SEE ALSO: Complete Top 25 Coverage
SEE ALSO: Weekend Preview Coverage
Teddy Cahill and Carlos Collazo look at college baseball’s biggest series heading into the weekend
Last season Utah won the Pacific-12 Conference championship with a series victory over Washington on the final weekend of the regular season, clinching with a 21-8 blowout on that final Sunday.
The Huskies wound up second in the standings after dropping the Saturday and Sunday games at Salt Lake City—giving up 33 runs combined—allowing the Utes to claim the first men's Pac-12 title in school history (Utah joined the conference in 2011-12).
|TOP 25 SERIES|
|Boston College at (1) Louisville|
|(2) Florida State at Virginia Tech|
|Kansas at (3) Texas Christian|
|(4) Oregon State at Arizona State|
|(5) Florida at Auburn|
|Georgia at (6) Louisiana State|
|New Mexico at (7) Cal State Fullerton|
|Mercer at (8) East Carolina|
|(15) Virginia at (9) Clemson|
|(10) South Carolina at Tennessee|
|(11) Texas Tech at Texas|
|(12) Arizona at UCLA|
|(13) North Carolina at Georgia Tech|
|Appalachian State at (14) Louisiana-Lafayette|
|West Virginia at (16) Baylor|
|Vanderbilt at (18) Mississippi|
|(20) Coastal Carolina at Texas State|
|Rutgers at (21) Florida Gulf Coast|
|Kentucky at (22) Texas A&M|
|Northwestern State at (23) Oklahoma State|
|Northern Illinois at (24) Michigan|
|Utah at (25) Washington|
|Top 25 Tournaments|
|Sean McGrath Invitational, Norfolk, Va.|
|(19) St. John's, Iona, Massachusetts-Lowell, Towson|
This season's Pac-12 race begins this weekend with a rematch of last year's de facto championship series between Utah (9-5) and No. 25 Washington (9-6). Also highlighting the opening weekend is No. 12 Arizona (13-3) traveling to UCLA (6-9). No. 4 Oregon State (14-1), the conference's top-ranked team, will visit Arizona State (9-7).
While the rematch between Utah and Washington is a juicy storyline, Utah coach Bill Kinneberg said last year's result is in the rearview mirror and thinks it's likely to stay there this weekend.
"It's a new year," Kinneberg said, "there's a lot of different players and it's the first of 30 (games). I'm sure memories or thoughts of last year are going through both sides, but really it's a new year and it starts over.
"And we've got a heck of a challenge ahead of us."
The challenge on Friday night will be Washington righty Noah Bremer, who is coming off of a seven-inning, two-run outing against Indiana State, where he fanned seven batters and walked just two.
Bremer is 1-2, 2.88 ERA through four starts this season, striking out team-high 27 batters and allowing just a .168 opponent average.
Utah should be well positioned to counter that, as the Utes enter this series with the second-best team average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in the Pac-12. According to Kinneberg it's as good a start he's ever had offensively—or better.
Senior third baseman Dallas Carroll is leading the way with a .439/.485/.614 line and six walks to four strikeouts.
"He has been really hot, swinging the bat great," Kinneberg said. "You know, he's added some strength and I think that's helped him, but most of all I think his approach is very good right now."
Meanwhile, in the rotation, sophomore righty Riley Ottesen has made a seamless transition to the starting rotation, posting a 2.49 ERA through his first four starts with a 4.75 K/BB ratio.
"He's been good all four weekends and really, really outstanding this last weekend at home against New Mexico State," Kinneberg said. "He's throwing three pitches for strikes and commanding the fastball pretty well, and his slider is really good.
"He's a great athlete, and he's in terrific shape . . . I think his motion's repeatable and I just think he's one of those guys who can throw a lot of innings."
While, for the most part, Kinneberg is happy with where his team is at entering conference play he did say that hitting against lefthanded pitching would be an emphasis moving forward.
At UCLA, coach John Savage and the Bruins are looking to improve their play as they take on Arizona in Los Angeles.
"Obviously with our record and our numbers, we just have not been a consistent club," Savage said, speaking to his team's last-place, non-conference record in the league. "We need to find that consistency if we're going to be in this race in the Pac-12."
