SEE ALSO: Top 25 Coverage
Teddy Cahill and Michael Lananna each break down three of the biggest storylines going into this weekend's action.
SEC division races heat up: Three Southeastern Conference series this weekend will have a big impact on the races for both the East and West Divisions, as well as the races for national seeds and hosting spots in the NCAA tournament. No. 9 Louisiana State (25-12, 9-6) travels to No. 14 Kentucky (26-12, 10-5), No. 10 Auburn (28-11, 10-5) hosts No. 16 Arkansas (30-8, 11-4) and No. 15 Florida (25-12, 8-7) welcomes South Carolina (23-13, 8-7) to Gainesville.
In the West, Arkansas holds a one-game lead on Auburn and Mississippi State and a two-game edge on LSU. It will face a tough road test this weekend, as Auburn is 19-7 at Plainsman Park and has already won home series against Florida and South Carolina. Kentucky leads the East by two games over Florida and South Carolina, both of which it still has to play on the road. Florida has not lost a home series to South Carolina since 2011. If it is able to extend that streak, the Gators would be well positioned for the stretch run and a division title.
Beyond the SEC race, all six teams involved in the three series rank in the top 30 in RPI. Together with Mississippi State, they are fighting to host regionals and earn national seeds. Kentucky (7) and Florida (9) are the only two top-10 RPI teams in the SEC, but this weekend could change that.
— Teddy Cahill
No. 17 Wake Forest at No. 5 Clemson: This is the biggest series in the ACC this week and perhaps in the country. Clemson (31-7, 14-4 ACC, No. 6 RPI) is coming off a series loss at Florida State, while Wake Forest (28-11, 12-6 ACC, No. 12 RPI) has continued its surge up the Top 25 and RPI, losing just one ACC series—to No. 2 Louisville. Both teams sit behind the Cardinals in the Atlantic Division, with Clemson one game back and Wake Forest three games back. This weekend could potentially shake up those standings.
For Wake Forest, this is one of two remaining road ACC series—both against premium competition. The other trip will be to Florida State in Tallahassee. A key area of progress for Tom Walter's team: The Demon Deacons are 10-6 on the road this year, compared to 12-16 last year and 8-14 the year before. Clemson, meanwhile, is entering its most difficult stretch of the season. After Wake Forest, the Tigers will travel to No. 3 North Carolina, then after a non-conference series against Nevada, will host the first-place Cardinals.
— Michael Lananna
Big Ten contenders square off: The Big Ten Conference race remains very tightly packed, but this weekend could spark separation in the standings. No. 18 Michigan (30-7, 6-3) hosts Indiana (19-14-1, 6-5-1), while Nebraska (21-14-1, 5-3-1) travels to first-place Minnesota (22-10, 7-2). All four teams are within 2 1/2 games of each other and are also competing for spots in the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota and Nebraska are both coming off series losses (at Indiana and Iowa, respectively) and saw their RPIs tumble to the low 40s. Both could use a solid series win to get their momentum back. Michigan and Indiana enter the weekend with plenty of momentum. The Wolverines swept then-No. 11 Oklahoma, while Indiana came back to win the series against Minnesota. Michigan is No. 25 in RPI and pushing to get into the discussion as a potential regionals host. Indiana has the conference's second best RPI at 33, but needs to pull itself out of the middle of the Big Ten pack.
— Teddy Cahill
Stanford at No. 25 Oregon: The Cardinal and the Ducks come into this weekend's series with similar resumes, and both have the opportunity to distinguish themselves. Stanford, which fell out of the Top 25 this week, has lost two out of its last three series and is 20-12 overall (5-7 Pac-12), ranking No. 41 in the RPI on WarrenNolan.com. The Ducks are No. 38 in RPI and are one game ahead in the conference standings at 6-6 (23-10). Oregon is coming off of a series loss, as well, after a difficult trip to Tucson, Ariz., to play the No. 6 Wildcats.
The series should be fairly evenly matched. The Ducks are hitting .263/.373/.365 as a team with a 3.49 as a pitching staff, while Stanford is hitting a very close .264/.334/.363 with a 3.37 staff ERA. If there's one separator for Oregon—beyond having home-field advantage—it's ace lefthander David Peterson (8-1, 1.85), who is one of the hottest pitchers on the planet, leading Division I with a 16.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
— Michael Lananna
Player to Watch: Garrett McCain, of, Oklahoma State: With Oklahoma State coming off a series loss at Kansas that dropped it to eighth in the Big 12 Conference standings, the Cowboys are looking to bounce back this weekend against No. 4 Texas Tech. McClain's play will be critical for Oklahoma State's success. The junior is the Big 12's leading hitter and is batting .371/.488/.515 with 13 stolen bases. McCain carries a season-high nine-game hitting streak into the weekend.
