Sorenson: Off The Top Of My Head, April 21Analysis
• Want more D1Baseball.com coverage? Subscribe Today
Jeez. Am I seeing this right? We are only left with one more month of regular season play for this 2016 college baseball season? Hey Father Time, slow your roll man. What’s your hurry anyway?
Okay, while we sedate Father Time over here, lets move on to this week’s subject matter.
THE MILD MILD WEST
I had to look it up. The last time an NCAA baseball tournament did not have a regional west of the Rockies was in 1994. That was back in the 48-team days of the tournament. The eight regional sites were at Miami, Florida State, Texas, Clemson, Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Wichita State and LSU. None of the top seeds were from the West Coast.
Fast forward 22 years.
We are one month away from the end of the 2016 regular season. As things sit right now, I’m pretty sure the West has never been weaker. A quick look at the RPI — which is never very West Coast-centric to begin with — you’ll find one team in the top 25. Yes, one. That is UC Santa Barbara, which currently sits at No. 7 as I write this on Tuesday morning. The Gauchos did host a regional last year, if you recall, out in Lake Elsinore, which was 96 miles away from their campus.
If the season ended right now on Thursday the 21st, the only other teams from the West Coast inside that top 45 (a rough target for at-large berths) are Cal (No. 27 RPI), BYU (32) St. Mary’s (35), Gonzaga (39) and Oregon State (41). Teams on the bubble would be New Mexico (48) and Fullerton (50). Just off the radar would be Arizona (52), Washington (56) and Stanford (61). That’s about it.
What makes things even worse for the West is the fact that there is no conference tournament for the Pac-12 and Big West, so it’s not like these conferences can count on stealing an extra bid through that avenue. As usual, the conference RPIs aren’t very inspiring for the West. The Pac-12 is ranked third behind the SEC and ACC, the West Coast Conference is ranked eighth, the Big West is 10th and the Mountain West is 13th. Even the more West-friendly ISR rankings have the Pac-12 at third, the Big West at fifth, the WCC at eighth (yes, oddly the Big West is rated better than the WCC in the ISR) and the Mountain West is 10th.
Is it REALLY this bad? Is every team in the West in rebuild mode? I know Arizona State, UCLA, USC, San Diego and Cal State Fullerton are. Stanford is still stuck in mediocrity with the help of a lot of injuries. Oregon has underperformed with an offense that hits just .233. Long Beach State is getting close to being back. New head coaches at Pepperdine, Washington State, Nevada and Arizona mean there will be some adjustment time.
But then there are the Gauchos.
Fresh from losing nearly all of the entire team from a year ago – including first round draftee Dillon Tate and fifth round draftee Justin Jacome – and yet here they are in rebuilding mode too. But at 25-7-1 and No. 9 in the RPI, they are the only ones who seem to be excelling.
They had two returning starters back in the field and lots of losses on the mound.
As head coach Andrew Checkouts told me a few weeks back, “We’ve got a lot of guys that are on the field now who got to watch last year. They waited their turn and are doing really well for us now,” he said. “JJ Muno at second base and Ryan Clark, he played very limited at third base, he waited his turn and he has done a fantastic job for us. Offensively Austin Bush didn’t play full-time for us last year and now he’s batting cleanup. Center fielder Andrew Calica and shortstop Clay Fisher were our only regulars back.”
When I asked one West Coast coach his thoughts on the subject, he said, “I don’t really have an answer on the West Coast thing. So many schools out here with tons of talent and hard-working coaches so parity is profound. The start date change hurts us. The tweak in the RPI huts us. Add that with the fact that 30 pro teams on all of our recruits almost weekly and the product is what it is.”
But the West can take some solace in the fact that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee has shown that they’ll reward a Pac-12 conference champion with a little bit of a favorable seeding. As Mark Etheridge pointed out in his last week’s “On The Mark” column, in 2011 UCLA won the Pac 12 and hosted a regional after ranking No. 34 in the RPI. That same season, Oregon State hosted a regional as well despite a No. 31 RPI. So obviously, the West Coast teams will have to hope the committee doesn’t take the RPI at face value, which is always a crap shoot.
The latest D1baseball.com tournament projections show Santa Barbara and Cal as regional hosts, though neither home field is capable of pulling off the trick, so it is assumed that if they did get awarded regionals, they’d be off-campus again. But certainly nothing is a lock out West at this point. UCSB still has to play teams like Hawaii (No. 197), UC Davis (271), UC Irvine (115) and UC Riverside (216) and all of those could be RPI anchors.
