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With college baseball action across the country beginning a day early for most, here's our inside look at the landscape with our weekend preview.
Baylor (22-7): The Bears have gotten off to a terrific start in Big 12 play, sitting at a perfect 9-0 entering this weekend's road series against Missouri. BU has won 11-straight games, but gets a tough test this weekend against a Tigers team that took Texas A&M to the max last weekend.
Sam Houston State (20-9): Perhaps everyone should've taken greater notice of the Bearkats the opening weekend of the season when they took two of three from San Diego. SHSU has been fantastic since that series, too, sitting pretty with a 10-2 record in the SLC and in the midst of a nine-game winning streak.
New Mexico State (23-8): The Aggies have done everything this season, including win a midweek game with just one coach on staff. But this team appears to be for real, sitting well entering WAC play against Nevada this weekend. NMSU has won 14-straight games.
Kentucky (28-2): What the Wildcats have done the past two weekends is mighty impressive. In both occasions, they dropped series openers to Tennessee and Georgia, only to come back to win each series. The Wildcats are 8-2 in their last 10 games, and play host to red-hot Ole Miss this weekend.
North Carolina (23-6): No Colin Moran, no problem for the Tar Heels. They took a series from Wake Forest over the weekend and picked up a solid midweek win over Elon. The Tar Heels, which are 7-3 in their last 10 games, are on the road the next two weekends against Miami and Virginia.
St. Mary's (14-13): The Gaels certainly started the season on a high note, but have since fallen on hard times. They're 3-7 in their last 10 games, losers of five-straight games, and now have the tough chore of taking two of three from highly motivated Pepperdine this weekend.
Louisiana-Lafayette (13-15): The Ragin' Cajuns weren't expected to be great this season, but they're struggling in a big way right now. ULL is 2-8 in its last 10 games and has lost seven-straight games entering this weekend's Sun Belt series against Western Kentucky.
Mississippi State (18-11): The Bulldogs certainly aren't a bad team, but injuries have really caught up to them in SEC play. State lost yet another SEC series last weekend, this time on the road against Auburn. The Bulldogs have lost six of their last 10 games and face Vanderbilt at home this weekend.
Utah (7-20): We thought the Utes might've turned a corner when they took two of three from USC a few weeks ago. Well, apparently not. Utah has lost five-straight games and is 1-9 in its last 10 games. On top of that, the Utes get the tough chore of hosting Arizona this weekend.
James Madison (6-22): The Dukes have consistently won or contended for the CAA title the past few seasons, but that won't be happening this season barring an amazing finish this spring. JMU has lost five-straight games and has a 1-9 record in its last 10 games.
FIVE GREAT PITCHING MATCHUPS
LSU RHP Ryan Eades vs. Florida RHP Karsten Whitson
Assuming Florida starting pitcher Karsten Whitson returns to normal on Saturday, this pitching matchup should be an absolute dandy. Eades is a very fast-rising prospect in college baseball. He possesses a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and has bee impressive so far this spring. Eades has a 1.91 ERA in 47 nnings of work, and has struck out 39 and walked nine, while teams only are hitting him at a .239 clip. Meanwhile, Whitson hasn't started since the William & Mary series. But when clicking on all cylinders, he can easily reach back and sit 91-94 with his fastball with good secondary stuff. Whitson has made three starts this season, and has a 4.05 ERA in 6 2/3 innings. He also has struck out four, walked three and opponents are hitting him at a .292 clip.
Stanford RHP Mark Appel vs. Washington RHP Aaron West
The Cardinal is having a good season, but took a step back last weekend by going 0-3 against Arizona. Now, the Cardinal hopes to bounce back this weekend against a much improved Washington club. To do that, righty Mark Appel must start the series on a positive note. Appel was hittable against Arizona last weekend, but has the ability to shut opposing teams down with a mid 90s fastball and good changeup. Appel has started six games and has a 3.56 ERA in 48 innings. Meanwhile, keep an eye on rising UW right-handed pitcher Aaron West. West made some noise last summer with a strong showing, showing off a good 92-95 fastball with a plus slider. He has been impressive this season, sitting pretty with a 2.01 ERA in 40 1/3 innings. He also has struck out 26 and walked four, while opponents are hitting just .219 against him.
