Thursday, June 3, 2010

Regional Preview


LSU is the #2 seed in what many consider the most difficult of the 16 regionals this weekend.  The regional consists of the #6 national seed and host team, UCLA.  But it also consists of the defending national champs and the #6 national seed from 2009 in UC Irvine, who was the runner-up in the Big West Conference this year.   Kent State will also be there to try and pull an upset.

LSU will open up Friday at 4:00 against UC Irvine.  The winner of that game will face the winner of the game between UCLA and Kent State.  Whichever team wins their first two games will be in the driver's seat to win the regional.  Here is an in depth look at both UC Irvine and UCLA.

UC Irvine (37-19,  17-9 in Big West Conference)

Cal Irvine enters the Regional ranked #21 in the most recent Baseball America poll, two spots higher than LSU.   UCI plays typical West Coast baseball in true "Small Ball" fashion.   They rely on strong pitching, patience at the plate, moving runners, and manufacturing runs.

The Anteaters don't impress at the plate.  They bat just .304 as a team with only 33 home runs on the season.  To compare, LSU bats .320 with 75 home runs.  Furthermore, their team on base percentage is the lowest of the top three teams in the regional.  In a bit of a surprise, UC Irvine has no real stolen base threats on the team.

They do have a couple of individual players that should be a concern at the plate.  First baseman Jeff Cusick is hitting .379 with 8 HRs and 56 RBIs.   Cusick generally bats third or fourth in the Anteaters' lineup.  Third baseman Brian Hernandez bats .333 with 4 HRs and 42 RBIs and also hits in the middle of their lineup.

Cal Irvine wins games with their outstanding pitching.  All three of their starting pitchers have at least eight wins and ERAs under 4.00.  Against LSU, they are going to throw lefty Daniel Bilbona, who looks like their top guy.  Bilbona is 9-2 with a 2.10 ERA.  He has 100 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 90 innings.  He only allows opposing hitters to bat .208 against him.   Needless to say, LSU has their work cut out for them.

It does look like the Anteaters' bullpen is vulnerable.  Closer Kyle Necke has four losses and a 4.61 ERA while allowing opposing batters to hit .308 against him.  If the game is close in the late innings, the Tigers certainly still have a chance to make things happen.

UCLA  (43-13, 18-9 in PAC-10)

UCLA has consistently been ranked in the Top-10 this year, and they enter the tournament ranked #8 in the most recent Baseball America poll.   The Bruins also like to win games with pitching and "Small Ball", but they're a bit more capable at the plate than UC Irvine.

As a team, UCLA hits .309 with 52 home runs.  They don't have any big boppers in the lineup as their leading home run hitter is catcher Steve Rodriguez who has eight.  They do have some other standouts.

First baseman Dean Espy leads the way with a .359 average, 7 HRs, and 45 RBIs.  Freshman Beau Amaral is batting .343.   And watch for shortstop Niko Gallego who is 21 of 22 in stolen bases.

Like UC Irvine, UCLA relies on pitching to lead the way.  And UCLA has some seriously good pitchers. They have a pair of dominating starting right handers, who happen to be tied for the PAC-10 lead in strikeouts.  Both guys are power pitchers with great stuff.

Gerrit Cole is 9-2 with a 3.27 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 96.1 innings.  Freshman Trevor Bauer is 9-3 with a 2.84 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 101 innings.  The good news?  Both guys, especially Cole, have a tendency to give up some walks.

 It's unclear who the Bruins will throw in their game against Kent State, but they'll probably save both Cole and Bauer for the later games.  If LSU wins their first game, they'll likely face one of these guys.

LSU  (40-20, 14-16 in SEC)

Head Coach Paul Maineri is going to start Austin Ross on Friday against UC Irvine.  I really like this move and think it's the right one.  Anthony Ranaudo threw a pretty intense three innings on Sunday in the SEC Championship Game, and the extra day of rest is probably best for him.  But aside from that, Austin Ross has been LSU's best pitcher over the last few weeks.

In his last four starts, Ross has a 3.95 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 27.1 IP.   Most impressive, he has only given up 18 hits in those 27 + innings.   Ross has shown the best control on LSU's staff lately, and that will be important against a team like UC Irvine who thrives on walks.  Lastly, Ross is reportedly the Tigers' best fielder from the pitcher position.  That can prove helpful against the Anteaters who like to bunt.

If the Tigers can manage to win their first game, they'll be a very confident bunch going against UCLA (most likely), and they'll be doing so with their ace on the ace who seems to finally be regaining his form.

I wouldn't expect any changes in LSU's lineup on Friday.  I fully expect Mason Katz to be in left field and Alex Edward to be at third base.

All in all, some great baseball should be on display this weekend.  

What else to look for this weekend?  LSU's regional is paired with the Cal State Fullerton regional.  If a team other than Fullerton wins that regional, then LSU can host a Super Regional at Alex Box stadium if their season is still alive.  


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