IMG_8343

2012 NCAA Regional Preview: Palo Alto, CA

Austin Wilson leads the Stanford offensive.1. Stanford (38-16)
2. Pepperdine (34-21)
3. Michigan State (37-21)
4. Fresno State (30-26)

STANFORD (38-16, 18-12) Pac-12 At-Large

Top Pitcher: Mark Appel, Jr., SP (9-1, 2.37 ERA, 116 K in 110 IP)
Top Hitter: Austin Wilson, So., OF (.290/.395/.500, 11 2B, 9 HR, 46 RBI)
Others to Watch: UT – Stephen Piscotty, 1B – Brian Ragira

The “Others to Watch” could have practically have been the remainder of the Cardinal lineup. Stanford has one of the strongest lineups in the NCAA Tournament, entering the postseason with a .290 batting average. It has blasted 44 home runs on the season with 12 different guys with at least one long ball. The roster is also physically imposing with 15 guys standing 6-foot-3 or taller led by Appel and Wilson, who both are 6-foot-5. Appel could very well be the top overall pick in the MLB Draft next week and Wilson has the potential to go in the top half of the first round next year.

To open the season, Stanford was one of the favorites to be play for a national championship in Omaha. The Cardinal did nothing to dissuade that opinion when they romped Vanderbilt and Texas in back-to-back non-conference weekend series sweeps. But they struggled at times in Pac-12 play, losing four series, including at home to rival Cal in the final weekend when Stanford had an opportunity to make a statement for a national seed. Consistency from lefty starting pitcher Brett Mooneyham (7-5, 4.05 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) could be the key for a potential run to Omaha.

PEPPERDINE (34-21, 16-8) West Coast Conference Champions

Top Pitcher: Jon Moscot, Jr., SP (6-5, 2.97 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 91 K)
Top Hitter: Joe Sever, Jr., 2B (.370, .968 OPS, 15 2B, 6 HR, 52 RBI)
Others to Watch: SS – Zach Vincej, OF – Tony Cooper, RP – Eric Karch

The Waves opened the season 16-5 before hitting a rough patch when they were swept by Texas A&M and lost their WCC opening series at Gonzaga. But after losing seven of eight games, Pepperdine bounced back winning its final seven conference series, including the “championship” series against San Diego the final weekend. The Waves rely heavily on their weekend rotation as Moscot, Scott Frazier and Corey Miller all pitched more than 95 innings. When they are pitching well and the defense is playing well, Pepperdine is at its best.

Sever and WCC Defensive Player of the Year Zach Vincej combine for one of the slickest middle infield combinations in the country and also lead the team offensively. Sever was the WCC Player of the Year after batting .417 in conference play. Vincej batted .348 and knocked 20 extra-base hits from the leadoff spot after struggling offensively last season. Tony Cooper and Sam Meyer’s protection of Sever in the lineup may prove to be the determining factor for Pepperdine.

MICHIGAN STATE (37-21, 13-11) Big Ten At-Large

Top Pitcher: Tony Bucciferro, Sr., SP (6-3, 2.80 ERA, 1.09 WHIP)
Top Hitter: Ryan Jones, Jr., 2B (.356, .903 OPS, 22 extra-base hits, 50 R)
Others to Watch: OF – Jordan Keur, SP – Andrew Waznak, RP – Tony Wieber

Michigan State was one of the last team’s into the NCAA Tournament field. How a team that finished fifth in the weak Big Ten got an at-large bid may forever remain a mystery, but the Spartans aren’t going to let that hold them back. This is Sparty’s first trip to college baseball’s big dance since some basketball player named Ervin Johnson was the king of campus in 1979. 33 years! The drought is over, but can Michigan State challenge for the regional title rather than just being satisfied to make the tournament? The Spartans beat Baylor but also lost a series at home to Penn State on the final regular season weekend.

How they perform may come down to the strong rotation of Bucciferro, Waznak and David Garner, who combined for a 2.93 ERA in 279 1/3 innings. Keur was named first team All-Big Ten after a stellar season in his return from torn thumb ligaments sustained last summer, but Jones is the man that makes the offense go. The three-year second baseman, who had a 33-game hitting streak last season, can do a little bit of everything. He has some pop (3 HR), but also has great bat control, evidenced by him striking out only 48 times in 663 career at bats.

FRESNO STATE (30-26, 8-10) WAC Tournament Champions

Top Pitcher: Tyler Linehan, So., SP (4-5, 3.58 ERA, 82 K in 83 IP)
Top Hitter: Aaron Judge, So., OF (.312, .481 OBP, 4 HR, 13 SB, 46 BB)

Will Tyler Linehan be ready to go on Friday night? That’s the big question this week for the always scrappy Mike Batesole-led Bulldogs. Fresno State’s Friday starter has thrown only four pitches since May 11 — a four-pitch walk to open the southpaw’s May 18 start before being removed with a strained muscle in his back. Even without Linehan, the Bulldogs rode a hot streak to the WAC conference tournament title and the automatic bid. They won five games in five days, including four in a 48-hour span to get into the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulldogs draw Stanford and likely Appel Friday. But Fresno State is the one team to beat Appel this season when they blasted him for seven runs in eight innings, including a pair of home runs from 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge. Stanford did bounce back to take the early season weekend season, which came a week after Fresno dropped a series at Pepperdine. There will be plenty of familiarity in this regional.

PREDICTION: This regional is full of wild card pitchers. Mooneyham, Frazier and Linehan have the potential to throw a gem, but they also have been hit hard at times this season. Michigan State is the ultimate wild card. Can the northern team make noise? With so many wild cards, I’m going with the most consistent offense, which is the clobbering Stanford lineup.