Georgia LHP Alex Wood vs. Arkansas RHP Ryne Stanek
The Bulldogs have struggled so far in SEC play, losing last weekend's home series to Kentucky. With that said, the Bulldogs hope the sophomore left-handed pitcher gets them off to a hot start this weekend against Arkansas. Wood is a very talented draft-eligible sophomore, who, in the past, has touched 94 with his fastball. The lefty is 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 42 1/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 44 and walked five, while teams are hitting him at a .248 clip. Meanwhile, Arkansas surprised no one by moving Stanek to the opening role in the weekend rotation. Stanek clearly has been much better than usual ace D.J. Baxendale this season. The talented righty touched 97 with his fastball earlier this season and has much improved secondary stuff. He has started seven games and has a 1.26 ERA in 43 innings. He also has struck out 41 and walked 14, while teams are hitting just .209 against him.
Oregon RHP Alex Keudell vs. UCLA RHP Adam Plutko
The Ducks made a huge statement last weekend by sweeping Arizona State at home. Now, they hope to make another huge statement by grabbing a road series win over the Bruins. To do that, Keudell must start the weekend on a positive note. Though not an elite prospect, Keudell is still an excellent college pitcher. He has started seven games and has a 2.40 ERA in 48 2/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 28 and walked nine, while teams are hitting just .238 against him. Meanwhile, the Bruins have a very good one in ace right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko. Plutko sits 89-91 with decent secondary stuff and a lot of consistency. He has started seven games and has a 2.58 ERA in 45 1/3 innings. He also has struck out 52 and walked 20, while teams are hitting just .182 against him.
Pepperdine RHP Scott Frazier vs. St. Mary's RHP Martin Agosta
Two of the nation's best pitching prospects will toe the rubber this weekend in Moraga, Calif. For St. Mary's, this is a big weekend, and Agosta must get things started in the right fashion. Agosta, a talented right-hander, is expected to be a high draft pick. He throws three pitches consistently for strikes and has a fastball that sits 91-96 at times. Overall, he has started seven games and has a 1.56 ERA in 52 innings. He also has struck out 48 and walked 12. Meanwhile, Frazier is a talented sophomore and will be one of the top picks in the 2013 MLB draft. Frazier tops out at 96 with his fastball and continues to develop his secondary pitches. He has started seven games and has a 3.09 ERA in 46 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 30 and walked 13, while teams are hitting just .243 against him.
TEN SERIES TO WATCH
No. 12 LSU at No. 1 Florida It's kind of strange to say, but the Tigers have quietly taken care of business so far this season. They took a huge step forward last weekend with a home series sweep over Arkansas. Now they hope to continue their successful ways against the ultra-talented Gators. Raph Rhymes (.491/1/34), Mason Katz (.363/5/25) and Ty Ross (.352/1/21) are having outstanding offensive campaigns, while outfielder JaCoby Jones, who's only hitting .279, has much upside. Pitching-wise, the Tigers have an excellent one-two punch in Kevin Gausman (2.27, 47 2/3 IP) and Ryan Eades (1.19, 47 IP), while Kurt McCune (4.76, 22 2/3 IP), who was a weekend starter last season, takes the place of Aaron Nola, who will miss the weekend because of arm soreness ... For the Gators, junior catcher Mike Zunino (.350/9/33) is having a huge season, whlie the same can be said for outfielder Daniel Pigott (.333/3/20) and Preston Tucker (.324/9/26). Pitching-wise, the Gators have arguably the nation's best pitching staff. Hudson Randall (3.56, 43 IP) and Brian Johnson (3.28, 35 2/3 IP) spearhead the weekend rotation, while relievers Daniel Gibson (1.10, 16 1/3 IP), Austin Maddox (2.08, 26 IP) and Steven Rodriguez (2.25, 24 IP) are outstanding.