The Bruins have scored just 58 runs this season through their first 15 games (tied for 241st in the nation), an average of 3.87 per game.
First baseman Sean Bouchard has been carrying the offensive load for UCLA, hitting .309/.388/.600 with four home runs and four doubles. He is the only Bruin batter with more than 25 at-bats and an average over .300.
"Sean has shown that he's very capable of having impact as an offensive player," Savage said. "When I say impact I mean doubles and RBIs and slugging percentage—just having real impact, middle-of-the-lineup guy.
"The last four or five games he's pressed a little bit. For whatever reason in Texas he did. He had a couple hits (Tuesday) night, but when we're pressing to score runs it sometimes does put extra pressure on the middle of the lineup. But he can handle that. He's been through a lot."
Savage is looking for freshman DH Kyle Cuellar to continue his hot start to help, offensively. Cueller hit a three-run homer during the Texas series and is batting .364/.464/.591 through his first 22 collegiate at-bats.
"We have a lot of good players," Savage said, "we just need to get it going. They just haven't found the consistency that we've wanted from the start that we need."
Arizona got off to an extremely hot start, winning its first 10 games, and will serve as a stark contrast to UCLA's lineup unless the Bruins turn the switch this weekend. Seemingly everyone has been hitting for the Wildcats, giving Arizona easily the top offense in the Pac-12. Nationally, the only team that has scored more runs than Arizona (167) is New Mexico State.
If on-base percentage is the barometer for offensive performance, no team has been better than Arizona and its .462 OBP—the No. 2 team is Kentucky at .439.
"Clearly offensively, they got some firepower," Savage said. "They're scoring a bunch of runs."
Fortunately, UCLA has had no struggles with its pitching staff, boasting a 2.98 team ERA. Junior righty Griffin Canning is leading the way for the Bruins with a 0.96 ERA through his first four starts, and 38 strikeouts to 12 walks in 28 innings.
"Canning has been very good," Savage said. "You know he's pitched with his stuff. His stuff has made a little bit of a jump. He's attacking hitters. He's been really as good as we wanted him to be in the first four weeks.
"We just haven't given him any run support."
Virginia's tough road continues: No. 15 Virginia began Atlantic Coast Conference play with a series loss at North Carolina last weekend and will now hit the road again for a tough series at No. 9 Clemson. The Cavaliers (14-3) struggled on the mound against the Tar Heels, allowing 21 runs in their two losses, and will need a better performance against the Tigers.
While Virginia's pitching is still working itself out, its offense has been hot to start the season. The Cavaliers are hitting .322/.411/.472 as a team, led by outfielder/lefthander Adam Haseley (.400/.500/.815, 7 HR).
Clemson (14-3) began conference play with a sweep of Notre Dame and is on an 11-game winning streak dating back to last year against ACC opponents. The Tigers again have a potent lineup anchored by first baseman Seth Beer (.255/.488/.582, 5 HR), but their pitching staff has taken a step forward this season. The Tigers have a team ERA of 2.89, led by lefthander Charlie Barnes (1-1, 0.69).
CUSA contenders clash: The Conference USA standings were tightly compact last season, with just 2 1/2 games separating the top five teams. The conference put four teams into regionals, including Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi, who will meet this weekend in Ruston, La., to open league play.
Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss were the only two teams in the conference to win at least 40 games last season, and they begin conference play this season with the two best records. The Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1987 and are off to a 15-2 start this season under first-year coach Lane Burroughs. The Golden Eagles (12-4) won the conference tournament last season and again look like one of the conference's powers.
With CUSA looking very competitive again this season, both Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss will be looking to start conference play with a marquee series victory.
Kent State rolling on the road: Kent State and Western Carolina's series this weekend won't be as high-profile as Utah facing Washington, but it is also a rematch of a series from the final weekend of the 2016 regular season. Kent State, last season's Mid-American Conference champion, won last year's series at home against Western Carolina—last season's Southern Conference Tournament champion—and will look to repeat the feat on the road this weekend.
