4/30/2013 5:25:17 PM
A wild April in the Pac-12 has set the stage for what promises to be yet another close finish to the regular season. Four teams are grouped tightly at the top of the Conference Standings; Oregon State sits atop the ladder at 14-4, while Oregon (16-5) trails by one game and UCLA and Arizona State have kept pace with matching 11-7 records. Arizona State owns tiebreakers over UCLA and Oregon by virtue of head-to-head winning percentage. UCLA owns the tiebreaker over Oregon, and Oregon State claims tiebreakers over both the Sun Devils and the Bruins. ASU who has posted a 13-4 record in April, will play for No. 14 against Arizona in a Territorial Cup clash on Tuesday. The last time an ASU squad won 14 games in April (1988), it reached the College World Series. Once again, five teams enter the week ranked in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Oregon State sits at No. 5, followed by Oregon at No. 6, UCLA at No. 11, Arizona State at No. 16 and Stanford at No. 25. Pac-12 teams have compiled a 141-82-1 record (.632) against non-conference competition this season. Six teams play midweek games this week, with USC kicking off the action against Pepperdine at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. The Trojans, who don’t see a Conference opponent this week, welcome TCU for a Thursday-Saturday series. League play resumes Friday as Stanford travels to Tempe for a top-25 clash with Arizona State, and Oregon and Washington State square off in Pullman. Oregon State hosts California for a weekend set, while Utah travels to take on UCLA and Arizona welcomes Washington for three games. Friday’s game between Stanford and Arizona State will be televised live on ESPNU, and Saturday’s tilt between California and Oregon State will air live on the Pac-12 Networks.
PAC-12 BASEBALL NOTES
Arizona outscored Alabama State 30-8 in a non-conference weekend set, which included a season-high 18-run scoring output in the series finale. The Wildcats, winners of 13 of their last 16 games, have scored five runs or more 12 times during that stretch. They have won 10 straight games at Hi Corbett Field and have claimed 25 of their last 31 weekend series dating back to 2011. Brandon Dixon went 5-for-6 in Sunday’s win, becoming the first Wildcat to collect five hits in a game since Joey Rickard accomplished the feat in 2010. Dixon, who leads the Pac-12 in RBI (44), is tied for ninth in the nation with 28 stolen bases. Four of the top five batting averages in the Conference belong to Wildcat hitters.
Arizona State (28-12-1)
Arizona State, which has posted a 13-4 record in April, takes on Arizona in a non-conference tilt on Tuesday. With a victory over the Wildcats, the Sun Devils would reach 14 wins in April for the first time since 1988—the 1988 squad advanced to the College World Series final. They have won five straight three-game series, including a sweep of Utah in Salt Lake City last week. Freshman left-hander Ryan Kellogg improved to 10-0 with a win over the Utes on Saturday. He is the first Pac-12 hurler to eclipse the 10-win mark this season and the sixth ASU freshman to post 10 wins in a single season. The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 in extra-base hits (140). They lead the league in doubles (92) and home runs (28) and rank second in triples (20).
California took two of three games from Washington State last week, marking its second consecutive series victory over a Conference opponent. The Bears, who have won four of six series at Evan Diamond this season, are averaging five runs per game in home tilts. Junior catcher Andrew Knapp ranks among the league-leaders in RBI (5th, 34), home runs (t5th, 6), slugging percentage (8th, .521), on-base percentage (9th, .421), hits (6th, 56) and total bases (t5th, 85). The Bears have turned 36 double plays this year, a figure that ranks third in the Pac-12.
The Ducks, who have won 11 of their last 13 games, earned their first sweep of Stanford since the baseball program was reinstated in 2009. They have won four straight series and 10 of their last 15 games against the Cardinal. First baseman Ryon Healy picked up his second Pac-12 Player of the Week honor of the season after batting .400 (6-for-15) with a double, two home runs, seven RBI and three runs scored in four games last week. Duck pitchers have rung up 297 batters to rank second in the Pac-12. All-American reliever Jimmie Sherfy leads the Conference and is tied for second in the NCAA with 14 saves.
