Thursday, April 15, 2010

UC Santa Barbara Series Preview

By FullertonBaseballFan

Cal State Fullerton went into last week playing some of their best baseball of the season after winning eight of their previous ten games.  The Titans played their best baseball of the season last week by beating #3 UCLA 6-1 last Tuesday and following that up by winning two out of three games at #18 UC Irvine (4-7, 6-3, 6-1) in a pivotal Big West series.  Fullerton didn’t put up the big numbers against the good pitching staffs of the Bruins and the Anteaters that they did against UC Davis but they did come out swinging at UCLA with three first inning HR’s and got several clutch two out hits against Irvine in the final two games of the series.  Leading a balanced attack at the plate for Fullerton was Big West player of the week Nick Ramirez with three HR’s and six RBI’s.  The Titans received some strong pitching with a 2.29 ERA for the week and the leaders were Daniel Renken (6 1/3 IP, 3 R, 1 ER) on Saturday, Tyler Pill (8 1/3 IP, 1 R, 0 ER) on Sunday and Dylan Floro with 4 2/3 scoreless innings and one save in two relief appearances. Fullerton has now won 11 out of 14 games and gone 13-2 over the last five weekends and the Titans are looking to carry that momentum into their series up the coast in Goleta with the UCSB Gauchos.

UCSB (14-12, 2-1) almost qualified for a regional in 2008 and was one of the last teams left out of the field after finishing tied for 3rd in the Big West and expected to be playing in a regional last year with some veteran hitters and a strong pitching staff returning.  The Gauchos got off to a solid 14-5 start but started playing poorly due to their pitching not performing well during the Big West season and ended up a disappointing 28-23, 11-13 and tied for 5th.  UCSB lost their Friday SP and 7 of the 11 hitters who had 100+ AB’s in 2009 so the expectations going into this season weren’t too high with the Gauchos predicted to finish 6th in the Big West and the results have been pretty average.  UCSB lost series at San Jose State, Stanford and Sacramento State and at home to New Mexico State (all 1-2 series losses) with their only series wins coming at home against Northern Illinois (4-0) and San Francisco (2-1) and at Cal Poly (2-1) in their first Big West series last weekend.


Caesar Uyesaka Stadium is a ballpark with standard dimensions (335 down the lines, 385 to the power alleys, 400 to center) that slightly favors hitters, especially right-handed hitters with the wind usually blowing in from the ocean and out to left field, and the UCSB lineup is built to take advantage of that with only one left-handed hitter.  The Gauchos will play for the big inning and swing for the fences and are 3rd in the conf in both HR’s and K’s and only 7th in AVG.  Despite having that kind of all or nothing offensive philosophy UCSB is only 6th in the Big West in scoring and SLG% although they have scored in double digits in their last three games against Cal Poly last weekend and Pepperdine on Tuesday.  The Gauchos hit or miss offense has usually fared well against midweek pitching and the lesser pitchers that they have seen but has struggled against front end starting pitching.  UCSB doesn’t have much team speed and they are 7th in the conf in SB’s and last in 2B’s.  They have decent patience at the plate and are 4th in the Big West in BB’s and 2nd in HBP’s.  The Gauchos won’t bunt much with two hitters accounting for 10 of their 17 SAC bunts. 

UCSB has a decent fielding team with a .968 FLD % and has made 32 errors playing on an uneven playing surface that is known for being difficult for infielders to get true bounces on grounders.  The Gauchos are solid around the infield and they have decent speed to run down balls in the OF but their LF and CF arms can be run on for extra bases.


UCSB went the JC route to fill some of the holes in their lineup at 1B, 2B and DH and return starters at C and SS with one of last year’s reserves taking over at 3B.  The Gauchos have been using the same six players around the infield and DH except for an occasional start by the backup C.

C – SR #26 Marty Mullins (RH – .292/.404/.472, 4-13-0; ’09 – .295/.344/.485, 4-19-0) is in his second year starting behind the plate and was honorable mention all-conf in 2009.  He usually hits 6th or 7th and is tied for the team lead in HR.  Mullins doesn’t have much speed with only one other extra base hit besides his HR’s but does a good job of working counts and making contact.  He is very good at blocking pitches and has only allowed 11 WP/PB but has only thrown out 4 of 25 base runners attempting to steal.  Mullins went 2-10 last year at Fullerton.  Backup C Soph #24 Bryce Tafelski (RH – 5-16) has started six times in mostly midweek games.

