Monday, February 18, 2013

Series Preview: Arizona @ Dirtbags, 2/19-20

First Vanderbilt, now the national champs? Why…

I didn’t plan on using another Simpson clip, it’s just that finding different clips is... hard. 

The Dirtbags open up their very large (33-game) home schedule with another chance to earn some RPI brownie-points. Arizona just got done kicking the crap out of poor Coppin State, although the Eagles (that’s Coppin State’s nickname, as I’m sure you didn’t know) put up a decent enough fight in a 13-9 loss on Sunday.

What’s At Stake
Though being a home series versus a lower ranked opponent than Vanderbilt, the Dirtbags have another prime opportunity to pick up some quality wins versus defending national champion Arizona. The series also concludes a 5-games-versus-Omaha-contenders-in-six-days gauntlet that should give us an early idea of what this team is made of.

Also, after a poor showing from Landon Hunt on Sunday, this series presents an opportunity for a couple pitchers to fight for weekend rotation spots. Friday starter Jon Maciel also had his struggles over the weekend, prior to which time Troy Buckley curiously had this to say: eventually I see Jon Maciel as our set up guy but he’s the starter on Friday…”

I can only assume that was Buckley’s exact quote, as the paragraph that featured it in the Long Beach Post contained some pretty laughable typos. Buckley also recently said he’d like the luxury of having an exclusive mid-week starter, so this series could also be an audition for that spot.

Tale Of The Tape
Pitching Match-Ups
Tuesday: RHP Nick Cunningham (0.00 ERA, 1:1 K:BB, 2.2 IP) vs. LHP Nick Sabo (0.00 ERA, 2:0 K:BB, 2 IP) 

Updated: Nick Sabo gets the nod for Tuesday. The southpaw Sophomore has probably faced more Pac-12 teams at this point in his career than some Pac-12 starting pitchers. 

Cunningham is a senior that has been used progressively less and less after being a reliable option in Andy Lopez’ pen back in 2010.

Wednesday: LHP Tyler Crawford (0.00 ERA, 1:0 K:BB, 0.2 IP) vs. TBA; Projected: RHP Ryan Millison (15.00 ERA, 2:3 K:BB, 1.1 IP)

There’s really no telling who’s getting the start, but Millison seems like a good bet. The righty was a workhorse at the JuCo level but, as we’ve mentioned before, he’s had his share of control issues.

Crawford’s coming off a decent 2012 when he also made a couple of starts.

As noted above, the Wildcats are coming off a huge opening weekend when they scored 43 runs without hitting a single home run (that’s how it’s done, Dirtbags). We saw a slightly different lineup on Sunday, but this seems to be their everyday lineup going forward.

LF Scott Kingery, RH
RF Joseph Maggi, LH
CF Johnny Field, RH
C Riley Moore, Switch
3B Brandon Dixon, RH
2B Trent Gilbert, LH
DH Tyler Parmenter, RH
1B Ryan Koziol LH
SS Kevin Newman RH

We’ve got a few notes on this ‘Zona lineup in this series’ edition of Dirty Talk, below.

The Dirtbags showed a pretty unexpected lineup (Hutting batting second, Patron in LF, Miller DH’ing) versus the southpaw on Friday, so it’ll be interesting to see just how settled the lefty-lineup is when the ‘Bags take the field on Wednesday. As for Tuesday, it seems Buckley/Zepeda have settled upon something along these lines:

CF Colby Brenner, LH
2B Jeff McNeil, LH
3B Juan Avila, RH
DH Ino Patron, LH
RF Richard Prigatano, RH
1B Jeff Yamaguchi, RH
LF Josh Guerra, RH
SS Michael Hill, LH
C Royce Murai/Eric Hutting, RH

No word on why Avila wasn’t playing on Sunday. If he sits again expect true freshmen Jonathan Serven or Zack Rivera to get the nod.

Dirty Talk
To help us get the inside scoop on the defending national champs, I’ve recruited the help of Cody James Martin, writer for the website WildcatAuthority. Cody also offers regular updates on Arizona athletics via his twitter account, @CodyJamesMartin. Here’s some of what Cody had to tell us about the Wildcats’ title defense…

Dirtbag Blues: How does last year’s pitching staff (which relied so heavily on just a few pitchers) compare to this year’s staff? Could we have another situation like last year, where all 3 weekend starters log well over 100 innings?

Cody James Martin: It is very likely that the starting pitchers will go deep into the games. Konner Wade and James Farris will be the Friday-Saturday starters and are both returning from last season. They went late in games last season and should do similar this year. (This week, LBSU) will likely also get a good look at Stephen Manthei. Matt Troupe should continue to be the closer for Arizona.

DB: Which, now departed, player from last year’s championship team will be the most difficult to replace?

