Thursday, April 8, 2010

UC Irvine Series Preview

By FullertonBaseballFan

Cal State Fullerton has been on a major roll recently and is 12-4 over the last 16 games, including an 11-1 stretch over the last four weekends, after defeating #3 UCLA 6-1 on Tuesday night, improving their record against John Savage coached teams to 24-5. The Titans got their second series sweep in the past three weekends in their Big West opening series against UC Davis as Fullerton bludgeoned the Aggies pitching staff in the first two games in 20-4 and 23-7 blowouts before winning a 3-2 pitchers duel last Saturday. All nine regulars hit at least .375 and Fullerton hit a blistering .461 for the weekend, four Titans combined to hit five HR’s (two by Christian Colon) and the RBI leaders were Nick Ramirez (nine, including a grand slam) and Tyler Pill (seven).

The Titans also received strong starts from Noe Ramirez (7 IP, 3 R, 2 ER) on Thursday and Kyle Mertins (6 2/3 IP, 2 R) on Saturday to keep the team in the game after the Aggies led 2-0 going into the bottom of the 5th before Pill’s two run double tied the game and Billy Marcoe’s HR in the 8th won it. Fullerton will need to keep playing well this weekend as the Titans travel to south Orange County to play the UC Irvine Anteaters in an important Big West series that figures to have a big say in who wins the conference championship.

UC Irvine (17-9) is the defending Big West champions and had their best regular season ever in 2009 when they were ranked #1 in the country for the last month of the season. With an experienced and veteran laden team returning the expectations for the Anteaters were sky high going into the season and like Fullerton they were ranked in the top ten in the nation. Similarly to the Titans, Irvine has also struggled to meet those expectations. The Anteaters flew across the country to play in Coastal Carolina’s tournament the second weekend of the season and came home with their tails between their legs after going 1-3 as part of a stretch where they only went 10-8 against a middling schedule (they have only played two games against teams in the top 50 in the RPI and lost both of them to Coastal Carolina). Irvine has started to come out of their slumber by winning four straight games including a sweep at Cal State Northridge in their Big West opening series before losing 6-5 to San Diego State on Tuesday.


Anteater Ballpark is notorious for being beneficial to pitchers due to the spacious dimensions and ample foul territory as well as the cool damp air at night. But this season, it has been a much different story for the Anteaters at home where they are 9-2, averaging 8.8 runs per game and hitting .337 in their home games. Irvine’s approach at the plate has gradually changed in the three years that Mike Gillespie has been the coach as they have gone from a team that played quite a bit of little ball with bunting, hit and runs and stealing bases to a team that is hitting for more power and hitting the ball in the gaps and relying less on playing little ball to score runs. The Anteaters are 4th in the conf with a .321 AVG and 3rd in the conf in scoring, SLG and OBP while ranking next to last in the conf with only 15 SB’s. Irvine will make pitchers work because they are 3rd in the conf in BB and have almost 40 fewer strikeouts than any other team.

Irvine traditionally has one of the better defensive teams in the conference and this season isn’t any different. The Anteaters struggled some defensively when they weren’t playing well but they have picked it up in the field lately and have made only one error in their last seven games. Irvine has a .972 FLD % and has made 28 errors.


Irvine has three very experienced players at C, 1B and 2B and all three of them are solid all around players offensively and defensively. The two starters Irvine lost were 1st team all-conf players – Big West Player of the Year SS Ben Orloff and 3B/OF Eric Deragisch and both were SR’s. Their replacements were in the program last season although one was a utility infielder and the other redshirted.

C – SR #20 Francis Larson (RH – .288/.333/.462, 3-22-0; ’09 – .309/.350/.532, 9-43-5) is in his third year as a regular and his second year starting behind the plate. He usually hits 5th or 6th and is 2nd in HR and RBI. Larson was 1st team all conf in 2009 and led the team in HR, RBI and total bases and was 2nd in 2B and SLG. He also led the team in K’s and leads the team this season. Larson is a good defensive C who has thrown out about half the baserunners attempting to steal the last two seasons (9-18 this year and 26-49 in 2009). He is 9-26 with one HR in his career against Fullerton.