1B – JC transfer #35 Trevor Whyte (LH – .323/.393/.427, 2-19-0) broke out of a 3-for-23 slump by going 9-21 with 5 RBI in his last five games.  He leads the team in H and is 2nd in AVG and RBI.  Whyte isn’t patient at the plate with only 6 BB and is 3rd on the team with 20 K.  He will usually hit 5th.

2B – JC transfer #10 Sean Williams (RH – .288/.370/.433, 1-11-2) has hit 2nd and started at 2B in every game and has been solid defensively with only four errors.  He is a scrappy player who leads the team in BB and 3B and is 2nd in H, 2B and total bases.  Williams handles the bat well and leads the team with 6 SAC bunts.

SS – SR #8 Matt Valaika (RH – .315/.407/.478, 4-22-3; ’09 – .343/.411/.545, 6-45-1) was honorable mention all-conf in 2009 and drafted in the 20th round but decided to come back for his SR year.  Valaika was the 2B last season after playing SS in 2008 before being injured 17 games into the season.  He usually hits 3rd and is the best returning hitter for UCSB and was 1st in AVG and SLG and 2nd in H, RBI, TB and 2B last season.  Valaika got off to a bit of a slow start but has gotten hot and went 10-24 over the last five games.  He leads the team in OBP, R, RBI and HR (tied) and is 3rd in AVG, H and TB.  Valaika has solid range at SS but has made 8 errors.  He went 2-9 at Fullerton last season and is 6-21 with one HR in his career against the Titans. 

3B – Soph #17 Ryan Palermo (RH – .244/.323/.415, 2-14-0; ’09 – 6-12) wasn’t able to get much playing time last year but has been the everyday 3B this season.  He has struggled at the plate, is 2nd in K’s and will usually hit 9th.  Palermo has solid range at 3B.

DH – JC transfer #22 Beck Wheeler (RH – .333/.371/.481, 2-17-0) was one of the hottest hitters before going 2-12 at Cal Poly and leads the team in AVG and is 2nd in SLG.  He will usually hit 6th but has hit all over the lineup.  Wheeler is also the backup on the left side of the infield at SS and 3B.


UCSB lost their CF from last season but returned the other two starters, moving their LF to CF, and a part-time player in 2009 has taken over in LF.  Their CF and RF have started almost every game this season.

LF – SR #33 Ryan Tregoning (RH – .288/.377/.409, 0-15-3; ’09 – .310 in 58 AB’s) was only a part-time player the first few weeks of this season but has gone 14-39 since moving into the lineup on an everyday basis.  He has decent speed and can play CF, which he did for part of Tuesday’s game with Pepperdine.  Tregoning doesn’t have much power and usually hits 8th.  He went 0-3 last season at Fullerton.  Soph #2 Lance Roenicke (RH – .219 in 32 AB’s, 2 HR, 5 RBI) was playing more earlier in the year and has gotten only a couple of spot starts recently.

CF – SR #5 Gunner Terhune (RH – .290/.379/.400, 0-19-5; ’09 – .284/.320/.396, 1-22-10) was a 2B earlier in career, moved to LF last season and has started almost every game in CF.  He is a pesky hitter who is 2nd in BB’s and SAC’s as the leadoff hitter.  Terhune has good speed and is one of the few threats to steal and has been 2nd on the team in SB’s the last two years.  He went 1-12 last year at Fullerton and is 3-21 in his career against the Titans.  Terhune left Tuesday’s game early with an injury and if he is unable to play Tregoning would move over to CF. 

RF – JR #25 Mark Haddow (RH – .287/.392/.495, 4-19-2; ’09 – .298/.371/.521, 5-25-10) is probably the best athlete on team and likely to be one of the highest drafted position players on the team (along with Valaika) due to his power/speed combination.  He usually hits cleanup and leads the team in SLG, SB’s and total bases and is tied for the team lead in HR and 3B.  Haddow has a big swing and has struck out almost 30% of the time the last two seasons.  He is 0-3 against Fullerton in his career.