PG Pick: Florida
No. 2 Florida State at No. 24 Georgia Tech After losing some key cogs on the mound after last season, the Seminoles were expected to struggle a little bit. Well, new assistant coach Mike Bell has done a tremendous job with this group, and the Seminoles are striking gold. FSU has one of the more surprising pitching staffs with a 3.10 ERA. Mike Compton (1.91, 42 1/3 IP), Brandon Leibrandt (2.91, 34 IP) and Peter Miller (3.38, 26 2/3 IP) spearhead the weekend rotation, while Robert Benincasa (0.00, 16 2/3 IP, 9 svs), Gage Smith (1.80, 15 IP) and Hunter Scantling (3.22, 22 1/3 IP) headline the bullpen ... For Georgia Tech, they were pleased with the fact Buck Farmer (4.17, 45 1/3 IP), got back on track last weekend against Duke. Meanwhile, it'll be interesting to see how Cole Pitts (3.79, 35 2/3 IP) fits into the mix after he put together a solid midweek starts. Hitting-wise, Sam Dove (.390/2/14) and Brandon Thomas (.365) have risen to the occasion this season, while Kyle Wren (.310/1/14), Zane Evans (.309/1/27) and Jake Davies (.294/8/28) are having solid campaigns.
PG Pick: Florida State
No. 3 North Carolina at No. 19 Miami: The Tar Heels were disappointed a couple of weeks ago when they lost third baseman Colin Moran to an injury. Well, they haven't skipped a beat since. The Tar Heels are hitting .286 as a team with catcher Jacob Stallings (.327/2/23) and infielder Tommy Coyle (.292/2/20) leading the way. Meanwhile, the pitching staff is in excellent shape, entering the weekend with a 2.58 ERA. Sophomore left-hander Kent Emanuel (5-1, 1.59) is the ringleader, while Chris Munnelly (3.38, 32 IP) and Benton Moss (1.93, 32 2/3 IP) also are having strong campaigns. Then there are relievers Michael Morin (0.74, 24 1/3 IP, 8 svs) and R.C. Orlan (1.93, 28 IP) ... For the Hurricanes, they're coming off a tough road series loss to Clemson last weekend. The Hurricanes have a solid offensive lineup with catcher Peter O'Brien (.375/9/31) leading the charge. Meanwhile, the pitching staff is very solid with starting pitchers Eric Whaley (2.28, 43 1/3 IP) and Eric Erickson (3.40, 45 IP) leading the way. The bullpen also is a solid unit as Eric Nedeljkovic (1.29, 14 IP), AJ Salcines (1.59, 17 IP) and Adam Sargent (2.31, 11 2/3) have compiled solid numbers.
PG Pick: North Carolina
No. 31 Oklahoma at No. 9 Texas A&M: The Sooners have gotten back on track the last two weekends with series wins over Texas Tech and Kansas State, but could really use a series win over the Aggies to bolster their RPI. OU has just an OK offensive lineup, entering the weekend with a .278 average. Max White (.333/0/24) leads the offense, while catcher Hunter Lockwood (.301/8/28) and outfielder Cody Reine (.293/2/11) are guys to watch. Pitching-wise, Dillon Overton (3.54, 53 1/3 IP), Jordan John (2.72, 46 1/3 IP) and Jonathan Gray (5.26, 37 2/3 IP) lead the weekend rotation, while Steven Okert (4.54, 39 2/3 IP) is now serving as the key reliever ... For the Aggies, they have one of the nation's best weekend rotations with Michael Wacha (2.72, 46 1/3 IP), Ross Stripling (2.87, 53 1/3 IP) and surprising newcomer Rafael Pineda (1.84, 44 IP) leading the way. The bullpen could use some work at times, but Estevan Uriegas (2.38, 11 1/3 IP) and Kyle Martin (4.05, 17 IP) are quality arms. Offensively, the Aggies are a solid unit with a .312 batting average. They're led at the plate by outfielder Tyler Naquin (.423/2/29). Also keep an eye on shortstop Mikey Reynolds (.374/0/16), first baseman Jacob House (.336/5/31`) and third baseman Matt Juengel (.309/0/21).
