Thursday, February 28, 2013

Series Preview: Seattle U. @ Dirtbags, 3/1-3

It's a little late but, after a crazy week for me personally, I don't really care. Here you go...

This pretty much sums up my week.

The Dirtbags followed up their first series win of the year (sweeping Valpo) by playing maybe their most disappointing game of the year, losing to a weak Southern California squad. They enter this weekend with a respectable 5-4 mark and will do battle with a Seattle University team which currently stands at 1-7 and has scored just four runs in its last 45 innings.

What's at Stake
After going 3-1 versus the relatively easy Valpo/USC combo over the past week the Dirtbags will get one last chance to fatten up before the schedule takes a sharp turn to whyislifesohardsville. Long Beach State faces UCLA on Tuesday then spends the next three weekends against Arizona State, Wichita State, and Cal State Fullerton. Best to rack up the W’s now.

Tale of the Tape
Pitching Match Ups
Seattle U. broadcaster Dan Giuliani was our guest for this week’s “Dirty Talk”. Before getting to that segment he had some words on the Redhawk rotation…

Friday: LHP Andrew Olsen (3.00 ERA, 9:5 K:BB, 12 IP) vs. RHP Shane Carle (1.50 ERA, 9:4 K:BB, 12 IP)

“Olson is the Friday night starter and is a really tough, gritty pitcher. Not overpowering, but good location and an excellent change up.”

RHP Ted Hammond (3.48 ERA, 7:6 K:BB, 10.1 IP) vs. LHP Landon Hunt (7.20 ERA, 5:5 K:BB, 10 IP)

“Hammond…is a really exciting kid. Was a star QB in high school in the Seattle area and has a very poised demeanor for being a young kid.”

LHP Kyle Doyle (5.40 ERA, 8:4 K:BB, 6.2 IP)  vs. RHP Jon Maciel (3.75 ERA, 10:6 K:BB, 12 IP)

“Doyle (is) a sophomore southpaw with an awesome curveball. He doesn't have a lot of velocity, but location and the hook are his best attributes.”

For the most part Seattle has gone with some variation of this slate…

3B Cullen Hendrickson
SS Nate Roberts
LF Ryan Somers
C Brian Olson
RF Sean Narby
1B Zach Aaker
DH Grant Newton
2B Nick Latta
CF Landon Cray

The lineup’s been a bit Jekyll and Hyde thus far. The team on-base percentage has been a measly .327 but four different regulars (Narby, Somers, Cray, Roberts) have marks over .400.  Brian Olsen adds a OBP of .350 and may have yet to reach his stride this year (more on that below). The ‘Hawks have only one homer so far (hit by Somers) so they should fit in just fine at Blair Field.

As I mentioned during the live blog on Tuesday, Dirtbags that took the field against USC looked a bit too much like the 2010-2011 teams that possessed such lifeless offenses. That notwithstanding this year’s squad, though it isn’t going to break any records, up to this point has manned a very solid lineup from top to bottom. CF Colby Brenner, despite hitting just .120, has set the table nicely with a .371 OBP. SS Michael Hill, 2B Jeff McNeil, and 1B Jeff Yamaguchi each have OBP north of .380. 3B Juan Avila and DH Ino Patron have been inconsistent to start but are good bets to turn it around and C Eric Hutting has been one of the Big West’s top freshmen up to this point. The only thing keeping this team from having a legitimately good lineup is finding a star presence in the middle of the order.

Dirty Talk
In the 11th hour I lucked into scoring an interview with Seattle U. play-by-play man Dan Giuliani. Check him out on twitter (link on his name) and make a song request for his between-inning broadcast music…

Dirtbag Blues: How do you think the baseball program has handled the transition to Division 1 these past couple years and, generally speaking, what’s the future look like for Redhawk baseball?

Dan Giuliani: The program has had some natural growing pains that were to be expected starting a program from scratch. They had 5 players on campus in 2009 to redshirt a year before the first official season in 2010. After gathering only 11 wins in the first year, they have improved their win total each of the last two years. The original freshman class are now seniors, so this year the roster finally feels deep and robust. The future looks bright for the Redhawks with a good crop of young freshmen and sophomores who will be the nucleus of the team for the next few years. 

DB: What has joining the WAC meant to the program? What’s your take on the stability of the WAC in general?

DG: It's tremendous to be a part of the WAC and have the opportunity to play in a conference tournament and to go to the postseason this year for the first time. It gives the schedule some structure and will create some nice rivalry with opposing clubs over time. All important pieces of building the program. 

As for the stability of the WAC, it's really good going forward. There will be a lot of mobility with teams coming and going over the next couple years, but the conference is quite stable. It's turning away from football more and more and I think it is angling more towards a WCC or Big West style conference with a primacy on basketball and baseball. 

DB: Looks like the SU offense has been pretty well shut down lately. Has the opposing pitching just been that good or is it just a light-hitting squad this year?

DG: It seems to be a combo... (Cal Poly) San Luis Obispo had a nice staff and that series was very competitive – really was 3 legit pitching duels. The last couple games against BYU were frustrating and it appears that the offense was probably reaching since they had been struggling at the dish. But the potential is clearly there considering the 32 runs out up against Santa Clara in the opening weekend. The offense is expected to be better than they've shown, that's for sure. 

DB: Any potential draft prospects we should keep an eye on?

DG: The best draft prospect is the sophomore catcher Brian Olson. Really talented kid. Great arm behind the dish, blocks the plate well, and the stick is solid. Team MVP last year as a freshman (.382 OBP, 41% caught stealing in 49 games). Been slow to get going this year offensively, but he should be a guy to keep an eye on going forward. The other guys are the shortstop Nate Roberts, the freshman pitcher Ted Hammond (down the road), and the closer Eric Yardley who throws mid-80s from a submarine slot could be a draft guy as well. 

HUGE thanks to Dan for answering my questions fresh off the flight from Washington. Remember to follow him on twitter @DanGiuliani. He also had these last couple comments on the SU baseball program…

DG: The coaching staff at Seattle U is really tremendous. The head coach Donny Harrel is a great man and his staff is top quality. They'll have the ship righted soon... This rough start so far has been unexpected and perplexing. I expect them to turn it around. And one more note: they have the (10th) strongest out of conference schedule this year and the 29th strongest overall (DB: I believe this is referencing Boyd’s World). Most of the games…have been very competitive - one or two plays away from winning. Could easily be 4-4 or better at this point. I would expect a competitive battle this weekend!

Dirtbags' Keys to the Series
Landon Hunt’s arrival
Carle and Maciel have lived up to their billing thus far and Hunt is coming off a decent start last Saturday. Besides the Dirtbags’ need to picked up some W’s before finishing off it’s non-conference slate with a bang, Landon Hunt could use another confidence building outing before he takes the hill on the road against a Pac-12 school next week.

Fix the glovework
Aside from some great plays by the right side of the infield, the defense has been arguably the biggest weakness for the Dirtbags thus far. They’ve now managed to go three straight games without committing an error and will need to keep that going if they want another series win this weekend. Frosh. catcher Eric Hutting continues to have some growing pains (4 passed ball, 10% caught stealing) and needs to sort that out soon (thankfully the Redhawks have just two steals in seven attempts thus far).

Crack the fake rankings
As I mentioned earlier in the week, the Dirtbags are close to making the Best/Rest/West rankings and another strong weekend could finally convince the voters to get them in the top ten (Okay, I’m the only voter and I could just say “screw it” and put the ‘Bags at #1, but it’s more fun this way).

Up Next: No live blogs this weekend, so I’ll probably catch you guys next on Sunday night with a series recap and some WBC action. Good night, folks...