UCSB expected to have a strong pitching staff last season with the nucleus of a good weekend rotation returning but the two returning SP’s underperformed, the bullpen was poor and the staff ERA was 5.56 and a very mediocre 7.04 in conf games.  The pitching has been better for the Gauchos with the staff ERA nearly a run better at 4.69 with solid pitching most of the time from each of the weekend SP’s.  UCSB’s bullpen has been poor again this year, except for a recent strong stretch by one of their relievers, and blown leads and the occasional poor outing each weekend from one of the SP’s has resulted in several 1-2 series losses that could have been 2-1 series wins.  The pitchers for the Gauchos have usually done a good job of throwing strikes and have issued the 3rd fewest walks in the conf but they aren’t striking out many batters except for their Friday SP and are last in the conf in K’s.  Because most of UCSB’s pitchers don’t throw hard and are around the plate, they are allowing opponents to hit .283 and have given up 20 HR’s.


FRI – JR #11 Mario Hollands (LHP – 2-2, 3.12 ERA, 7 starts, 2 CG, 49 IP, 42 H, 19 BB, 53 K, .235 BA, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 3 WP) has been throwing very well despite winning only two of his seven starts and could have had a couple of more wins with better support.  He threw a CG in a 3-0 loss to Sac State and received two no decisions after leaving with a 9-1 lead against New Mexico State when the bullpen allowed 8 R in the last three innings and after allowing 3 R in 7 IP last week at Cal Poly.  Hollands is 4th in the conf in ERA, 4th in AVG and 3rd in K’s.  He was the 2008 conf FR pitcher of the year when he went 7-3, 4.03 ERA but slumped last year and went 6-6, 4-74 ERA with 37 BB and only 49 K in 89 IP.  Hollands’ fastball was sitting in the 86-88 range last year but he put on some muscle in the off-season and now has his fastball sitting in the 91-93 range to go with a changeup and a very good slider that sits in the 85-87 range.  He was projected to potentially be drafted in the first ten rounds last year as a draft eligible Soph but slid to the 24th round and with the way he is pitching this year he is very likely to be drafted in the first ten rounds, possibly the first 5-6 rounds.  Hollands has a good pickoff move and has picked off seven runners the last two seasons but he has a slow delivery to the plate that has allowed runners to go 17-24 on SB attempts the last two years.  He has been tough on Fullerton and threw a CG in 2008 when he allowed 2 R on 4 H and he went into the 9th inning last year with a 4-3 lead before tiring and taking a 5-4 loss.

SAT – JC transfer #20 Nick Capito (LHP – 4-2, 3.79 ERA, 7 starts, 2 CG, 40 IP, 59 H, 11 BB, 22 K, .307 BA, 5 HR, 8 HBP, 0 WP) has taken over the second spot in the rotation with strong control and is 9th in the conf in ERA.  He doesn’t throw hard but he has good command of the strike zone and keeps hitters off balance but because he is around the plate so much he is prone to giving up hits and has allowed at least 7 H in every start.  Capito is unusual for a crafty LHP because he pitches up in the zone and induces more fly outs than ground outs (67/46).  In his first six starts he allowed 2 ER or less five times and threw two straight CG’s with 131 pitches in his previous outing before his start last week at Cal Poly and he wasn’t sharp, allowing 9 R (6 ER) on 11 H and 4 BB.  Capito does a solid job of holding runners with two pickoffs and has allowed 4-6 SB’s.

SUN – JR #28 Jesse Meaux (RHP – 5-1, 4.38 ERA, 7 starts, 1 CG, 49 IP, 58 K, 9 BB, 21 K, .282 BA, 2 HR, 5 HBP, 2 WP) was originally the midweek SP and only joined the weekend rotation three weeks ago and is tied for the conf lead in wins.  He doesn’t throw hard but has excellent control and does a good job of keeping the ball down with a 59/43 ground out/fly out ratio.  Meaux has allowed 3 R or less in five of his starts, including a CG 10-3 win at Cal Poly when he allowed 8 H and 0 BB and got 16 ground outs.  Because Meaux does not throw hard, when he is off he is prone to giving up hits like he did in his two of his three starts prior to Cal Poly when he allowed 5 R on 10 H against UCLA and 9 R on 10 H at Sac State.  He does a poor job of holding runners and has allowed 16-17 SB’s the last two seasons.  Meaux has not pitched well against Fullerton and has allowed 9 R (7 ER) on 6 H in 2 2/3 IP in two appearances.  