DH – Soph #24 Ronnie Shaeffer (RH – .356/.418/.540, 3-14-1; ’09 – .388/.441/.533, 4-36-4) was 2nd team all conf in 2009. He wasn’t playing much the first month of the season but once he got his chance he did nothing but hit and was 3rd in the conf in AVG, led the team in SLG and was 2nd in OBP. Shaeffer will usually hit 5th or 6th and has been one of Irvine’s better hitters again this season and went 7-13 last weekend at Northridge. He is also the backup C and will be the starter behind the plate in 2011. Shaeffer went 3-11 against Fullerton in 2009.

1B – SR #14 Jeff Cusick (RH – .371/.446/.588, 4-28-0; ’09 – 293/.375/.437, 6-40-2) is a four year starter who has been a little overlooked during his career but is having an outstanding SR season. He leads the team in HR and RBI and is 2nd in SLG while hitting primarily in the cleanup spot and is on a 17 game hitting streak. Cusick was among the team leaders in 2B, HR and RBI in 2009, is the most patient hitter on the team and has led Irvine in BB’s the last two years. He is a solid defensively and a good athlete around the bag at 1B. Cusick is 5-25 in his career against Fullerton and hit 2 HR’s in last year’s series.

2B – SR #27 Casey Stevenson (LH – .305/.402/.453, 2-21-2; ’09 – .346/.441/.503, 3-41-8) was 2nd team all conf in 2009 and has quite a bit of power for a middle infielder. He led the team in 2B, was 2nd in RBI and 3rd in SLG in 2009. Stevenson got off to a bit of a slow start but broke out last weekend at Northridge with 4 H’s and HR and 5 RBI’s in the opening game. He was hitting 2nd most of the season but has led off the last four games and will do anything to get on base, leading the conf with 22 HBP’s in 2009 and leading the team again this season. Stevenson also handles the bat well and leads the team with SAC bunts. He is one of the better defensive 2B’s in the conf. Stevenson is 5-20 with one HR in his career against Fullerton.

SS – Soph #32 D.J. Crumlich (RH – .214/.377/.262, 0-6-2; ’09 – .261/.351/.323, 1-30-4) has been a part-time starter the past two seasons, at 3B in 2009 and SS this year, but has struggled with injuries and physical ailments that have kept him from playing more. He is healthy now and has started in 7 of the last 9 games and went 4-9 at Northridge last weekend. Crumlich is one of the more patient hitters on the team and will usually hit 9th. He is solid defensively and will make the plays on balls that he gets to. Crumlich went 2-8 last year at Fullerton. Soph #11 Tommy Reyes (RH – .226/.351/.274, 0-5-2; ’09 – .348 in 92 AB’s) started most of the year at SS before Crumlich returned a couple of weeks ago. Reyes had a very good FR season when he was honorable mention all-conf but has struggled at the plate and will usually hit 9th. He has a bit more range than Crumlich but is prone to making more errors.

3B – JR #5 Brian Hernandez (RH – .366/.408/.516, 2-20-2) was forced to redshirt in 2009 due to a paperwork issue with his transfer to Irvine and has been busy taking out his frustrations on pitchers this season. He usually hits 3rd and has been a line drive hitting machine who went 8-14 with 6 RBI last weekend at Northridge. Hernandez does a good job defensively at 3B.


Irvine returns all of their OF’s from 2009 except for part-time OF Deragisch and has had several players fighting for playing time. The Anteaters will usually put their best offensive lineup in the game and then make substitutions late in games when they are leading.

LF – JR #36 Ryan Fisher (LH – .391/.458./609, 3-12-2; ’09 – .320/.412/.520, 4-28-2) was 3rd on the team in SLG in 2009 but wasn’t playing much the first couple of weeks. When Fisher got into the lineup he started mashing the ball and has rarely been taken out since and leads the team in AVG, OBP and SLG while usually hitting 7th. He is an average defensive player who will often be replaced late in the game. Fisher is 4-13 in his career against Fullerton. If Fisher isn’t in the lineup, another candidate would be #33 Soph Jordan Leyland (RH – .448 in 29 AB’s; ’09 - .310 in 42 AB’s).