The Golden Flashes (9-5) are on the road for the fifth straight weekend to start the season, but so far they have had just one slip-up—a 1-3 weekend at Wake Forest's tournament two weeks ago. The Catamounts (7-8) have been up and down this season, but are coming off a series win at Nebraska. Both teams start conference play next season and will be looking to build momentum before then.
Kent State has been led by outfielder Luke Burch (.290/.456/.627) and third baseman Tim DalPorto (.362/.377/.431). Its pitching staff has been typically strong, even while righthander Zach Willeman (2-2, 6.75), the team's top prospect, has struggled.
— Teddy Cahill
Off the Wall
After beating No. 22 Texas A&M, 4-3, on Tuesday, Texas (13-6) carries a six-game winning streak into its series against No. 11 Texas Tech (14-4) this weekend. The Red Raiders are the defending Big 12 champions, while the Longhorns missed the NCAA tournament last season and are looking to rebound under first-year coach David Pierce.
Baseball America caught up with senior first baseman Kacy Clemens, who leads the team in hitting (.365/.481/.651). Clemens, the third of Roger Clemens' sons, has been a four-year starter for the Longhorns and is eager to help them back to the College World Series for the first time since 2014, his freshman season.
Q: What does beating Texas A&M on Tuesday mean for the team going forward?
"(Tuesday) night was a lot of fun. It was a game everyone had been thinking about and looking forward to. To be able to get a win was a great feeling. There were a lot of people here. I think there was close to 7,000 people here. Just to give that win and satisfaction to our fans meant a lot. That's a game that everyone in our clubhouse really wanted to win and to be able to get that win feels great. It just continues to help us roll into conference now. We've got Tech this weekend. It was a good confidence booster and we know we can play with anybody, so we're excited to get conference started now. We're on a little hot streak right now, I think we've got six in a row, so if we can just keep doing what we're doing right, we're going to be just fine."
Q: What is your favorite part of playing in the Big 12?
"Everyone always talks about how the Big 12 has really good arms and a lot of pitching among all the teams. So I think just being able to adjust to the pitchers in my career and become a better hitter, I think that's what's benefitted me the most. The Big 12 is awesome. Ton of good teams. You see the Big 12 in Omaha a lot of the time, so defiantly great competition."
Q: You've been able to play with your younger brother Kody for the last two years. What is that experience like?
"It's been amazing. There's not too many people that get to say they played with their brother at this high of a level. After high school, my senior year, I was shedding tears when my year was over not knowing if I'd ever play with my brother again. And then he signed to come here, it's just been super cool. We've had some really cool plays over the years when he was playing third base. Then he hit that walk-off home run against TCU. Just having all these memories is awesome. Down the road, we're going to be showing our kids videos and pictures of us competing here at the University of Texas. It really is special."
Q: What is your walk-up song and how did you pick it?
"I have two. One is "Pull Up" by Wiz Khalifa. I just like the beat of the song, so that's why I picked that one. My other son, my favorite one, is 'Stuntin' Like My Daddy' by Birdman and Lil' Wayne. It's called 'Stuntin' Like My Daddy,' so you can see why I picked it. I was going to use it in high school, but I never really wanted to use it because I don't want to come off as cocky or anything like that. My friends and family have been like, 'You have to do it, you have to do it,' and I never have in my whole life. I figured I'd just do it in my last year here."
Q: What is your favorite memory from your father's career?
"The coolest part of growing up that I really enjoyed was going to the All-Star Games. Being on the field and putting my hat on backwards like everybody else. I was probably six or seven years old when those were happening. But just laying on the field with a camera and watching the home runs fly out left and right or shagging during the home run derby. Those are my best memories. I always tell everybody that I wish I was a little bit older when he was going through the meat of his career because I didn't realize how good he was and I didn't realize how hard the stuff he was accomplishing is to do. I would say, getting to bat boy for the Yankees, I was probably 10 or 11, was really cool. I remember giving Derek Jeter knuckles one time after he scored. Those are some pretty cool memories I'll never forget."
Q: What is your go-to Chipotle order?
"I would get three corn tortilla tacos with black beans, rice. I would get two of the tacos with chicken and one with steak. And then I would get guacamole and cheese on top."
— Teddy Cahill