baseball

CBD Column: SoCal Wk 6 Weekend Preview

A number of schools on the quarter system rather than the semester schedule are coming off two week breaks. Several of those teams will oppose Southern California squads this weekend.

But the biggest matchup pits a top 10 Texas A&M squad against a red hot Pepperdine team. There will be a handful of “aces” in this series with both teams possessing top notch weekend rotations.

In SoCal, No. 7 UCLA hosts Washington State while No. 13 Cal State Fullerton welcomes Oral Roberts in from Tulsa. Down in San Diego, there’s a big West Coast Conference showdown between the Toreros and Santa Clara. Toreros’ rival, San Diego State is one of six SoCal squads on the road as the Aztecs try to end their five-game losing streak. The toughest road opponent this week is No. 2 Stanford, who invite up USC for a Saturday-Monday three-game set.

Where They’ll Be This Weekend:

In SoCal:
Oral Roberts at #13 Cal State Fullerton
#10 Texas A&M at Pepperdine
Santa Clara at San Diego
Washington State at #7 UCLA
Dartmouth at UC Irvine

On the Road:
San Diego St. at Cal Poly
UC Riverside at Fresno St.
Loyola Marymount at Nevada
USC at #2 Stanford
Cal State Northridge at St. Mary’s
Long Beach St. at Wichita St.

All Eyes On:

Handful of Aces - No. 10 Texas A&M started 13-1 before losing four of five, beginning with a pair of losses to No. 13 Cal State Fullerton. The Aggies won the final two games of a series with Kansas State and will look to continue righting the ship with a strong series at Pepperdine.

When Texas A&M and Pepperdine kick off the series later today, there will be six starters that each have an ERA below 3.00 and at least three wins — all performances worthy of being called “aces.”

Texas A&M’s trio of Michael Wacha, Ross Stripling and Rafael Pineda have allowed 27 earned runs in 100 innings. They have given up 75 hits and issued only 19 walks while striking out 96 batters. Pepperdine’s weekend starters (Jon Moscot, Scott Frazier, Corey Miller) have given up 29 earned runs in 109.2 innings pitched. The Waves’ trio doesn’t have quite as dominant peripheral numbers, having allowed 96 hits and 19 walks while accumulating only 83 strikeouts, but the Waves defense is one of the best in the country.

Pepperdine entered the week with the nation’s second best fielding percentage led by the junior middle infield duo of Joe Sever and Zach Vincej, who have helped the Waves turn 21 double plays already this season. Sever and Vincej have also led the way offensively. They are first and second on the team in runs and on base percentage. Vincej leads the team with a .373 average and Sever has 19 RBI — also tops on the team.

The Aggies have their own dynamic duo at the top of their lineup in Mikey Reynolds and Tyler Naquin. They lead the Aggies in batting average, runs scored, on base percentage and doubles. Naquin is an All-American hitter and almost as good defensively. Behind Reynolds and Naquin, Texas A&M has Jacob House and Matt Juengel. Both senior big boppers are averaging an RBI per game.

Around the Horn:

1st Base: How Good - Just how good are the USC Trojans? Was losing two to Utah a fluke bad day or was USC just able to take advantage of a light schedule early in the season? I think we’ll find out this weekend when USC travels up the coast to take on No. 2 Stanford.

The Cardinal have been fairly dominant all year and probably have the best infield in the country with Eric Smith, Brian Ragira, Kenny Diekroeger, Lonnie Kauppila and Stephen Piscotty. The lineup is tough from top to bottom and on the mound, Stanford has some elite arms, including the potential No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft in Mark Appel.

Many people expect to see Stanford in Omaha this season…possibly facing off with No. 1 Florida for the national championship. But this could be the opportune time to catch the Cardinal. Stanford is coming off a 13-day layoff due to finals.

2nd Base: Stop The Slide - San Diego State has lost five straight to drop them to the bottom of this week’s SoCal Power Rankings. Can they stop the slide this weekend? It won’t be an easy task, having to travel to Cal Poly. The two teams are playing a pair of doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday to avoid potential inclement weather on Sunday.

The Mustangs are currently tied with Cal State Fullerton for the best record in the Big West. To knock them off, the Aztecs need Michael Cederoth to step up and fill the void created by Cole Swanson’s emergency appendectomy. If Cederoth can pitch deep into the opening game, the Aztecs can save their best bullpen arms.

3rd Base: Lazy After Layoff? - How will UC Riverside respond to its nearly two-week break for finals? If the Highlanders come out playing lazy or sluggish, Fresno State is plenty capable of dominating them and taking a sweep.

The Highlanders need Eddie Young (.500 in last 8 games) and Phil Holinsworth (.333, 7 extra base hits in last 9 games) to stay hot despite the break. Fresno State features a strong weekend rotation of Tyler Linehan (3-1, 1.51), Justin Haley (2-1, 2.57) and Thomas Harlan (3-3, 1.89). Can Eddie Orozco continue his dominance on Saturdays and will Dylan Stuart and Trevor Frank give the Highlanders quality starts?

Home: WCC Showdown – Another team coming off a long break is Santa Clara. The Broncos are 13-4, but have had 13 days off since their last game. They travel South to take on San Diego. Even though it is the conference opener, both teams are battling for position in the West Coast Conference already.

The WCC has been one of the most surprising conferences in the country with six teams with winning percentages .632 or higher entering the weekend. Santa Clara has been more of a surprise than San Diego. Under first-year head coach Dan O’Brien, the Broncos have been playing solid, loose old-school ball. They even broke out throwback uniforms with the classic looking baggy pants.

Expect to see some hits in this series. San Diego is one of the top hitting teams on the West Coast, led by Kris Bryant (.402 AVG, 8 2B, 6 HR, 28 RBI). Santa Clara comes in batting .295 as a team with Lucas Herbst batting .426, having knocked five doubles and four triples already this year.