CJM: That is really a tough question to answer. Alex Mejia was arguably the best defensive player in the Pac-12 last season. When you lose guys like that, he is going to be hard to replace. He was the Pac-12 POTY and was key in the heart of the order for Arizona. He will be the toughest to replace, but the Wildcats also lost starting ace Kurt Heyer, outfielders Joey Rickard and Robert Refsnyder, third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean, and senior pinch hitter Bobby Brown. All six were everyday starters. 

DB: Any new starters (pitcher or position players) we should keep an eye on? Anyone poised for a breakout year?

CJM: Arizona catcher Riley Moore is the one player who may be poised for the biggest breakout season. He played well his freshman season, improving his batting as the season went on. He has worked on his defense throughout the offseason and should be better this coming season. 

With that being said, Johnny Field was the Pac-12 batting champion last year. He was only a sophomore, so he was not draft eligible, but may have been the first Wildcat taken in the draft if he had been eligible. Field should be set to lead the team this year and his success will directly affect the success of the team.

DB: How does this season’s recruiting class look? Has last season’s title run had an impact on recruiting?

CJM: I don't have exact numbers with me, but the national championship didn't have a tremendous effect on this recruiting class. Most of the incoming players had been recruited well before the title run. The next class will be affected by the championship run. Arizona already has a few commitments for the 2014 recruiting class, including powerful catcher Handsome Monica. (DB note: yes, that’s his real name)

DB: Can you tell me a little about the Wildcats offense? Obviously it plays well at Hi Corbett, but how should the bats fare on the road?

CJM: The offense is tooled for Hi Corbett, as that is where they play 3/4 of their games. It is a giant ballpark and the theme for the offense is to hit "low line drives" that can find holes in the infield and possibly find gaps. At Frank Sancet Stadium, Arizona's old park, it was easier to hit home runs and the wind blew out more often. With the new park, the wind blows in most of the time and home run balls are often easy fly ball outs. Knowing this changes the approach for batting. The team doesn't try to take pitchers deep, but foul off multiple pitches and put the ball in play. Obviously, at home it is a great advantage, including play in Omaha (which has similar dimensions), but on the road, it could be costly as the opposing team knows how to close gaps easier and is used to the field. Good defensive teams will be able to shut the small ball down easier than other schools, but it is at a disadvantage that Arizona won't be swinging for the fences.

DB: What are some of the questions this year’s team will have to address in order to make it back to Omaha?

CJM: The biggest question is youth. Pitching has been and always should be a strength for Andy Lopez and his teams. However, he is being forced to start a freshman at shortstop, Kevin Newman, and will be playing multiple players that saw limited time last year. Getting them acclimated to playing at the speed of college baseball and every day won't be easy. That is the biggest challenge. 

DB: As a fan of rivalries (such as Long Beach State vs. Cal State Fullerton), can you tell me what the baseball rivalry is like between Arizona and Arizona State?

CJM: The rivalry between those two schools isn't anything small. Words won't be able to do it justice. In all sports, on campus, around the city of Tucson, Arizona fans do not like Arizona State and vice versa. There is some civility at times, but for the most part, neither school really cares about the other. Arizona's AD Greg Byrne continually refers to ASU as "That school up North".

I began covering Arizona Baseball last season in the final weekend, when ASU visited Tucson. Both games I attended were hard fought and chippy the entire game. The Wildcats won with two walk-offs during that weekend and it was the biggest weekend of the regular season. 

Thanks again to Cody for helping out with this week's series. Once again, you can catch some of his work on WildcatAuthority and follow him on twitter @CodyJamesMartin.

Dirtbags' Keys To The Series
How will the opening weekend hangover affect the teams?
In addition to the toll the quick turnaround could have on the pitching staffs, Long Beach State comes home and is on the heels of a win against arguably the best team in the nation. On the flip side, Arizona completed a sweep to start the year off, but did so on Sunday with a no-so-dominate performance against (by far) the worst team in Division 1 a year ago. The stark contrasts in the quality of opponents could affect both teams.

The ballpark effect
Similar to the task Arizona faced with Hi Corbett, the Dirtbags are still looking to find that ideal lineup in BBCOR-era Blair Field. Adding a speedster like Colby Brenner helps, but the key will be seeing how easily this year’s lineup will be able to find the gaps in Blair’s spacious outfield. Conversely, the LBSU pitchers will have to make sure they keep the ball on the ground (or avoid the Cats’ bats entirely) and keep U of A from using our own ballpark against us.

(I know that’s wrong, it’s just an inside joke I’m having with myself…) As noted above, I’m not quite sure who’s going to be on the hill for the Dirtbags this week. Besides the starting rotation, this series could also help define the roles in our bullpen. Besides David Hill’s near three inning-save on Sunday, no one’s had a chance to vie for the closer role. 

Up Next: The new top-25s are rolling out. That means it's time to throw together another "Best of the Rest in the West" ranking!