CF and RF – Irvine has been using lots of players in the OF so there figure to be several players out there this weekend. JR #2 Sean Madigan (LH – .323/.405/.331, 1-12-1) was a regular his first two seasons (hit a combined .330 in ’07 and ’08) but injured his knee the second weekend of 2009 and had to take a medical redshirt. Madigan will usually hit leadoff when he is in the lineup but has missed the last four games and is questionable this weekend.

SR #8 Cory Olson (RH - .227 in 22 AB’s; ’09 – .315/.394/.495, 4-18-3) was the regular CF most of last season before injuring his ankle and missing the last month of the season. He has seen limited playing time and usually enters the game as a defensive replacement. SR #15 Dillon Bell (LH – .250 in 28 AB’s; ’09 – .274/.378/.405, 2-21-1) has also found himself in a struggle for AB’s after being a part-time player in 2009. He will often come into games for defense in the corner OF spots. Soph #43 Jordan Fox (LH - .302 in 43 AB’s; ’09 - .289 in 38 AB’s) has seen the most playing time of these three players because he has been the best hitter this season.

JC transfer #26 Jonathon Hurst (RH – .355 in 31 AB’s) has been seeing the most time in RF recently because he has been the hottest hitter in the OF besides Fisher. If Hurst isn’t in the lineup then Fox or Bell would be in RF if Madigan is in CF.


Irvine’s program has been built on solid pitching going back to when John Savage and then Dave Serrano were the head coaches and that is still the case with a veteran rotation and closer. Irvine has a team ERA of 4.11 that is just behind Fullerton for the conf lead. Former Fullerton pitching coach Ted Silva has the Anteaters pitching well after they got off to a terrible start when they allowed 77 R in the first 10 games and opponents hit .325. Irvine has been allowing 3.5 runs per game the last 16 games and opponents have only hit .251 during that time. The Anteater pitchers will throw strikes and are allowing only 2.4 walks per game (4th nationally) and have hit the fewest batters in the conf while ranking in the top 30 nationally averaging 8.5 K’s per 9 IP.


FRI – SR #3 Daniel Bibona (LHP – 4-2, 2.54 ERA, 7 starts, 50 IP, 38 H, 11 BB, 60 K, .213 BA, 2 HR, 1 HBP, 3 WP) was the Big West pitcher of the year in 2009 (12-1, 2.63 ERA, 106 IP, 78 H, 26 BB, 108 K, .209 BA, 7 HR) but didn’t sign with the Cardinals after being drafted in the 16th round. He is a crafty lefty with great command of a mid 80’s fastball, an outstanding changeup, off-speed pitches and a cut fastball he has added this year. Bibona has had two poor outings when he allowed 11 R in those starts but has also had five outstanding starts when he allowed 6 R (4 ER) and 21 H total with double digit strikeouts in each of those starts. He has allowed 21-42 SB’s the last three years (3-8 this season). Bibona was excellent in his start last season at Fullerton when he threw 8 shutout innings. The Titans also struggled to hit Bibona at Irvine in 2008 when he held Fullerton scoreless for five innings before allowing 4 R in the next two innings.

SAT – SR #21 Christian Bergman (RHP – 3-1, 6.02 ERA, 9 apps, 7 starts, 40 IP, 58 H, 7 BB, 33 K, .339 BA, 4 HR, 2 HBP, 4 WP) was 2nd team all conf in 2009 (9-3, 3.50 ERA, 98 IP, 111 H, 16 BB, 66 K, .288 BA, 9 HR) but he hasn’t pitched up to expectations most of this season. He had two poor starts in his first three outings, allowing 12 R in 8 IP to LMU and St. Mary’s, but has pitched better in three of his last four starts when he allowed 7 R in 21 IP in those three starts, including 3 R (2 ER) in 6 IP at Northridge, but allowed 6 R in 3 2/3 IP at Nevada two weeks ago. Bergman does not have overpowering stuff and pitches to contact with an upper 80’s fastball and a sinker-slider mix to get batters to hit the ball into the ground. He does a very good job at holding runners and has allowed 10-30 SB’s the last three years (1-4 this season). Bergman had allowed 4 R’s on 8 H’s in 6 IP in three career appearances against Fullerton before holding the Titans to 1 R on 7 H in 5 2/3 IP last season.

