April 28, 2008
Wait 'Til Next Year
Upsets and Drama
This was another weekend-and its getting this way every weekend-where narrowing down the action to six stories seemed impossible. The ACC, MWC, Big East, Big 12, and Pac-10 all had series involving two of the top three teams, while the SEC and Big West had a lot of important series that might affect their standings. So, rather than determine just six stories, and since we're a month away from the tournament's release, I decided to choose six conferences to detail. Before I get into trouble, let me explain why I didn't choose a few other series that didn't make the cut. In the Midwest, Michigan and Wichita State have been utterly dominant, and both look well-positioned to win their conference and host a regional. Rice's 13-game win streak was ended on Friday against Central Florida, but the Owls bounced back to win the series, and I'm sure they will win Conference USA. The Big East saw St. John's top Notre Dame in South Bend this weekend, effectively ending that race a month early. Finally, the West Coast Conference is being left out, perhaps unfairly, but with a San Diego/Pepperdine matchup coming up this weekend, I promise to do the conference justice in my preview at the end of the week. Now, the six I chose to detail:
Atlantic Coast Conference
What Happened This Weekend: Make that two straight disappointing weekends for the Seminoles, as North Carolina beat FSU 2-1 in ten innings on Sunday to take the series; coach Mike Martin let Elih Villanueva pitch into the tenth inning, only to see John Gast issue a walk-off walk to UNC designated hitter Mark Fleury. Elsewhere, a pair of sweeps by Miami and NC State over Virginia and BC (respectively), proved those teams to be dynamic. Miami rode a different horse than usual-their pitching-to sweep the Cavaliers, shutting out Virginia twice as freshman Chris Hernandez struck out 11 to move to 7-0 on the season. NC State continued their rise up the standings with their fourth straight weekend win, riding three quality starts to the sweep. Clemson needed a dominant weekend and got it, sweeping Virginia Tech while outscoring the Hokies 31-14. Georgia Tech also notched an important weekend series win, outscoring the Demon Deacons 26-7 in the first two games before dropping Sunday's game.
Where Things Will Stand in a Month: We're going to see three regional hosts to be sure in Florida State, North Carolina, and Miami, and NC State will have an argument on their own behalf if they can take a series from Florida State in Tallahassee to end their regular season. Virginia will get in despite being swept, and Georgia Tech should get in as they currently stand 32-12. The big question is Clemson, and it doesn't look good for the Tigers, who have Florida State and a trip to Tech left on the schedule, and they finish the season on the road against Central Florida. I'll predict three regional hosts and six total teams for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
What Happened This Weekend: I knew Texas A&M was good, but being good enough to sweep Missouri puts them on a whole different level. The Aggies scored seven runs in Friday's final three innings for a big comeback win, setting up the momentum that would bring them a 15-0 rout on Saturday. Sunday's match went into the tenth, where Aggies leadoff man Kyle Colligan hit a solo walk-off home run as reliever Travis Starling moved to 7-0 on the year. Also, give freshman Barret Loux credit for beating Kyle Gibson on Saturday with six shutout innings. Elsewhere, Oklahoma State kept pace with the Aggies by sweeping Kansas, staying four games back in the standings. Baylor continued their slide by losing to Nebraska, salvaging a Sunday victory to avoid a sweep. Right there in the middle of the conference, we saw both Texas and Oklahoma beat lesser teams in two of three games.
Where Things Will Stand in a Month: I'm predicting six teams come from this conference, and I know the top five. Three teams are going to host a regional, and it could be four, as Missouri, Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State all have fantastic credentials. For me, the odd man out comes between Nebraska (which has a dangerous schedule remaining), and Oklahoma State, who might not have done enough in March. I can't believe Texas won't get in despite their uncharacteristically poor season, as they still rank in the top 40 in Boyd Nation's Pseudo RPI's (http://boydsworld.com/baseball/rpi/currentrpi.html). So, that's five spots, which leaves Baylor and Oklahoma. The Sooners are just 7-11-1 in the conference, but with Kansas and Kansas State the next two weekends, they could be above .500 on the other side of those matchups; their regular season ends against the rival Cowboys in neutral Oklahoma City. Baylor needs some help from Oklahoma and a series win against Texas next weekend to get in. It's possible, of course, that both teams stumble and the Big 12 ends up with just five bids.
Mountain West Conference
What Happened This Weekend: There was only one series that really mattered in the Mountain West Conference this weekend, and I previewed it on Friday, predicting San Diego State take a series at home over Texas Christian. However, I underestimated just how hot this TCU offense is running, as they scored in double digits on both Saturday and Sunday (and for the fifth time in eight games) to win the series and take a big lead in the conference. I did have my prediction one-third right, as I thought Steven Strausburg might dominate on Friday, and he did, allowing one hit and striking out 13 in a complete-game victory. But then Jim Schlossnagle turned the series over to his two freshman starters and his offense, and TCU rebounded to win the next two with a cumulative score of 29-11. Meanwhile, New Mexico, who entered the weekend tied in first place, was swept by UC Irvine, so they were passed by TCU in the standings after Sunday.
