4/10/2013 1:58:52 PM
By the Pac-12 Conference
Another week is in the books, and Pac-12 teams have, once again, demonstrated just how grueling the Conference slate can be. A number of teams remain squarely in the Pac-12 title hunt, and gaining separation in the standings has proven difficult for the league’s top teams. It was quite a week for Pac-12 pitchers; Washington State right-hander Scott Simon threw the Cougars’ first complete-game shutout in 14 seasons, and Arizona right-hander Konner Wade came within one out of tossing a complete-game shutout of his own. Oregon State’s Ben Wetzler picked up his first win of the season, and UCLA’s Adam Plutko allowed two hits and one earned run in a seven-inning outing on Friday. Four teams enter the week ranked in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. Oregon State sits at No. 6 for the second straight week, followed by Oregon at No. 9, UCLA at No. 13 and Arizona State at No. 19. Pac-12 teams have compiled a 123-73 (.615) record against non-conference competition this season. Oregon and Oregon State kick off the week’s action on Tuesday in Corvallis with a game televised on the Pac-12 Networks. It is the first meeting of the season for the rivals who occupy the top two spots in the Conference standings. Oregon State swept Oregon in the final series of the 2012 regular season to stifle the Ducks’ bid for their first Pac-12 title. Oregon resumes league play at California on Friday, and the Beavers host Utah in a weekend series. USC opens the week on Tuesday with a road game against No. 4 Cal State Fullerton before hosting Arizona State in a weekend set. UCLA stays home for non-conference tilts against Hawai’i and Loyola Marymount, and Washington State and Arizona square off in Pullman over the weekend. Stanford hosts San Jose State on Tuesday before taking on Washington in a weekend series.
PAC-12 BASEBALL NOTES
Arizona shook off a slow start to the Conference season and has now won six straight against league competition, all at home. The Wildcats, who outscored their opponents 42-17 and hit .352 during that stretch, have also shown an ability to pull out close games, as four of their last six wins have been decided by two runs or fewer and three have been one-run decisions. Arizona leads the league in runs scored (220), RBI (200), triples (25), stolen bases (72), walks drawn (143) and on-base percentage (.414), ranks second in batting average (.316), hits (327) and total bases (434) and third in slugging percentage (.419). Arizona, which has produced an NCAA-leading 25 triples, is one of two Pac-12 squads with a team batting average above .300. Brandon Dixon leads the Pac-12 and ranks fifth in the country with 25 stolen bases. He also boasts a league-leading .408 batting average and a .642 slugging percentage.
Arizona State (19-9-1)
Arizona State earned its second straight series victory over a top-10 team, as it took two of three games from No. 7 Oregon in Tempe over the weekend. The Sun Devils have logged seven wins over top-10 opponents this season, more than any other Pac-12 team. ASU ranks second in the Pac-12 in doubles (63), triples (15), home runs (17) and slugging percentage (.433). Defensively, the Sun Devils have allowed just four home runs and two triples in 29 games this season. Freshman left-hander Ryan Kellogg, the Conference’s leader in wins (7), ranks fourth in the league in opposing batting average (.187). Freshman designated hitter RJ Ybarra took home Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after a week in which he batted .385 (5-for-14) with two doubles, four RBI—including two game-winning RBI— and a pair of runs scored.
California, which won four straight to open league play, has lost eight of its last nine games against Conference opponents, but four of those losses have come by two runs or fewer and six have come on the road. The Golden Bears look to bounce back after suffering their first sweep of the season in Tucson last week. They kick off an eight-game home stand on Friday, a welcomed stretch for a squad that has posted an 8-2 record at Evans Diamond this season. Cal has turned 25 double plays this year, a figure that ranks third in the PAC-12. Three Bears rank in the top 10 in the league in RBI— Chris Paul and Devon Rodriguez are tied for fifth with 26 RBI each, and Andrew Knapp ranks ninth with 24. Paul ranks third in the league with five home runs, and Rodriguez and Knapp are tied for sixth with four long balls apiece.
Oregon has won 13 of its last 16 games, during which it has allowed three runs or fewer on nine occasions. The Ducks managed a season-high 16 runs in a win on Sunday and left Tempe on a high note after dropping the first two games of the series to the Sun Devils. Oregon avoided its first sweep since it closed the 2013 campaign with three straight losses to rival Oregon State. The Ducks, who finished one game out of first place in the Pac-12 last season, look to exact revenge this week as they tangle with the Beavers in Corvallis on Tuesday. Oregon owns an NCAA-best .988 fielding percentage, and Duck pitchers have rung up 223 batters to lead the Pac-12. All-American reliever Jimmie Sherfy leads the Conference and ranks ninth in the nation with eight saves.