SUN – SR #55 Eric Pettis (RHP – 5-0, 3.08 ERA, 2 saves, 9 apps, 7 starts, 53 IP, 54 H, 12 BB, 29 K, .265 BA, 0 HR, 3 HBP, 2 WP) was 1st team all conf in 2009 (5-2, 3.86 ERA, 17 saves, 29 apps, 42 IP, 47 H, 7 BB, 37 K, .296 BA, 6 HR) and was an All-American closer the last two years but has been converted to a SP this season. Pettis closed a couple of games earlier this year but Irvine has straightened things out in the bullpen so it’s unlikely he would relieve on Fri before taking his turn on Sun. Pettis takes a similar approach to Bergman in pitching to contact to get hitters out and has a very effective changeup. He has kept Irvine in every game and hasn’t allowed more than 4 ER in any of his starts and has allowed 5 R twice, allowing unearned runs in both of those starts. Pettis has allowed 5 R (3 ER) on 11 H in 7 IP in his career against Fullerton.

JR #13 Crosby Slaught (RHP – 8-0, 4.62 ERA, 16 starts, 76 IP, 87 H, 23 BB, 52 K, .297 BA) was expected to be a major contributor this season after being the Sun SP in 2009 but has been dealing with arm injuries and has only appeared twice in relief.


Closer - SR #17 Kyle Necke (RHP – 1-3, 3.76 ERA, 5 saves, 12 apps, 2 midweek starts, 26 IP, 31 H, 3 BB, 30 K, .301 BA, 2 HR, 1 HBP, 2 WP) contributed to the bullpen’s struggles when he allowed 8 R in his first 2 IP. He has been outstanding since then and had not given up a run in 11 IP over seven appearances before blowing the save against San Diego State when he allowed 2 R in the 9th inning on Tuesday. Necke has a power arm with a low 90’s fastball and a cutter that he added in the middle of last year that made him very effective in the last month of the season as a set-up man for Pettis. He has thrown five innings in both of his midweek starts and will be able to come into a game and throw 2+ innings in a save situation.

The middle relievers most likely to come into close games are FR #23 Andy Lines (LHP – 1-0, 5.40 ERA, 1 save, 11 apps, 7 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 10 K, .182 BA, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 1 WP), Soph #22 Matt Summers (RHP – 1-2, 7.98 ERA, 10 apps, 2 midweek starts, 15 IP, 22 H, 7 BB, 17 K, .355 BA, 1 HR, 3 HBP, 2 WP), FR #28 Kyle Hooper (RHP – 0-0, 4.61 ERA, 8 apps, 14 IP, 21 H, 1 BB, 12 K, .344 BA, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 1 WP) and Soph #18 Nick Hoover (RHP – 0-0, 1.93 ERA, 6 apps, 5 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 7 K, .133 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 0 WP). Irvine will take it by batter by batter with these four, especially with situational LHP Lines who could see action in a couple of games this weekend with all of the LH hitters in Fullerton’s lineup. Summers and Hooper have two of the best arms on the pitching staff with low 90’s fastballs.


There won’t be too many secrets among the coaching staffs of Fullerton and Irvine with Serrano and his staff having coached many of the position players and pitchers on Irvine’s roster and Gillespie very familiar with Fullerton after having coached against the Titans since the 1980s. An interesting intangible in this series is the visiting teams are 10-5 in the five series the teams have played over the previous four seasons.

The pitching staffs and offenses for both Fullerton and Irvine are pretty much mirror images of each other. Both teams got off to slow starts on the mound and at the plate but have been doing better in both areas recently.

Fullerton’s offense was completely stifled when they were held to seven runs in three games by Irvine in last year’s series. If the Titans are going to win this series the bottom line is they are going to have to figure out how to be more productive offensively.

Fullerton’s weekend starting pitching has been struggling after Noe Ramirez and both Daniel Renken and Tyler Pill are going to need to show improvement this weekend for Fullerton to win the series. Christian Bergman and Eric Pettis are veterans and are likely to make it tough on the Fullerton hitters.

The key to winning this series of pretty evenly matched teams will probably come down to Friday night’s matchup of Ramirez vs. Bibona. As the home team Irvine would be more likely to be able to lose the first game and come back to win the next two games and the series. Fullerton needs to play with a great sense of urgency on Friday night to win that game and split the next two games because it would be difficult to drop Friday’s game and win the next two games to win the series.

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