I figured since the team is playing a day late this week I can be a day late too.
The Utah Valley State series was a success in that our guys got to feel good about themselves at the plate, and we won three games. Now we trade Wolverine green for Cardinal, uh, cardinal and things get a lot tougher.
While we continue to worry about the offense against Pac-10 pitching, thereís no question the defense has improved. Over the first 26 games we were averaging 1.8 errors a game which translated into 1.7 unearned runs per game. In the last 23 games however the Cats have committed just 14 errors (0.6 a game) and have given up a measly 8 unearned runs (0.3 a game). Way to catch it and throw it, guys!
One benefit of the better fielding is we finally have a pretty set lineup. Brad Glenn is playing a steady third base and hitting in the middle of the order. Colt Sedbrook has re-claimed the second base job and is red hot as a table-setter. We have a nice lefty/righty platoon at DH with Dillon Baird and Mike Weldon splitting time. As an added bonus, Baird has started opening up his stance more so he and Weldon are almost mirror images of each other. We could start calling them Bairdon, but that would be silly.
(Shoot, when has that ever stopped me before? Bairdon, Arizona!)
The one spot we can't seem to lock down is left field, which also happens to be where we put our leadoff hitter most of the time. We started the season with Hunter Pace out there, then it went Diallo Fon, Brad Glenn, Pace again, Fon again, Bobby Coyle, and now - for the last couple games anyway - Fon once more. Diallo is as streaky as they come, so if Fon is on weíll be in great shape.
One thing that canít make you too happy is Preston Guilmet turning in two consecutive sub-par performances this late in the year. But whatís interesting about Preston is he doesnít struggle normally. I donít mean ďnormally struggleĒ even though he doesnít do that either. What Iím saying is when he has difficulties he does it differently than most pitchers. When most guys struggle itís with control. Theyíre always behind in the count so their walk totals go up, and they canít throw the ball by anybody. But Preston still isnít walking people, and he continues to rack up the strikeouts.
Last year when Guilmet was the best pitcher in the Pac-10 he struck out 9.7 hitters per 9 innings pitched. This year heís only down to 9.2 Kís per 9 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is actually higher this year, at 5.5 compared to 4.3 last year. So what is he doing with that pedestrian 6-3 won-loss record and ďhugeĒ 3.25 ERA? Itís the hits.
Preston only gave up 6.7 hits per 9 innings last year. This year itís up to 8.7. And in his last two starts itís at 13-and-a-half hits per 9 innings. It just shows that if youíre off even a little bit it can put everything out of whack and you start to get whacked. Preston is still living in the strike zone. He just needs to move the furniture a bit so the line shots turn back into grounders and pop-ups.
One positive is Guilmet hasnít thrown nearly as many innings as last year so he should be fresh and ready to put the team on his back down the stretch. I expect him to be a hit, instead of giving up a lot of them.
We will need PG at his best because the Cats will be facing playoff-caliber competition the rest of the way. Not only will Stanford and ASU both be in the postseason but there's a really good chance they'll both be playing in the Super Regional round with a College World Series berth on the line.
Whatís curious about Stanford is they have an excellent record in weekend series, but theyíre mediocre in midweek games. The Cardinal have series wins over Nebraska, Fullerton (a sweep), Texas (on the road), and enough Pac-10 series to put them just a game out of first. But during the week they have lost games to teams like St. Mary's, Sacramento State and Hawaii. Maybe at Stanford they just donít like doing things on a school night.
From our perspective, Stanfordís midweek troubles are great in that they make our non-league record look really good. I know itís hard to believe when you first glance at the standings but the Wildcats still have the second best overall record in the Pac-10. Our 34-15 record and .694 winning percentage are better than everybody but ASU, which is why weíre still the #2 Pac team according to our best buddy, the RPI.
Things can still get interesting from a hosting standpoint if we can win these last two series. Our RPI would be banging on the door of the top ten which would be hard to ignore even with a .500 conference record. That is, of course, a very big if since weíve only won one league series all year.
But better late than never, which is just what I always say.
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