PG Pick: Texas A&M
No. 20 Oregon at No. 4 UCLA: The Ducks took a significant step forward last weekend with a home series sweep over Arizona State. Now, they hope to earn yet another key series win on the road against the Bruins. Kyle Garlick (.351/4/16), Aaron Jones (.333/3/23) and Ryon Healy (.307/1/18) spearhead the offensive lineup, while the pitching staff has a solid trio of starting pitchers in Alex Keudell (2.40, 48 2/3 IP), Brando Tessar (2.64, 44 1/3 IP) and Jake Reed (2.22, 48 2/3 IP). Also keep an eye on stud reliever Jimmie Sherfy (2.37, 30 1/3 IP) ... The Bruins have been a pleasant surprise from an offensive standpoint, sitting pretty with a .312 batting average. Outfielder Jeff Gelalich (.415/6/21) spearhead the lineup, while shortstop Tyler Heineman (.400/1/18) and catcher Trevor Brown (.348/2/25) are doing a good job of producing at a high level. Pitching-wise, starting pitchers Adam Plutko (2.58, 45 1/3 IP), Nick Vander Tuig (4.30, 44 IP) and Zack Weiss (3.92, 20 2/3 IP) are doing solid jobs, while relievers Ryan Deeter (0.63, 14 1/3 IP) and Scott Griggs (1.72, 15 2/3 IP) have good stuff.
PG Pick: UCLA
No. 7 Stanford at No. 38 Washington The Cardinal got off to an incredibly hot start this season, but has really cooled off lately, dropping all three games of the Arizona series last weekend. The Cardinal is hitting .293 as a group with Jake Stewart (.348/3/14) and Brian Ragira (.347/1/18) leading the way, but the lineup as a whole must be more consistent. Pitching-wise, the Cardinal has one of the best in the business in right-hander Mark Appel (3.56, 48 IP), though, left-hander Brett Mooneyham (1.96, 41 1/3 IP) has been even better this spring. Bullpen-wise, keep an eye on David Schmidt (2.16, 16 2/3 IP) ... For Huskies, this is a potential statement weekend after failing to take two of three from Oregon State. Aaron West (2.01, 40 1/3 IP) and Tyler Davis (2.27, 31 2/3 IP) spearhead the weekend rotation, while reliever Joshua Fredendall (1.42, 12 2/3 IP, 5 saves) is doing a terrific job. Offensively, the Huskies are hitting just .288, but have a good one to watch in Chase Anselment (.364/2/8)
PG Pick: Stanford
No. 13 Mississippi at No. 5 Kentucky: The Rebels took a huge step forward last weekend with a home series win over Florida. Now we'll see how they perform on the road against red-hot Kentucky this weekend. The Rebels are hitting a solid .311 so far this season and have several key contributors to watch, including Alex Yarbrough (.426/3/33), Matt Snyder (.358/5/29) and Zach Kirksey (.324/10/37). Pitching-wise, the Rebels have a solid staff with surprise R.J. Hively (1.71, 42 IP) and top sophomore prospect Bobby Wahl (1.91, 42 1/3 IP) leading the charge. Meanwhile, keep an eye on reliever Brett Huber (2.70, 10 IP, 6 saves) ... For the Wildcats, they've been productive in many areas this season. They're hitting .333 as a team with freshman outfielder Austin Cousino (.363/5/26) leading the way. Meanwhile, also keep an eye on A.J. Reed (.346/2/30), Luke Maile (.333/8/34), J.T. Riddle (.333/3/23), Zac Zellers (.329/4/15) and Cameron Flynn (.321/7/21). Pitching-wise, the Wildcats have a solid weekend rotation with Corey Littrell (1.88, 43 IP), Jerad Grundy (3.41, 37 IP) and Taylor Rogers (4.65, 40 2/3 IP) leading the way. Meanwhile, keep an eye on hard-throwing reliever Trevor Gott (1.59, 11 1/3 IP).
