Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bring on the Mountain West: Aztecs at Fresno State

Change has been the only constant in the Mountain West Conference the past few years. And so it is again this season as MWC play opens this weekend.

TCU has followed BYU and Utah down the road. Fresno State and Nevada have arrived. There are now six baseball-playing members — Air Force, Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV — who will all play three-game series home and away for a 30-game conference schedule.

The top four finishers in the regular season advance to the MWC Tournament, which will be played May 22-26 in Fresno. The tournament champion receives the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

SDSU opens conference play this weekend at Fresno State. Here are the game times and matchups:

SDSU RHP Michael Cederoth (1-2, 2.49)
vs. Fresno St. LHP Tyler Linehan (0-3, 9.82), 6:35 p.m.

SDSU RHP Philip Walby (1-1, 2.01)
vs. Fresno St. RHP Derick Velazquez (1-1, 4.38), 6:35 p.m.

SDSU RHP Ryan Doran (2-2, 3.75)
vs. Fresno St. RHP Tim Borst (1-0, 3.74), 1:05 p.m.

Here's a glimpse at each team in the conference coming into MWC play (series dates with SDSU under logos):

at Colorado Springs,
April 12-14
at San Diego,
May 10-12
AIR FORCE (5-10)
glance: The Falcons find themselves at the top of the standings only when the teams are listed alphabetically. They have been overmatched in conference competition for more than a decade. Last year's five conference victories was their highest total in 10 seasons. And it did include two victories over SDSU, giving the Falcons the home series against the Aztecs. Air Force is batting a collective .275, led by Peter Johnson (.381, 10 RBI), Garrett Custons (.328, 7 RBI, 5 SB), David Baska (.320, 1 HR, 5 RBI) and Alex Bast (.303, 1 HR, 8 RBI). RHPs Cameron White (1-3, 2.35) and Steven Trojan (1-2, 4.22) have been the team's most effective starters.

at Fresno,
March 15-17
at SDSU,
April 26-28
glance: The Bulldogs have struggled in the early going and, like SDSU, enter conference play with a five-game losing streak. They were swept in last week's four-game series at Cal. Scoring has been difficult for Fresno State, which has not been shut out but is averaging just under four runs a game. The starting pitching has been the team's bright spot (see starters above), but with a team ERA of 5.36 it's evident that the Bulldogs' bullpen has not been keeping up its end of the bargain. OF Aaron Judge (.328, 3 HR, 12 RBI) is the only player in the starting lineup hitting above .300 on a Bulldogs squad that is batting .224 as a team. Judge also leads the team in homers — they have eight overall — and RBI. 1B Trent Garrison (.296, 7 RBI), C Austin Wynns (.213, 1 HR, 8 RBI), OF Taylor Ward (.180, 1 HR, 7 RBI) and 3B Kevin Viers (.149, 1 HR, 6 RBI) have been the other run producers.

at San Diego,
April 5-7
at Reno,
May 3-5
NEVADA (11-6)
glance: The Wolf Pack arrive following 12 seasons in the WAC, where last season they shared the conference title. They have won six of their past eight games, including three wins over Holy Cross in a series sweep two weeks ago. They split four games with Kansas to open the season and also took three of four against Northern Illinois. 3B Austin Byler (.410, 6 HR, 24 RBI) is crushing it. DH Brooks Klein (.369, 1 HR, 11 RBI), 1B Kewby Meyer (.368, 2 HR, 10 RBI) and OF Jamison Rowe (.259, 1 HR, 10 RBI) are other run-producers. With the offense averaging nearly seven runs a game it has overshadowed the pitching staff's 5.53 ERA. RHPs Bradley Shipley (2-0, 2.93) and Tyler Wells (3-0, 3.32) have been effective. So has LHP Michael Fain (2-0, 1.74, 5 SV, 9 app) in closing.

at Albuquerque,
March 28-30
at San Diego,
May 16-18
glance: The Lobos opened the season in the Top 25 and were selected in a preseason coaches poll as the favorite to win the MWC. A challenging preconference schedule — which included two losses in each series with Oklahoma State, Nebraska and UC Riverside as well as single losses to Oklahoma, Iowa and Arizona State — has New Mexico fighting to get to .500. The Lobos are still hitting .327 as a team. Leading the way is DJ Peterson (.476, 8 HR, 22 RBI), who has . Luke Campbell (.385, 1 HR, 18 RBI), Mitch Garvin (.364, 13 RBI) and Alex Allbritton (.286, 10 RBI) and Sam Haggerty (.320, 9 RBI) also have been productive for a team averaging nearly nine runs a game. New Mexico's difficulties have been trying to identify who can get the job done on the mound for a team with a 5.32 ERA. Reliever RHP Josh Walker (1-0, 1.89, 9 app) is the only pitcher with appreciable innings who has been effective. RHPs A.J. Carmen (1-0, 4.67) and Sam Wolff (1-2, 6.50) have each made four starts with mixed results. LHPs Will Mathis (0-4, 7.15, 9 app) and Kevin Baumgartner (0-3, 7.53, 5 app) are being counting upon and keep getting opportunities to get it together.

glance: The Aztecs have swept two series — against USD and Seton Hall — and been swept in two series — against Oregon State and Arkansas — in what they knew would be the most challenging part of the schedule. The pitching in general and the starting pitching (see rotation above) in particular has been SDSU's strength. If there is any concern it is that the Aztecs were limited to two or fewer runs in eight of the 10 losses, although they were facing two of the nation's better pitching staffs in those instances. Key cogs in the offense are CF Greg Allen (.314, 7 RBI, 6 SB), 2B Tim Zier (.235, 11 RBI, 5 SB), DH/C Brad Haynal (.250, 8 RBI) and C Jake Romanski (.345). 3B Ty France and LF Matt Munoz account for the team's only two home runs so far. The team is eager for the imminent return of 1B Ryan Muno (.308) from a broken right hand, although 1B John Spirk (.261, 6 RBI) has been productive in place of Muno. Standouts in the SDSU bullpen have been RHPs Ethan Miller (2-0, 2.12, 6 app), Justin Hepner (0-1, 3.48, 6 app) and Bubba Derby (1-1, 4.22, 4 SV, 7 app), the team's freshman closer.

at San Diego,
March 22-24
at Las Vegas,
April 19-21
UNLV (14-3)
glance: The Rebels are riding a 10-game winning streak that includes a three-game sweep at Stanford last weekend to boost the Rebs into the Top 25. UNLV is batting .309 as a team and has six players — OF Brandon Bayardi (.386, 1 HR, 11 RBI), DH Erik VanMeetren (.368, 10 RBI), OF Mark Shannon (.362, 11 RBI), 3B Joey Armstrong (.328, 11 RBI), 1B Justin Jones (.326, 12 RBI) and OF Joey Swanner (.310, 13 RBI) — with double-figure RBI totals. UNLV has been solid in the rotation with RHPs Shannon (2-0, 0.86), Erick Fedde (3-0, 2.25) and John Richy (2-2, 2.96) and in the bullpen with RHPs Andrew Beresford (3-0, 0.93, 2 SV, 6 app), Kenny Oakley (2-0, 1.00, 4 app) and Brady Zuniga (0-0, 3.12 ERA, 2 SV, 5 app). The team ERA is 2.45.

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