— Teddy Cahill
Player to Watch: Griffin Canning, rhp, UCLA: Canning, who ranks 10th in the country with 78 strikeouts in 61.2 innings this year, has been as steady as they come on Friday nights for the Bruins. The junior righthander has made a jump this year, with his fastball creeping closer to the mid-90s than it has over the past two seasons. Canning (3-2, 2.77) is coming off a complete-game, four-hit, no-walk, 12-strikeout shutout at Stanford—his third 12-strikeout performance of the season. The Bruins are now above .500 at 17-16 and are on the fringes of being a tournament team with a No. 67 RPI. Their prospects would improve if they could at least win once against No. 1 Oregon State (30-2) this weekend—no easy task. Canning will give them their best chance to do that on Friday night.
— Michael Lananna
Off the Wall
Brigham Young has won 10 of its last 12 games going into this weekend's West Coast Conference series at first-place San Diego (26-9, 12-3). BYU (20-13, 9-3) is 1.5 games behind USD as it prepares for a pivotal conference series.
Baseball America caught up with BYU sophomore outfielder Keaton Kringlen, who has been a key part of the Cougars' surge. The 2016 WCC freshman of the year is hitting .341/.392/.533 with five home runs this season.
You've been having another really strong season offensively. What's been the key to your success?
"Just being prepared in my at bats and staying positive. The biggest thing for me I think for me is maybe having a rough at bat at first and building off that at bat and knowing what I can do better and fixing it as the game goes along."
Has making in-game adjustments always come easy to you?
"Growing up I was always a happy kid and nothing really bothered me. It's big because baseball will get you down more often than not. I think that has helped me stay positive when I have a bad at bat and fix it. I think I've always done that. I'm realizing it more lately that it does help to stay positive instead of getting mad at yourself."
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
"My goals are just to stay positive and keep having these good at bats. I tend to be aggressive with the first pitch and swing at balls, but I think that's one of my biggest goals is to stay focused on that first pitch and getting better in my at bats. If I have a good week at the plate it's not focusing on what I did last week, but focusing on what I can do in the weeks to come to help the team."
What's your walk-up song and how did you pick it?
"My walkup song was "Hold Up, Wait A Minute" by ZHU, and I kind of started using it this year at first because I had such a good year last year, but as I was walking up to the plate this year, I wasn't feeling it anymore. So I changed it to "Work" by Rihanna, I think it's the Bad Royale remix. I picked it because it's just fun and energized and it gets me going at the plate and I just feel good as I walk up. It gets the crowd going as well."
What's your go-to order at Chipotle?
"I'm not a big Chipotle fan, but if I had to choose one it's probably a barbacoa burrito. My favorite restaurant, if you've heard of it is Café Rio. I'm a big pork burrito fan there as well. In Utah, Café Rio is probably more popular than Chipotle."
— Teddy Cahill
|Top 25 Series (Where to Watch)|
|(1) Oregon State at UCLA (Saturday on ESPNU)|
|Duke at (2) Louisville (ESPN3)|
|(3) North Carolina at Pittsburgh (ESPN3)|
|Oklahoma State at (4) Texas Tech (Fox Sports Southwest+)|
|(17) Wake Forest at (5) Clemson (ESPN3)|
|Utah at (6) Arizona (Pac-12 Network)|
|Baylor at (7) Texas Christian (Friday on Fox College Sports, Saturday on Fox Sports Southwest)|
|(8) Cal State Fullerton at Cal Poly (BigWest.TV)|
|(9) Louisiana State at (14) Kentucky (ESPN3)|
|(16) Arkansas at (10) Auburn (Friday and Saturday on ESPN3, Sunday on SEC Network)|
|Alabama at (11) Mississippi State (ESPN3)|
|(12) Long Beach State at UC Irvine|
|Notre Dame at (13) Virginia (ESPN3)|
|South Carolina at (15) Florida (Thursday on ESPNU, Friday on SEC Network, Saturday on ESPN2)|
|Indiana at (18) Michigan (Friday and Saturday on BTNPlus, Sunday on Big Ten Network)|
|Kansas at (19) Oklahoma (Friday on Fox College Sports Atlantic, Sunday on Fox College Sports Central)|
|Old Dominion (20) Southern Mississippi|
|(21) West Virginia at Kansas State (ESPN3)|
|Farleigh Dickinson at (22) St. John's|
|Tennessee at (23) Texas A&M (ESPN3)|
|Tulane at (24) Houston|
|Stanford at (25) Oregon|