep Mikey Reynolds (.516 on-base percentage) and All-American Tyler Naquin (.556 OBP) off the bases in front of Matt Juengel and Brandon Wood (28 combined RBI).

Struggling Traditional Powers – Vanderbilt and Texas have both been college baseball powers for the past decade and beyond. However, the early season results have not been kind so far this year. The two traditional powers are a combined 9-15.

Both teams host SoCal opponents this weekend with the hope of getting back on track. But for San Diego and Loyola Marymount, this is an opportunity to continue the woes of the big dogs and make a mark on the national stage.

For San Diego, a strong weekend could show the Toreros are a team to be reckoned with this year. The Toreros have won 10 of 11, including a midweek sweep at Lipscomb (in Nashville just down the road from Vanderbilt) earlier this week.

Despite their traditional reputation, Vanderbilt’s biggest struggles have come on the mound (5.45 ERA), making the Commodores a good matchup for San Diego’s fierce lineup that is hitting .352 and averaging nearly seven runs per game.

The Lions of LMU could also use a big weekend, but not to necessarily state that they are a contender this year, but for a rebound after Loyola Marymount struggled coming out of the gate. LMU hasn’t hit well (.230 team average) or pitched to its capabilities (5.88 ERA), but neither has Texas. The Longhorns have only one hitter batting better than .300 and their normally stacked pitching rotation had to reload after losing all three of last year’s weekend starters (Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green signed; Sam Stafford to shoulder injury).

Two Out of Three? – Long Beach State has faced Cal and Oregon the past two weekends, splitting the two series. The Dirtbags will try to make it two out of three when they host No. 11 Arizona State in their biggest challenge thus far.

Arizona State comes in having lost its last two, dropping Sunday’s Coca-Cola finale to Saint Mary’s and a midweek contest against Texas Tech. The Sun Devils have some of the best stats in the country and will definitely be a tough matchup for Long Beach.

The Sun Devils are batting .355 as a team led by the middle infield combination of Joey DeMichele (.524, 19 runs, 11 extra base hits, 19 RBI) and top prospect Deven Marrero (.387). Abe Ruiz has also been crushing the ball for ASU. He’s batting .425 with nine extra base hits and 12 RBI.

While Long Beach’s pitching staff has the potential to keep them in games against ASU, will the Dirtbags be able to scrape together enough runs to be competitive? They are averaging less than 3 1/2 runs per game. They’ll also be facing a staff that has a 2.05 team ERA led by the high socks and high heat of Brady Rodgers. Rodgers leads the nation in ERA, having yet to allow a run in 22 innings pitched.

And could this finally be the week Matt Duffy (.163 average) breaks out of his early-season slump?

Rebound Weekend? – UC Irvine has straddled the .500 mark all season, including last weekend when the Anteaters won two games against Lamar but lost two to Baylor. Can the Anteaters play up to their capabilities and can the pitching staff get some offensive support?

Outside of Connor Spencer and Jordan Fox, the offense is batting .225. BYU comes in with a 3.65 team ERA, so they are hittable. The Cougars have had a week and a half off since losing a pair of midweek games to No. 4 Arkansas.

Which team will rebound?