2012 Palo Alto Regional Preview

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Palo Alto Regional
Sunken Diamond, Palo Alto, Calif. (Host: Stanford)

No. 1 Stanford (38-16, 18-12 in Pac-12)
31st appearance (third straight), at-large, tied for fourth in Pac-12

No. 2 Pepperdine (34-21, 16-8 in WCC)
25th appearance (last in 2008), automatic, West Coast Conference champion

No. 3 Michigan State (37-21, 13-11 in Big 12)
Fifth appearance (last in 1979), at-large, fifth place in Big Ten

No. 4 Fresno State (30-26, 8-10 in WAC)
33rd appearance (second straight), automatic, WAC tournament champion

Buoyed by back-to-back recruiting classes that ranked in the top two of our annual recruiting class rankings, Stanford has one of the nation's most talented rosters, helping it earn a preseason No. 2 ranking. The Cardinal got off to a torrid start, winning quality nonconference series against Vanderbilt, Texas, Fresno State and Rice over the first four weeks, then taking nearly two weeks off for its exam break. When it returned, its formerly fearsome offense struggled to find its rhythm, and the second half of the season has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Most of the big names in Stanford's junior and sophomore classes—Stephen Piscotty (.319, 5 HR), Brian Ragira (.318, 4 HR), Austin Wilson (.290, 9 HR) and Jake Stewart (.295, 7 HR)—have had very solid but not spectacular seasons. High-profile juniors Kenny Diekroeger (.267, 2 HR, 27 RBI) and Tyler Gaffney (.246, 2 HR, 17 RBI) have had disappointing seasons—both are slugging under .370. But new contributors like Danny Diekroeger (.351), Alex Blandino (.289, 7 HR in just 38 games, 24 starts) and lately Dominic Jose (.385 in 39 at-bats) have provided a spark. The overall athleticism and physicality of this lineup still gives Stanford a chance to be scary when it gets hot. Certainly, the prospect of facing junior righthander Mark Appel (9-1, 2.37, 116-24 K-BB in 110 IP) can be daunting for opponents, though Fresno State wasn't intimidated when it handed him his lone loss of the season on March 2. He'll get a shot at revenge as the Game One starter against the Bulldogs. Appel's explosive fastball, hard slider and improving changeup make him the favorite to be drafted No. 1 overall. Piscotty has helped stabilize the rotation after Appel, thriving in three starts down the stretch thanks to his lively fastball and sharp breaking ball. But for the Cardinal to win a national championship, it needs lefthander Brett Mooneyham (7-5, 4.05) to rebound from a rough final start at Cal and pitch deeper into games in the postseason to keep strain off the bullpen. Mooneyham has serious arm strength from the left side but still battles inconsistent command.

Pepperdine rebounded from a trying 2011 season to win the West Coast Conference title with a win against San Diego on the final day of the season. The Waves tested themselves with a stout nonconference schedule, starting the season with series against five eventual regional teams in six weeks (winning series against Oklahoma, Fresno State and Kent State but losing series at Louisville and vs. Texas A&M). The phrase "blue-collar" seldom gets applied to anything associated with Malibu, but this Pepperdine team does have a grind-it-out approach. Middle infielders Joe Sever (.370/.447/.521, 6 HR, 52 RBI) and Zach Vincej (.348/.413/.454, 18 2B) set the tone for the offense and also play airtight defense, fielding at .983 and .984, respectively. Junior righty Jon Moscot (6-5, 2.97) has been a model of consistency atop the rotation, attacking hitters with an 88-91 mph fastball that tickles 92-94 at times, an average slider, changeup and split-finger. But the key to Pepperdine's postseason prospects might be sophomore righty Scott Frazier (7-4, 3.87), whose 89-94 mph fastball and power slider make him the team's best prospect, but who can be very hittable when his command isn't sharp, like in his final outing against San Diego. No. 3 starter Corey Miller (8-3, 3.56) is a classic four-pitch mix righty with an 86-88 fastball, and closer Michael Swanner (3.13 ERA, 8 SV) has a similar repertoire but a couple more ticks of velocity, working at 88-90. Freshman Aaron Brown brings power stuff from the left side, working at 90-92 and flashing a promising short slider at 82-86.

Michigan State played a stout nonconference schedule, helping it finish inside the top 50 of the RPI and snag an at-large bid despite a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten. The Spartans, who snapped a 33-year NCAA tournament drought, are certainly talented enough to make a splash in regionals. Senior righthander Tony Bucciferro (6-3, 2.80) is a physical strike-thrower with excellent command of a quality four-pitch mix and four years of experience in the rotation. He also has pitched his best down the stretch, allowing just three runs (two earned) in his last 23.1 innings. His duel against Pepperdine's Moscot could be a gem. Sophomore righty David Garner has gone 5-0 with 46 strikeouts in 47 innings since moving into the rotation on April 16; he has the most electric arm on the staff, flashing a plus fastball and excellent breaking ball. Junior righty Andrew Waszak (4-3, 2.81) gives the staff a third quality starter, with an 89-91 fastball, decent breaking ball and improved changeup. Six-foot bulldog Tony Wieber (1.37 ERA, 9 SV) has been a revelation at the back of the bullpen, commanding an 89-91 mph fastball and quality 78-80 slider. And low-slot lefty Jeff Kinley (6-5, 2.62) is a quality setup man. The lineup is headlined by a pair of line-drive machines in Jordan Keur (.359, 14 2B) and Ryan Jones (.356, 16 2B). But the most dynamic Spartan is athletic third baseman Torsten Boss (.306, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 11 SB), whose lightning-quick hands and plus speed stand out.

Fresno State is plenty familiar with this regional field, having dropped two of three at Pepperdine in February and losing two of three at home against Stanford the following week. The Bulldogs handed Stanford ace Mark Appel his only loss of the season in that series opener, as talented sophomore Aaron Judge took him deep twice. But Judge reached half of his season home run total in that game; no Bulldog has more than five homers, and just three are hitting above .300. This Fresno team, clearly, isn't nearly as offensive as last year's Bulldogs, who earned a No. 2 seed in the Los Angeles regional. This year's edition had to scrap and claw its way to a winning overall record, posted a losing record in WAC play (8-10), then proceeded to battle its way through the conference tourney in six games as the No. 5 seed. How much will the Bulldogs have left in the tank after that grueling 5-1 week? Freshman right fielder Jordan Luplow probably would have preferred to keep on playing; he went 10-for-24 with 10 RBIs in the WAC tournament to capture MVP honors. Fresno's recent hot streak with the bats has masked the fact that its starting pitching has been shaky over the last couple of weeks, though senior lefty Thomas Harlan had two solid outings to win the first and last games of the WAC tourney. Fresno will hand the ball to power-armed sophomore lefty Tyler Linehan (4-5, 3.58) in the opener, but he is something of a wild card heading into the weekend after a strained muscle in his back limited him to just four pitches in a game over the past three weeks. Linehan has been sore since throwing a season-high 140 pitches in a complete game win at New Mexico State on May 11.