Oregon St. is coming off a successful, 4 game sweep of their weekend games in Palm Springs, but the sixth ranked Beavers face a tougher test this weekend in San Diego. Last year, San DIego St., whom Oregon St. will face 4 times Thursday through Sunday, pummeled the Beavers 18-2.
The Aztecs aren't ranked in this week's Baseball America poll, but after sweeping a 3 game series from previously ranked cross-town rival San Diego, San Diego St. is ranked 22nd this week by Collegiate Baseball, who ranked Oregon St. 9th this week. Winning the weekend series would doubtless elevate the Aztecs, who are coming off a 26-34 year under legendary local baseball enthusiast Tony Gwynn, and a 12-12 Mt. West 3rd place campaign, into all the many baseball polls.
To get an update on San Diego St., we got together with Jeremy Mauss of the Mt. West Connection, who knows all things about every school in the Mt. West. Thanks, Jeremy, for taking time to enlighten Beaver Nation about Aztec baseball!
Here's what Jeremy was curious about, and our answers.
The Aztecs had a wonderful opening series sweep against San Diego, and mostly seemed to have the upper hand, taking early leads in all 3 games. What were the keys to those wins?
Basically, it started with the bats getting hot early, and getting to the San Diego starting pitchers early on. That allowed the pitchers to be have some breathing room and not worry to much if they were to give up a run or two, since they were given sizable leads after the first few innings. Seems simple, but they were just on, and everyone had a great opening series. It also helps when four players hit better than .333, and Tim Zier who had seven RBIs, hit .429 in the series.
Zier, the San Diego St. second baseman, was named Mt. West Conference Player of the Week, after, as you mentioned, hitting .429(!) for the weekend. Is he the centerpiece of the Aztec offense? What should Oregon St. fans expect to see offensively this weekend?
Zier is very versatile, and can be seen playing left field and second base which allows head coach Tony Gwynn to adjust the lineup with Zier able to play multiple positions. He also has been a starter since he walked on campus as a freshman, so he also has a ton of experience. So, yes he is the offensive center piece, he was the only San Diego State player to earn a spot on the preseason All-MWC team.
He is a pure hitter, and had 20 multi-hit games last year, and also a 21 game hitting streak. He has some speed as he had 10 steals and had 12 extra base hits. A reason he is so good at the pate is that he is patient and waits for pitches to hit, last year he drew 21 walks. He is going to be a tough out for any team he faces all year.
The Aztecs got a 6 inning start in the San Diego series, and used only 1 reliever in the opener, but it looks like in general the innings got spread across a number of pitchers pretty well. Is there a starter you expect to be dominant? Or will it be more of a season where the whole staff will share in the load?
Pitching is deep for San Diego State, so they actually could spread around the innings, or give most of them to their three main starters. As a team, they return nine pitchers who started 53 of the team's 60 games last season.
The key starters are Michael Cederoth, Philip Walby and Ryan Doran. Pitching coach Eric Valenzuela is very high on this group, and sees Doran as having "Greg Maddux-style stuff."
However, Cederoth is their ace as he has been clocked with 101 MPH fastball and is consistently throwing 95 or 96.
After these three starters, the Aztecs have an option of four other pitchers to help out when needed to start games. In the bullpen it was looking like Justin Hepner since he had seven saves last year, but freshman Bubba Derby already has two saves to Hepner's one.
And speaking of players of the week, Derby did have 2 saves in the 3 games, and was named Mt. West Conference Pitcher of the Week as a result. That's a pretty impressive debut! Is he going to be the standard closer for the Aztecs? Was what he did expected, or did he take everyone by surprise, and storm?
Not sure if Derby is going to be the guy for the Aztecs, because heading into the season Justin Hepner was the likely choice to be the closer. Last season Hepner went 5-3 with seven saves. I think it will still be Hepner, as he pitched five innings pitched to Hepner's two. Even if the two split duties, it will be very difficult final few innings for opposing teams.
Derby was highly regarded out of high school. In his senior year his stat line was amazing, having a 9-1 record with a 0.60 earned run average, striking out 117 batters over 81.2 innings. Seeing him possibly take over the closing role against a good San Diego team was unexpected, though.
It is a bit of a short week for both teams coming in, starting on Thursday night, and a long four game series, so what are your thoughts about the Aztecs pitching depth?
As mentioned prior, the Aztecs pitching depth is very good. They have nine returning pitchers who started last year, and then the emergence of freshman reliever Bubba Derby in the possibly closer role. The fourth starter is not yet defined, and there are a few players who could fit that spot, including Travis Pitcher (what other position would he play?) who made 10 starts last season, junior right-hander TJ Kendzora, who started seven games last year, and then there is the outside chance of Ethan Miller, who started just a pair of games last year.
Last season, the Aztecs blitzed the Beavs 18 to 2 in their only meeting. How concerned are you about OSU wanting pay back? What is your main worry about this OSU team coming into this series?
I would assume that Oregon State would want payback for that thrashing last year, and it probably will be brought up by the coaching staff, who will tell the team to not look past the Beavers. However, with Oregon State being ranked in the top-10 there is no way San Diego State should be taking this team lightly.
The pitching has been solid so far for Oregon State, since they gave up just 11 runs in four games, and limiting offenses to just .188 batting average. As San Diego State has pitching depth and has spread out the innings, so does Oregon State. With just four games it is hard to tell how good the Oregon State pitching and San Diego State offense really is, but the Aztecs will need to be on their game to get hits.
The Mt. West has taken on a fairly drastically different look, with TCU having departed for the Big XII, and Nevada and Fresno St. moving in from the WAC. With the double round robin the Mt. West plays, it adds a net of 2 weekend league series to the schedule. What are the impacts overall on scheduling and recruiting (losing 2 series with a high profile program like TCU, and an exposure trip to Texas) of the change?
Losing TCU was a huge blow since they were so good over the past few years, and as you said, it really hurts exposure in Texas where there is a ton of talent. Adding part of California with Fresno State helps some, but they are not really in a heavily populated area, being South of the Bay Area. Nevada brings really nothing for recruiting. However, Fresno State still holds a bit of a name for winning the national title a few years back, so that helps.
As for scheduling, it limits the amount of high profile teams in fertile recruiting ground to play during the non-conference play. As for the conference tournament, it just means that a lesser team could actually win the auto-bid. A team that has good pitching depth but perhaps not the best team overall could sneak its way to the post season title.
Coach Gwynn is (even) more than a hometown hero, with the stadium named after him. But how big is San Diego St. baseball in the community? And is Gwynn under any pressure (other than self-imposed) to produce wins against ranked and other high profile opponents? Especially after a 26-34 season last year, and a .500 conference record? Or is the San Diego St. gig his for life?
I would have to think he is golden with this job, well, unless he starts having year after year of losing seasons. I think this year he has one of his best teams in a while, and will contend to win the Mountain West title. Also, San Diego State is finally back at full strength for scholarships. From 2007-2011 the team was dinged with scholarship reductions due to a low APR. So, look for the team to be on the rise this year and beyond.
As for the community, baseball is well represented by the fans but since basketball is amazing and football is on the rise there are not as many passionate fans compared to hoops. In the end I think it is Gwynn's job as long as he wants it.
Thanks again, Jeremy. It should be a great series, and the substantial Oregon St. contingent (over 1,000 made a weekend of it in Palm Springs) should be in for some exciting baseball.