Oregon State (25-5)
Oregon State responded nicely after losing its first series in nearly a year at San Diego two weeks ago. The Beavers took two of three games from UCLA at Jackie Robinson Stadium and allowed just five runs in the series, its lowest total since allowing four runs in a four-game set against Bryant in early March. Junior left-hander Ben Wetzler picked up his first win of the season on Sunday as OSU secured its third consecutive series victory over UCLA, a program first. Oregon State, who has held opposing batters to a league-low .209 batting average, ranks third in the NCAA with a 1.81 team ERA and has turned 34 double plays to rank second in the Conference. Freshman right-hander Andrew Moore (1.28) and senior lefty Matt Boyd (1.91) rank third and fifth in the Pac-12 in ERA, respectively. Boyd also ranks fifth in opposing batting average (.190) and third in strikeouts (50). Sophomore outfielder Michael Conforto leads the league with six home runs. The Beavers take on rival Oregon State in the first of a five Civil War games on Tuesday.
Stanford took the first and second of three games from USC in Los Angeles last week to clinch its second straight series victory. The Cardinal allowed just five runs over the first two games of the set— the Trojans are averaging nearly four runs per game this year. On Friday, senior right-hander Mark Appel allowed two runs and struck out seven batters in 8.2 innings of work and issued his only walk of the afternoon with two down in the ninth inning. Appel, the league-leader in strikeouts (71), had fanned double-digit batters in each of his previous five starts. His 1.13 ERA leads the Pac-12 and ranks 20th in the NCAA, and his .170 opposing batting average ranks second in the league, The Cardinal owns the second-lowest team ERA in the Pac-12 at 2.60, and Stanford pitchers have struck out 8.4 batters per nine innings, a figure that leads the Conference and ranks 23rd in the nation. Freshman right-hander Bobby Zarubin leads the Pac-12 with a .161 opposing batting average.
UCLA dropped back-to-back league series for first time since April 2012. The Bruins boast Pac-12-best 1.09 WHIP (8th in the NCAA) and rank 16th in the nation in hits allowed per nine innings (7.36). They own the league’s third-lowest team ERA (2.83, ranks 25th in the NCAA) and have issued a Conference-low 2.44 walks per nine innings (ranks 10th in the NCAA). Three Bruin pitchers—David Berg (6th, .195), Adam Plutko (7th, .197) and Nick Vander Tuig (10th, .233)—rank in the top ten in the league in opposing batting average. Berg owns the Conference’s second-lowest ERA (1.16). Plutko picked up career win No. 22 in the opener against Oregon State on Friday, moving him into a tie for ninth place on UCLA’s all-time career wins list. He ranks 10th in the Conference with 37 strikeouts. Vander Tuig also ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in ERA (9th, 2.18) and innings pitched (8th, 53.2).
USC dropped the first two games of a three-game set with Stanford last week, but edged the Cardinal,7-6, in the finale. USC has not been swept in a three-game series this season. In wins, the Trojans have managed a 2.23 cumulative ERA; in losses, they’ve posted a 6.74 team ERA. Junior left-hander Bob Wheatley ranks 4th in the Pac-12 with a 1.58 ERA, and sophomore right-handed pitcher Wyatt Strahan ranks 11th in the league with a 2.20 ERA. The Trojans are hitting a league-best .318 against left-handed pitchers this season. They will likely see a lefty starter in freshman standout Ryan Kellog when they host ASU on Saturday.
Utah claimed a pair of home victories over Washington State last week to earn its second series win over a Pac-12 opponent in the last three weeks and its third over a Conference foe since joining the league in 2012. The Utes limited one of the league’s top offensive teams to just five runs over the first two games of the set. They have allowed four runs or fewer in five of their last seven games, a remarkable feat considereing their last two opponents, Arizona and Washington State, rank first and second in the league in runs scored, respectively. With 26 games remaining on its schedule, Utah has already matched its win total from a season ago. The Utes rank second in the Pac-12 and 25th in the nation in triples per game (.43), and their 48 stolen bases also rank second in the Conference.
Washington has played eight straight games away from home, and the Huskies hit the road again this week for a three-game series at Stanford. Top pitching will be on display in the series, as junior right-handers Austin Voth and Trevor Dunlap take the hill against a stingy Cardinal staff headlined by ace Mark Appel. Voth ranks second in the league and is tied for 15th in the country with 62 strikeouts. Dunlap, meanwhile, boasts the Conference’s third-lowest opposing batting average (.179) and owns the league’s sixth-lowest ERA (1.91).
Washington State (17-13)
Washington State lost its first three games last week before dispatching Utah, 5-0, on Sunday. In the win, redshirt sophomore right-hander Scott Simon struck out a career-high seven batters and allowed just five hits en route to becoming the first Cougar in 14 seasons to notch a complete-game shutout. The effort earned him Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week laurels. WSU has lost just twice this season when it has allowed fewer than four runs and has conceded three runs or fewer in 11 of 17 wins. The Cougars rank at or near the top of the Conference in a number of offensive statistical categories. They lead the Pac-12 in batting average (.317), slugging percentage (.452), hits (334), doubles (63), home runs (19) and total bases (476) and rank second in RBI (176), on base percentage (.395) and runs scored (198). Four of the top 10 batting averages in the Pac-12 belong to Washington State players.
Go Devils !!