The bullpen has been a major problem for UCSB this season with blown leads contributing to several of their series losses.  Things have started to get stabilized at the back end of the bullpen but there are still issues in middle relief.

Closer – JR #34 Greg Davis (RHP – 1-0, 2.63 ERA, 0 saves, 8 apps, 1 midweek start, 14 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 14 K, .196 BA, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 0 WP) has taken control in the bullpen by throwing very well recently.  Before allowing a run on Tuesday against Pepperdine he had thrown ten scoreless innings in his previous five appearances, allowing only 4 H and 0 BB with 12 K and having very good command.  He finished last Sat’s game at Cal Poly with four scoreless innings and five K’s and he had three no-hit innings in a midweek start against LMU before the Cal Poly series. 

SR #31 David Meals (RHP – 2-4, 6.52 ERA, 1 save, 13 apps, 19 IP, 26 H, 5 BB, 14 K, .333 BA, 3 HR, 2 HBP, 3 WP) was effective as the closer in the non-conf part of last season but got hit hard during conf games (’09 stats – 3-2, 5.70 ERA, 5 saves, 43 IP, 43 H, 19 BB, 27 K).  He was still being used as the closer until Davis took over recently and Meals is now coming into games in middle relief.  He threw 2+ innings at Cal Poly and took the loss by allowing a run in the bottom of the 10th.

JC transfer #41 Connor Whalen (LHP – 0-0, 2.84 ERA, 10 apps, 6 IP, 12 H, 8 BB, 8 K, .387 BA, 0 HR, 0 HBP, 2 WP) is the only LHP in the bullpen and is the lefty specialist.  With Fullerton having several LH hitters in the middle of the lineup Whalen figures to come into a couple of games this weekend.

The other two middle relievers have starting pitching backgrounds.  JC transfer #23 Nick Loredo (RHP – 0-2, 7.63 ERA, 6 apps, 5 starts, 31 IP, 38 H, 13 BB, 14 K, .302 BA, 6 HR, 5 HBP, 0 WP) was in the weekend rotation the first month of the season but after poor starts against Northern Illinois and New Mexico State was replaced by Meaux.  He has made one relief appearance in the last three weeks and made the start against Pepperdine and allowed 7 R (5 ER) in 3 1/3 IP.  SR #12 Mike Ford (RHP – 0-1, 6.75 ERA, 9 apps, 13 IP, 17 H, 4 BB, 7 K, .298 BA, 3 HR, 7 HBP, 1 WP) was 2nd team all-conf in 2008 (6-4, 2.96 ERA) and big things were expected from him last year but he had trouble with minor injuries and his mechanics in the fall before last season and has never recovered.  He started 2009 in the rotation and ended up in middle relief by the end of the year after going 4-5, 6.75 ERA.


Fullerton goes into the series at UCSB looking like they are the better team.  The Titans offense has been better than the Gauchos, their pitching has been better and their fielding has been better.  But, UCSB has improved over the last three weeks and has won six of their last ten games with the offense starting to heat up and the starting pitching starting to gel.

Fullerton’s pitching staff matches up well with the UCSB lineup being almost entirely comprised of RH hitters.  The Gauchos are going to have to figure out how to generate some offense against the RHP heavy Fullerton rotation.  The front of UCSB’s rotation matches up well on Friday and Saturday with LHP’s going against the LH hitting middle of the Fullerton lineup.  Those are the key areas to watch this weekend. 

This doesn’t figure to be a one sided series because UCSB is looking to make a statement that they can be a contender in the conference race.  Although Fullerton has not lost a series at UCSB since 1985, the last three series up there have been closely contested with the Titans coming out of Goleta winning two out of three games each time.

Fullerton is going to have to play with the intensity both at the plate and on the mound that they showed last weekend at Irvine to win this series.  If the Titans take them lightly the Gauchos do have the starting pitching and could generate enough offense to steal this series.  If Fullerton does come out focused and ready to play they should win this series.

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