Pac-12 Baseball Pulse: March 11
Pac-12 teams have combined to accumulate a 99-54 non-conference record with just a sprinkle of weekday preseason action remaining before the real league show begins. Washington is the Pac-12's only team with a losing record at this point in the season, and that underscores the challenge ahead of several of the conference's heavyweights. League play promises to be brutal again, and a logjam at the top is likely from start to finish.
Defending national champion Arizona is the one team, of course, looking for an exact repeat of last season. Despite losing a slew of offensive talent, the Wildcats are again playing to spacious Hi Corbett Field perfectly: they lead the Pac-12 in on-base percentage (.413), runs (126), hits (167), and triples (15). Andy Lopez has seen his squad rack up 683 plate appearances, already almost 100 more than California, the next team on the list. Arizona is using the same contact formula to drain opposing pitching, while the bullpen is making headlines as well.
Arizona State, meanwhile, has probably seen enough success from their in-state rivals to the south. The Sun Devils have also gone on a rampage through non-conference play. Tim Esmay's squad outscored Long Beach State 21-2 over a three game sweep. Perhaps more impressively, the Forks held the Dirtbags scoreless in 26 of the weekend's 27 innings and did not commit a single error.
Cal also opened eyes, playing in the Pac-12's most intriguing nonconference series at home against Fresno State. The two teams are linked by the connective tissue of their recent heartwarming College World Series runs. David Esquer's squad, though, dismantled of the Bulldogs in cold-blooded, four-game sweep fashion. The Bears came from behind in the ninth inning Friday to spark the weekend fun. By the way, stadium lights will be operational the next time Cal plays at Evans Diamond (versus USC at the end of the month).
Oregon fought through a challenging litmus test at home versus No. 2 Vanderbilt. The Ducks scored only three runs over the course of the first games, both losses, but exploded for seven in the series finale to salvage the set. With Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Alex Keudell departed, George Horton's squad must improve on its league-worst .221 batting average to have a fighting shot in conference play.
A year after spoiling their rivals' Pac-12 title hopes during the final weekend of the season in Corvallis, Oregon State has parlayed momentum into 2013. The Beavers lead the conference in ERA (1.06) and opposing batting average (.183) while displaying their expected deadly patience at the plate. Oh, and at 14-0, they're still the league's final undefeated team. It all adds up to one heck of a start to Pac-12 play: Pat Casey's club travels to the Desert to kick things off at defending national champion Arizona this weekend. Nice.
Stanford has hit a surprising rough stretch. They entered this weekend riding a nine-game win streak but left it battered and bruised by a competitive UNLV team. The Rebels swept the Cardinal at home, outscoring them 20-5 over the course of a three game series. Even Mark Appel's 15 Friday strikeouts weren't enough to overcome the Farm Boys' sloppy defense and docile hitting: Stanford committed eight errors on the weekend, but scored only five runs.
UCLA won two of its three games at the Dodgertown Classic, including the most important one, a 6-1 Sunday triumph over USC. The Bruins are 10-3, but they're likely more satisfied with their recent dominance of the crosstown Trojans. That's five straight wins over Troy, including 20 victories in the last 25 games.
Utah had a miserable time adjusting to the Pac-12 last season, so the Utes are doing their best to rack up as many wins as possible in nonconference play before the treacherous league slate begins. The club is at or near the league cellar in almost all offensive categories, so Sunday's 14-4 offensive explosion at St. Mary's must have felt good.
Speaking of offensive struggles, Washington has been a major disappointment at the plate. The Huskies simply didn't have enough firepower to compete with LSU in Baton Rouge, which assembled the largest crowd to ever watch a Huskies baseball game. Despite a pair of four-run fourth innings, Washington was swept. Their slugging percentage dipped below .300, while their on-base percentage hovered at a paltry .304.
Washington State has pounded out a Pac-12-best 14 home runs, but that power didn't translate to an effective weekend in win column. UTSA swept the Cougars in a Saturday doubleheader. San Antonio's offensive output was particularly alarming: the Roadrunners scored 25 runs against Washington State pitching on the day.
David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He is Stanford baseball's radio play-by-play voice and can be found on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.