Will the committee be generous and award Regionals that are 90-plus miles from campus again? Will the committee strictly follow the RPI? Will Cal or Oregon State or BYU or Fullerton get on a hot streak and zoom their way up to hosting position?
If not, the West will be partying like its 1994 again. In other words, by packing their gear and jumping on planes for the post-season.
THE TOP FIVE PLACES TO BE FOR THE MID-MAJORS
While the SEC and the ACC dominate the top of every ratings you can think of – I mean, it’s their world, we’re just living in it – there are a lot of huge mid-major showdowns this weekend that will have a lot of bearing on the post-season picture.
If I had the keys to the Easton Lear Jet for the weekend, here is where I would go…
– Creighton at BYU
RPI-wise, this is as big as it gets for both teams as the Jays enter with a No. 42 ranking (it was No. 32 before the loss to triple-digit Arkansas on Tuesday) and BYU sits at No. 34. And it will also be a great game of contrasts as the Bluejays come in No. 1 in the nation with a team ERA of 2.29 and the Cougars are No. 4 in the nation with a team average of .331. Something’s gotta give. BYU lumberjacks Colton Shaver (.411) and Brennon Lund (.408) pace the offense.
– No. 15 Rice at Southern Miss
Another great contrast, as the Owls pitching staff has given up just 98 earned runs all year and the Eagles wield some mighty Easton’s, hitting .313 as a team. But as coach Wayne Graham complained to me a couple weeks ago, his team can’t win every game 1-0. His offense is going to have to start getting hot and shake that woeful .251 team average, which ranks 234th in the country. Pete Taylor Stadium will be a tough place to ignite the flames.
– No. 13 UC Santa Barbara at Cal Poly
UCSB isn’t the only team to come into this season with nearly every face being fresh and new, the Mustangs have done pretty well so far – 22-13 overall – despite also returning just two starters in the field and with the eight returning pitchers combine for 15-18, 8.70 numbers. The Mustangs have an RPI of No. 99, so they are banking more on their finish in the Big West, which they are 4-2 in so far.
– Southeast Missouri State at Jacksonville State
This Ohio Valley weekend is a little off-the-radar, of course, but looking at the RedHawks (27-10, 16-2) and Gamecocks (25-11, 13-2), note that their RPIs are at No. 54 and No. 69 respectively. If either team should pull off a sweep here it will be huge for their RPI ranking. Either way, it will be big for both teams as they hurtle toward the OVC championship. RedHawk pitcher Joey Lucchesi has stepped his game up another level in this, his senior year, allowing just nine earned runs in 61.2 innings of work.
– Connecticut at East Carolina
I’m not sure how this scheduling quirk happened, but these two teams will play each other six times in the next three weekends. The first three will take place in Greenville and then the Pirates will make the return trek to Bristol in two weeks. UConn is really desperate here. The Huskies’ RPI is No. 74 but these six games vs. ECU are the only ones left against opponents with double-digit RPIs. So Ws will be at a premium for the Huskies.
THE RPI ANCHOR EFFECT AWARD
– North Carolina State.
Oi vey. The Wolfpack did not need this. They sit at No. 8 in the RPI and will now play a three game series vs. nearby North Carolina A&T. Sure it’s a nice gesture to take on the local boys, especially since one of the games will be played in Greensboro’s New Bridge Bank Park. But the Bulldogs are ranked at No. 289. Do you know what this is going to do to their Pack’s RPI? Ugh. And if they happen to lose a game? Double-Ugh.
The good news is that weekend series vs. Duke, Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina will assure they can get some RPI points back again. Hopefully it won’t be too late for their regional hosting hopes.
– No. 21 Minnesota at No. 249 Northwestern
– No. 39 Bryant vs. No. 179 Stony Brook
– No. 41 Oregon State at No. 134 Utah
I’M BECOMING ADDICTED TO DIVISION II
Okay, I’m kidding. I’m not intent on turning D1baseball.com into D2baseball or anything. But this is the third week in a row that I have checked out a D2 game (the others being Catawba-Tampa while I was working the Frozen Four in Florida and last Friday’s Chico State-Cal Poly Pomona game because there weren’t any good D1 games in SoCal). On Wednesday night I made it out to Angel Stadium in Anaheim to see Point Loma Nazarene face off with sixth-ranked Cal Baptist and their highly regarded ace Tyson Miller.
Miller was the big attraction at the Big A as he has made quite a name for himself among the MLB scouting community. He started to get a lot of attention after pitching in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer where he was named one of the Top 25 pro prospects in the entire league.