Where Things Will Stand in a Month: This is pretty simple: TCU and San Diego State are going to get in, and TCU has a pretty good opportunity to have a solid second-seed placement. The Horned Frogs' remaining schedule calls for seven home games against only four on the road, and they seem a good bet to avenge an earlier-season series loss to New Mexico when they end the regular season in Albuquerque. I don't think New Mexico is going to get in unless they win the MWC Tournament. The Lobos have played ten games against four of the West Coast's best teams (Arizona, ASU, Cal, and Irvine), and came out 0-10, having been outscored 96-28 in those games. When Texas Tech (Psuedo-RPI: 82) is your best non-conference win, you don't deserve a spot in the tournament.
What Happened This Weekend: I know that it seems as if there have been ten different times this season that I have billed a series as "To Determine the West Coast's Best", but that's pretty much what the Arizona State vs. California series promised this past weekend. The result was a resounding nod towards Arizona State, as the Sun Devils swept the Bears, scoring at least 11 runs in all three games. After Ike Davis hurt his hamstring on Friday, Pat Murphy used Friday winner Mike Leake at first base on Saturday and Sunday; look for Leake to get a few more at-bats, as he reached base in six of his seven plate appearances, including a bases-loaded triple on Saturday. Stanford took two of three from USC to keep pace with the Sun Devils, outscoring the Trojans 30-5 in the first two games before losing a one-run game on Sunday; Jason Castro was fabulous, collecting four hits on Saturday and his ninth home run on Sunday. Finally, Oregon State bounced back from being shut out on Friday to beat Arizona, ending the Wildcats 13-game winning streak.
Where Things Will Stand in a Month: The big question is UCLA, who beat Washington over the weekend and now stands sixth in the conference. The other five will get in, and Cal should be able to hold on to be the conference's third regional host. The Bruins have two tough road series and host ASU next weekend, as well as mid-week games against Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, San Diego, Irvine, and Fullerton. That's 17 games left on the schedule, and I think UCLA might need to win 10-12 of them to get in. It's the time of the year where we really should be looking out for Oregon State, and the Beavers look primed to win their final four weekend series. If they do, expect a good two-seed in the tournament, with a tiny possibility of hosting a regional should California fall apart.
What Happened This Weekend: A lot of upsets, as just one of the conference's six series (Alabama over Auburn) ended with the favorite walking away victorious. The series that got the most attention was LSU's sweep over South Carolina in Baton Rouge, as eight different Tigers homered over the weekend. However, Arkansas' upset of Ole Miss in Oxford leaves four teams within one game of one another in the Western Division. Even then, it's the Eastern Division that is more loaded with talent, and we saw some parity within the division, as Florida upset Georgia and Kentucky took a big series from Vanderbilt. After a big day from the Bulldogs offense and Josh Fields in the bullpen on Friday, Florida rebounded with two fantastic starts and rode Cole Figueroa's 6-for-12 weekend to take the series. Kentucky also had to fight back to win their series after Pedro Alvarez' go-ahead double on Friday, keeping Pedro's teammates off the bases often enough to allow just six runs in three games.
Where Things Will Stand in a Month: At this point, it's impossible for me to imagine that every team except Tennessee in the Eastern Division is guaranteed a bid to the postseason, and despite their loss, Georgia looks positioned to host a regional. In the Western Division, Ole Miss should still be guaranteed to get in even after losing to Arkansas. The Western Division might only get one more team, and it will be a battle the next three weeks between LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas. Alabama has a hellish schedule remaining, with two road series and a visit from Florida left, while Arkansas has two home series and a trip to lowly MississippI State. LSU could do themselves a big favor if they can upset Kentucky in Lexington next weekend, but it's still a long ways up the hill for the Tigers.
What Happened This Weekend: Finally-finally!-we have a conference that didn't see any major upset over the weekend. The conference's top team, Cal State Fullerton, scored three runs in the seventh inning on Sunday to win the series from UC Davis. It was tightly contested and well-pitched, but Titans leadoff hitter Josh Fellhauer proved to be too much for Rex Peters and UC Davis on Sunday. Coach Dave Serrano's previous school, UC Irvine, had the weekend away from the conference, and celebrated with a sweep of New Mexico. The conference's most talented team, Long Beach State, continued to bounce back from their mid-season slump with a series victory over Pacific. Finally, Cal Poly's chance of making a late-season run and earning tournament appearance was effectively ended with a loss to UC Santa Barbara, who move up to second in the standings with that win.
Where Things Will Stand in a Month: The question in this conference is simple: four teams, or five? If the committee awards the Big West five bids, we know who it is: Fullerton, UC Irvine, Long Beach State, UC Riverside, and UC Davis. However, if it's just four-and that's a possibility at this point-then we have a huge weekend match on May 9 between Riverside and Davis to look forward to. (We'll be sure to hit that game in next week's Weekend Preview). The other question in this conference is which of the three top teams wins the conference, and thus becomes a regional host. I think it will be just one team hosting, and in that vein, Fullerton has a substantial advantage, standing 10-4 in conference. However, Long Beach State is playing great baseball, and Irvine has an easy schedule remaining minus a weekend in Davis, California.
The BP College 12