PG Pick: Kentucky
No. 30 Georgia at No. 8 Arkansas: The Bulldogs are in a situation where they definitely need a series win over the Hogs this weekend, as they're coming off a home series loss to Kentucky. The Bulldogs have a solid offensive lineup, entering the weekend hitting .287 with Curt Powell (.356/1/11) and Hunter Cole (.330/6/16) leading the charge. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have one of the league's best arms in left-handed starting pitcher Alex Wood (2.55, 42 1/3 IP). Also keep an eye on relievers Blake Dieterich (0.84, 21 1/3 IP), Jay Swinford (1.42, 12 2/3 IP), Chase Hawkins (2.05, 22 IP) and Earl Daniels (2.25, 12 IP) ... The Hogs have a talented offensive lineup, though, they've cooled off in recent weeks and now have just a .282 average. Third baseman Matt Reynolds (.370/3/21), shortstop Tim Carver (.330/0/15) and first baseman Dominic Ficociello (.310/3/18) lead the offense. Meanwhile, there's a shakeup in the weekend rotation with Ryne Stanek (1.26, 43 IP) now getting the start in the series opener over DJ Baxendale (5.23, 32 2/3 IP). It's also worth noting that Barrett Astin makes his second start of the season this weekend. The Hogs have a solid bullpen with Colby Suggs (1.84, 14 2/3 IP) and Nolan Sanburn (3.24, 16 2/3 IP) leading the way.
PG Pick: Arkansas
No. 22 Oregon State at No. 26 Arizona State: Oregon State isn't exactly known as an offensive juggernaut, but it has done a nice job of scoring runs in opportunistic situations this spring. The Beavers are hitting .288 as a team with red-shot shortstop Tyler Smith (.463/0/23) leading the way. Also keep an eye on freshman outfielder Michael Conforto (.359/6/34) and Dylan Davis (.301/2/21). Pitching-wise, Dan Child (1.54, 46 2/3 IP), Ben Wetzler (3.15, 45 2/3 IP) and Jace Fry (3.43, 21 IP) give the Beavers a solid trio of arms, while Matt Boyd (1.27, 21 1/3 IP) and tony Bryant (4.11, 15 1/3 IP) lead the bullpen ... For Arizona State, it hopes to rebound from last weekend's series loss to Oregon. However, shortstop Deven Marrero (.270/2/12) must find a way to get back on track. Meanwhile, keep an eye on talented second baseman Joey DeMichele (.358/5/30). Pitching-wise, the Sun Devils have one of the best in the business to watch in talented right-hander Brady Rodgers (1.29, 56 IP), while Trevor Williams (1.51, 47 2/3 IP) is another quality arm worth watching.
PG Pick: Oregon State
Gonzaga at No. 21 San Diego: The Bulldogs haven't been ultra consistent at times this season, but it seems like they're finally getting into a consistent groove. The Bulldogs are hitting .309 on the season with Royce Bolinger (.393/7/24) and Eric Lane (.322/0/12) leading the charge at the plate. Meanwhile, on the mound, we continue to be impressed with the starting rotation, which consists of Tyler Olson (2.22, 48 2/3 IP), Billy Moon (2.32, 31 IP) and Andy Hunter (3.23, 47 1/3 IP) ... The Toreros were expected to be good this season, but not this good. They've been outstanding so far this season, hitting a very impressive .328 with stud third baseman Kris Bryant (.381/8/34) leading the charge. Also keep an eye on Corey LeVier (.379/2/15), Andrew Daniel (.367/2/26) and Bryan Haar (.325/2/21). Pitching-wise, the rotation is in very good shape with Calvin Drummond (2.62, 48 IP), Dylan Covey (2.95, 39 2/3 IP) and Paul Sewald (2.09, 47 1/3 IP) headlining things. Also keep an eye on stud reliever Michael Wagner (1.04, 26 IP, 12 saves).
PG Pick: San Diego
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game and can be reached at email@example.com