On this night, Miller displayed his four-pitch repertoire perfectly, leading the Lancers to a 5-2 win over the Sea Lions, who fall to 23-14 and 12-11 in PacWest Conference play. He held PLNU to just three hits on the night.
But it wasn’t completely clean. Perhaps a little skittish from the big stage he was pitching on, Miller got off to a very rough start. He actually walked the first batter of the game, then gave up in infield single and then an RBI single. Three batters, one run, no outs. After an error on the left-fielder led to another run, Ryan Garcia got thrown out at third base for the first out of the game. Miller then escaped further damage with a double play.
Guess what happened after that? Well, when Miller finally woke up from his temporary stage fright, he retired 24 of the remaining 25 batters. A sharp single with one out in the seventh inning was the only blip the rest of the game.
In the meantime, his offensive cohorts scrambled to score a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning on a Mark Sanchez bloop hit that just escaped the grasp of Sea Lion second baseman Matt Jervis. A third run scored in the eighth inning when Antonio Chavarria stole home on a double-steal.
Miller hit the mid-90s a couple of times and sat mostly low 90s, but he wasn’t overpowering, gathering just five strike outs. But he was obviously efficient, inducing 12 groundouts and nine flyouts amongst his 101 pitches.
With the win, the Lancers retain first place in the PacWest at 21-4, and are now 31-8 overall. Miller improves his ledger to 7-2 And not surprisingly history has shown that the Lancer pitching has been the biggest reason for their success over the years.
Coach Gary Adcock, a former UCLA Bruin from the early 90s, has had a pitcher drafted by the MLB in each of the last six years. Miller is sure to make this the seventh year in a row as he has been projected to go anywhere from the second round to the fifth round. Tonight, his first inning looked like an undrafted free agent. But innings two-through-nine were first-round stuff… with a monstrous signing bonus.
One of the cool things about this game at Angels Stadium was the impressive crowd that showed up tonight. The two SoCal christian-based colleges drew a crowd of 7,583 fans to the Angel den. The stadium administration originally just allowed the crowd to the two sections behind home plate, but when thing reached maximum capacity in those sections, they opened up a few more sections for the spillover crowd. Oh, but the stadium administers thought it was a good idea to have just one concession stand open during the game.
One-hour, 53 minutes
The best part of the entire game? Without any TV timeouts and multiple pitching changes and general over-coaching, the 5-2 contest between Cal Baptist and Point Loma lasted a brisk one-hour and 53 minutes. It was freaking beautiful. I am relatively sure I will not experience a faster game the rest of this season.
JACK WHITE AND HIS COLLEGE BASEBALL CONNECTION
Looks like rocker Jack White (White Stripes, Dead Weather) has hooked up with former Missouri Tiger Ian Kinsler to further develop Warstic, a brand of wood and metal baseball bats. Yes, Jack White and baseball go together. Warstic has been around since 2011 and Kinsler, who now plays for the Detroit Tigers, has been using them for the past few years. Here is an article which delves further into the subject:
And just in case you’re wondering, here is one of my favorite Jack White collaborations, with the legendary Loretta Lynn doing a song about that college baseball hotbed of Portland:
MORE SOUTHERN WOES
Not sure if you recall, but the Southern Jaguars were on probation last May when they played Texas Southern in the SWAC tournament title game. Had the Jags won, their season would’ve ended and TSU was headed to the NCAA Tournament regardless. Well, it looks like the Jags woes will continue. In fact, make that the entire athletic department:
Remember when Southern winning the SWAC with 30-plus wins and going to the Big Dance was nearly a foregone conclusion? This year, SU is currently 7-21 and ranked No. 296 in Division I’s RPI rankings.
BASEBALL LINGO YOU PROBABLY KNOW ALREADY
Turns out, I’ve been using the term “Mendoza Line” incorrectly. I always thought that meant that a team was falling below .500. My bad. Here are some more terms you guys probably know already, but just in case:
Cal State Fullerton SID Mike Greenlee put this charming Rick Vanderhook emoji together. Enjoy:
THIS WEEK’S EIGHT FOR OMAHA
If the season ended today, these are the eight teams I think would be there in The O, having their players put off their various summer league assignments for another week or so.
– Texas A&M
– Texas Tech
– Florida Atlantic
– Coastal Carolina
Yep, it is a Southeast blitzkrieg to Omaha, with red-hot Texas Tech being the only interlopers. What, you expected to see somebody from West of the Rockies?