A Look At Teams Trending In Different Directions
The fourth week of the college baseball season is under way, and we are starting to get a true feel for what teams are (and aren’t). UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton were each top 10 teams at the start of the season, so who could have predicted they would be a combined 9-12 heading into this weekend’s action?
Here are a few teams that caught my eye this week:
UCLA: The Bruins lost a lot of offensive production from last year’s team, but they’re 11-0 thanks to solid contributions throughout the line-up as well as stellar pitching. UCLA is batting .372 and averaging 8.7 runs a game while the pitching staff has a 2.00 ERA with 130 strikeouts and just 24 walks in 90 innings. Dean Espy (.440, 3 HR, 12 RBIs), Steve Rodriguez (.400, 5 HR, 11 RBIs) and Niko Gallego (.314, 3 HR, 13 RBIs) have powered the offense, while Gerrit Cole (3-0, 2.50 ERA) and Trevor Bauer (2-0, 2.45 ERA) have combined for 49 strikeouts with just 6 BB in 32 2/3 IP.
Duke: Since going 1-3 to open the season in Waco, TX vs. Baylor and Georgia (with a win over the Bulldogs) Duke has rattled-off eight straight wins. Granted, the wins have been over Fordham, Temple and Quinnipiac, but 3 of the Blue Devil’s last four wins have been by shutout. The Duke pitching staff has a 0.80 ERA over its last five games with 55 strikeouts and 13 walks. It would be easy to write the Blue Devils off as they prepare to open ACC play this weekend vs. arch rival North Carolina, but Duke did take 2 of 3 games from the Tar Heels last year. Could this be the year Duke gets to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961?
Kansas State: The Wildcats, fresh off the program’s first NCAA Tournament in 2009, had a lot of questions coming into the season. They lost Big 12 Pitcher of the Year A.J. Morris as well as several key bats, including Justin Bloxom. They’re 9-2, and while they don’t have a “signature” win, they’re hitting .342 with 30 stolen bases and averaging 9.6 runs a game. Carter Jurica leads the way with a .449 average, 15 runs, 20 RBIs, and 6 SB. But what’s most impressive is K-State’s pitching. The Wildcats aren’t overpowering anyone, but they don’t walk anyone either. The pitching staff has a 3.83 ERA with 77 Ks and just 17 walks in 101 IP. Ryan Daniel (3-0, 2.81 ERA) has 10 strikeouts and just one free pass in 16 IP, while Evan Marshall (2-0, 1.71 ERA) is yet to walk a batter with 13 Ks in 20 IP.
Villanova: If we’re going to mention the K-State Wildcats we have to mention the Villanova Wildcats, which handed KSU its last loss last week in Winter Haven, FL. The win over K-State along with an 8-1 victory over Indiana at the the Big Ten/Big East Challenge gives VU two wins over 2009 NCAA Tourney teams. Outfielder Justin Bencsko is batting .525 with a 1.218 OPS to lead the Wildcats (10-2) to their best start in head coach Joe Godri’s nine years at the helm. The senior has spearheaded an offense that is averaging 9.0 runs a game despite just one home run.
Georgia: The Bulldogs have lost five straight after Tuesday’s 11-1 drubbing at the hands of Kennesaw State. Georgia (6-7) was outscored 62-11 in those games by KSU, Alabama and Florida State (3 games). Bulldog batters are hitting just .288 and they’ve struckout 95 times while drawing just 45 walks. Those numbers combined with 21 errors (.957 fielding %) and a 7.55 staff ERA make it easy to see why Georgia is struggling. They’ll hope to get better with a 3-game series with Siena this weekend and a midweek game at Georgia Tech before opening SEC play next week vs. Auburn.
San Diego: Since opening the season with three home wins over Indiana, the Toreros have lost 7 of their last 10 games to fall to 6-7. San Diego has plenty of pop with 11 home runs, but it’s batting just .283 with a .363 on-base percentage. 18 errors have led to 12 unearned runs that have proven costly.
San Diego State: The Aztecs are just 5-7 heading into their SDSU Invitational this weekend. With the losses of Stephen Strasburg and two other starters pitching would have appeared to be the concern heading into 2010. However, Addison Reed, who saved 20 games last year, has transitioned nicely into a starter. The junior (2-1, 3.20 ERA) leads the pitching staff with 23 strikeouts and has issued just five walks. Bryan Crabb (1-1, 1.72) has also been solid. Tony Gwynn’s .963 fielding percentage (17 errors) and .261 batting average have been the biggest problem.
Fresno State: Just two years removed from a National Championship, Fresno State is a shell of the 2008 Wonderdog team. The Bulldogs are hitting .312 with 16 home runs but….(drum roll please)…defense (the recurring theme this week) is the worst of any team mentioned this week. FSU (6-6) has committed 26 errors already this season to lose 6 of their last 9 games since opening 2010 with three wins over Nebraska. Fresno State should be fine once WAC play begins if Mike Batesole’s defense can cure itself.