The three-way tie at the top of the Pac-12 baseball standings has been broken, at least for the time being.
The UCLA Bruins and Oregon Ducks look to close the gap on Arizona while holding off challenges from Stanford and Oregon State. The 1st-place Wildcats step out of conference and hope to find answers for their bullpen woes.
With another college baseball weekend upon us here is the updated RPI for all the teams Arizona plays this year and the UA’s record against them:
|New Mex. St.||20||24||0-2|
|N. Dakota St.||146||153||2-1|
|E. Tenn. St.||145||149||–|
Oregon hurt itself the most among Pac-12 teams last week with the home series loss to a Washington State team outside the top 70. Don’t undervalue Arizona’s win at Washington as the Cats took two of three from a team that sits solidly in the RPI top 50.
On to the polls:
Stanford vaulted from fourth in the average rankings to first after sweeping Arizona State. How tough is this conference? Four different teams are ranked as the best Pac-12 team in at least one of the five polls. I like how Baseball America just grouped the foursome in succession. But if you’re going to do that, wouldn’t it make sense to order them, you know, according to the Pac-12 standings?
This Week in the Pac-12? TWIT-Pac is glad you asked:
#10.8 Stanford (26-10 / 8-7) at #11.0 UCLA (27-10 / 11-7)
If – and it’s a very large if – Stanford could somehow sweep UCLA the Cardinal would be just a game behind Arizona and back in this race. The ideal scenario for UA fans is Stanford wins exactly two out of three.
Cal 23-15 / 7-8) at #12.8 Oregon (27-13 / 11-7)
The Bears have won seven of eight, all at home, but now face six straight on the road. Is it too much to ask to have the Ducks lose a second straight home series to a team with a losing Pac-12 record? Wildcat Universe is asking anyway.
#24.4 ASU (24-16 / 9-9) at WSU (21-16 / 7-7)
Not only did the UA’s Sunday loss to Washington cost the Cats a game in the standings, it prevented the second Wildcats sweep, Sun Devils get swept weekend of the year. ASU is now 1-8 in Pac-12 road games.
OSU (27-12 / 8-7) at USC (20-16 / 5-9)
After an upset series win against UCLA the Beavers are in the same position as Stanford but with a smoother runway. If Oregon State can sweep struggling USC, OSU will be one game behind Arizona.
(By the way, everybody is projecting New Mexico State to be the 2-seed in Arizona’s regional, which makes sense geographically. If the Cats have been wanting another crack at the Aggies with their frontline pitching, things are lining up for them to get it.)
East Tennessee State (19-21) at #12.4 ARIZONA (26-13 / 12-6)
The Buccaneers are 9th in the 10-team Atlantic Sun Conference but they feature Matthew Scruggs, the nation’s co-leader with 16 home runs. That’s six more than the entire Arizona team.
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If the Ducks or Bruins sweep this weekend they would move ahead of Arizona in the games-back column but the Wildcats are assured of having the fewest conference losses heading into next week. Every loss by UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, OSU and even WSU gives the UA a little more breathing room.
Based on RPI, anything less than a sweep this weekend will be a hit to the Wildcats’ resume. The real question is how Andy Lopez handles his bullpen. Will he ride his three starters as long as possible like a conference series or will he run other guys out there in hopes they relocate the strike zone and find some success?
Me? I tell Matt Troupe he’s pitching the 9th inning tonight. Then, no matter the situation, I put him on the mound and tell him to zero in on the hitter and get three outs. This series is the last chance to do any tinkering with the pitching roles. After this it’s 13 games in four weeks, all against Pac-12 teams.
Speaking of tinkering with roles, we learned something new during the Washington series. With fourth outfielder Bobby Brown DH-ing and fifth outfielder Joe Maggi playing first base, it turns out the UA’s sixth outfielder is left-handed pitcher Vincent Littleman. The junior has only made two appearances on the mound this month but with Joey Rickard’s injury in Seattle last week Littleman got into two games in left field.
Pitchers playing other positions isn’t rare in college baseball but Littleman hasn’t had a single at-bat in his three-year career. Just another example of how this really good team is an oddly constructed really good team.
The game times for ETSU are 6 p.m. today, 4 p.m. tomorrow and noon Sunday. Note the random 4 o’clock Saturday start so you don’t show up in the 6th inning and wonder where all the beer vendors went.
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