Ann Arbor Regional Preview

Ann Arbor Regional Capsule
Ray Fisher Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
No. 1 Arizona (38-17)
30th appearance, at-large, tied for fourth place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 2 Michigan (45-12)
21st appearance, automatic, Big Ten Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 Kentucky (42-17)
Fourth appearance, at-large, fourth place in Southeastern Conference
No. 4 Eastern Michigan (25-32)
Seventh appearance, automatic, Mid-American Conference tournament champion
Arizona opened the season ranked second in the nation and ascended to No. 1 in March en route to a 12-2 start. But the Wildcats struggled early in conference play, dropping five of their first six Pac-10 series before rebounding with series wins against Stanford and Arizona State in the final two weeks. Arizona's calling card is its pitching depth, and it has an unrivaled trio of power bullpen arms in lefthander Daniel Schlereth (2-0, 1.73 with 73 strikeouts in 52 innings) and righties Jason Stoffel (3-2, 3.51 with 67 strikeouts in 41 innings) and Ryan Perry (5-3, 3.21 with 63 strikeouts in 67 innings). All three have mid-90s fastballs and devastating breaking balls, giving the Wildcats an edge in close games and a security blanket in case their starters falter. And the starters have had their ups and downs this season. Of particular concern is ace righty Preston Guilmet (6-4, 3.89), who went 0-2, 10.29 in his final three conference starts. Lefthanders David Coulon (7-3, 3.54) and Eric Berger (7-3, 4.53) both pitched well in wins against ASU in the final weekend. The all-or-nothing offense features four players with double-digit home runs, led by senior first baseman C.J. Ziegler's 19.
Michigan makes its fourth straight regional appearance and hosts at beautifully renovated Ray Fisher Stadium after dominating the Big Ten. The Balanced Wolverines have power, speed and athleticism in their lineup, a dominant one-two punch in the rotation and a solid bullpen. First-team preseason All-American righthander/DH Zach Putnam (8-0, 2.64; .309 with nine homers and 47 RBIs) will go down as one of the greatest players in school history, and his heavy low-to-mid-90s fastball and plus split-finger should enable him to keep the ball in the yard against powerful Kentucky. Six-foot-8 righthander Chris Fetter (10-1, 2.39) has been even more consistent than Putnam, and closer Michael Powers (6-4, 2.64 with seven saves) has been reliable at the end of games. Michigan lacks experienced starters after its first two but has seen flashes of promise from freshman Travis Smith (5-1, 4.40) and sophomore Eric Katzman (2-1, 3.25). Senior catcher/first baseman Nate Recknagel (.372 with 23 homers and 68 RBIs) set the Michigan single-season and career home run record, and veterans Kevin Cislo (.363), Jason Christian (.321 with seven homers) and Adam Abraham (.342 with seven homers) are solid all-around players with athleticism and toughness.
Kentucky's offensive statistics are inflated by its 19-0 start against a very soft schedule—the Wildcats scored in double figures in each of their first nine games against the likes of Oakland and Butler—but the numbers are impressive nonetheless. Senior outfielders Sawyer Carroll (.416/.507/.756 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs) and Collin Cowgill (.359/.487/.687 with 18 homers, 57 RBIs and 23 stolen bases) are two of the most feared hitters in the SEC. Second baseman Ryan Wilkes (.374 with nine homers) and first baseman Brian Spear (nine homers and 51 RBIs) give Kentucky two more power threats, and center fielder Keenan Wiley (.332/.396/.429) is a quality table-setter. Defense was a liability for the Wildcats last year, but they made improving it a point of emphasis in the offseason, and junior college transfer Chris McClendon and redshirt freshman Chris Wade have made a major impact on the left side of the infield. As a result, Kentucky's .973 fielding percentage ranks 15th in the nation. The pitching staff relies upon lefthanders Chris Rusin (6-2, 2.84) and James Paxton (4-2, 2.92), and another lefty—Andrew Albers (7-4, 2.63)—anchors the bullpen. Michigan's powerful righthanded bats present a challenging matchup.
Eastern Michigan got off to an 0-17 start against a strong nonconference schedule that included trips to New Mexico, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Tennessee and Kentucky. But first-year coach Jake Boss—a former Michigan assistant—got his team turned around in conference play, going 15-8 to win the MAC's Western Division. The Eagles then made a perfect 4-0 run through the conference tournament, pounding top-seeded Kent State 12-4 in the finals to reach regionals for the first time since 2003, and just the second time since 1982. EMU has some decent arms on its staff, but they largely underperformed in 2008, and the staff's 7.65 ERA ranked last in the MAC and 269th in the nation. The Eagles ranked in the middle of the MAC in most offensive and defensive categories, and they figure to be overmatched by the other juggernauts in this regional. But Eastern Michigan does have quality seniors in first baseman Steve Bradshaw (.385/.481/.569) and right fielder Jeff Davis (.330/.377/.524), and that kind of experience is important in the postseason.