Oregon State (34-8)
Oregon State went 4-0 last week, including its first-ever three-game series sweep of USC. The Beavers, who host Cal for a weekend set, own a league-best 17-3 record at Goss Stadium this season and have outscored opponents 112-52 at home. OSU (1.89) is the only Pac-12 team with a team ERA under 2.00 at home. Junior left-hander Ben Wetzler ranks second in the Conference with a 1.47 ERA, followed by freshman right-hander Andrew Moore (1.54) and senior southpaw Matt Boyd (1.96), who rank fourth and eighth, respectively. OSU leads the Pac-12 in ERA (2.02, ranks second in the NCAA) and opposing batting average (.210) and has turned a league-leading 46 double plays.
Stanford looks to bounce back after suffering its first Conference sweep since dropping all three games against Arizona to open the league slate in 2012. The Cardinal was swept by Oregon in a three-game set last week, cooling a hot streak that included 10 wins in its last 13 contests. It won’t get any easier for Stanford, which faces three currently-ranked opponents in its final four Pac-12 series. Senior right-hander Mark Appel, the league-leader in strikeouts (93), ranks third in the Pac-12 with a 1.49 ERA and boasts a .197 opposing batting average. Cardinal pitchers have struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings, a figure that leads the Conference and ranks 20th in the NCAA.
Defense has been critical for the Bruins, who are 20-0 this season when holding opponents to three runs or fewer. They own the league’s second-lowest team ERA (2.63, ranks 14th in the NCAA) and have issued a Conference-low 2.52 walks per nine innings. They also rank second in the league and seventh in the nation with a .980 fielding percentage. Sophomore reliever David Berg, who has pitched 21.2 straight innings without allowing a run, lowered his season ERA to a Pac-12 best 0.75. The Bruins are 10-1 in one-run ball games. Junior right-hander Nick Vander Tuig, the reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week, owns the league’s fifth-lowest ERA (1.77) and its eighth-lowest opposing batting average (.213). He also ranks seventh in the Conference with 54 punch outs.
USC managed just five runs in a three-game sweep at the hands of Oregon State, its first of the season. In wins, the Trojans have managed a 2.28 cumulative ERA; in losses, they’ve posted a 6.72 team ERA. Junior left-hander Bob Wheatley ranks sixth in the Pac-12 with a 1.84 ERA, and sophomore right-hander Wyatt Strahan ranks 11th with a 2.54 ERA. The Trojans are hitting .317 against left-handed pitchers this season to rank second in the Pac-12, and their .975 team fielding percentage ranks third in the Conference.
The Utes rank third in the Pac-12 and 21st in the nation in triples per game (.41), and their 64 stolen bases rank second in the Conference. Utah hits the road this week to take on UCLA in Conference play. The Utes should feel comfortable playing on the road, as 25 of their 39 games this season have been away from Spring Mobile Field. The Utes are 10-13 in road tilts this season. With one more Conference win, they would match their league win total from 2012.
Washington kicked off last week’s action with a pair of impressive non-conference wins against Gonzaga. The Huskies racked up 17 runs in the two-game set (8.5 runs per game), more than double their season average (3.97 runs per game). Washington opened the weekend set with a victory over California on Friday for its fifth win in six games. Junior right-hander Austin Voth ranks second in the league and 16th in the country with 81 strikeouts. Trevor Dunlap, who earned a pair of victories last week, boasts a .232 opposing batting average.
Washington State (20-20)
Washington State outfielder and left-handed pitcher Jason Monda named to the 2013 John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award Watch List on Saturday. Monda boasts an earned run average of 0.75 in 24.0 innings pitched. The Olympia, Wash. native has struck out 20 batters while allowing just two earned runs and eight walks and has not conceded a triple or a home run. Monda, who is batting .289 this season, also has six home runs, four doubles and a club-leading 33 RBIs. WSU has lost just three times this season when it has allowed fewer than four runs and has conceded three runs or fewer in 12 of 20 wins.
Go Devils !!