Monday, February 9, 2009

Arizona Baseball Preview

One of the Top Dogs in Pac-10 Baseball over the last few years has been, in fact, a Cat. The University of Arizona Wildcat Baseball team has been a perennial pre-season prediction in most College Baseball circuits. Over the last few years the Wildcats have been tabbed in preseason polls to be amongst the top teams in the country, as well as the Pac-10. But after a slightly disappointing 2008 season followed by the loss of 9 players to the MLB draft (11 were drafted but SP Preston Guilmet and 3B Brad Glenn chose to return to Tucson) Arizona is set to field a group of newcomers and young veterans to Jerry Kindall Field.

Unlike in recent years, the Cats aren't looking down at the rest of the Pac-10, they are tabbed, at least at the start of the season, to be dead in the middle. The recent Pac-10 coaches poll came out and listed the Cats as the probable 5th place finisher. No surprise since the Cats are once again undertaking one of the toughest schedules in College Baseball. This year Tucson will get to see more of the nations top programs as Head Coach Andy Lopez has set the schedule with 35 Home Games and only 20 on the Road. 21 of the team's games are against teams that appeared in the playoffs last season and 6 are against College World Series participants. 8 of their match ups (22 games) are against teams ranked in the Top 25 on one or more preseason poll.

The Pac-10 Coaches rankings shake out with Arizona State on Top with 3 First Place votes edging out UCLA, who also received 3 First Place votes, by 3 points. Stanford came in 3rd with 1 First Place vote, Oregon State received two First Place votes, and edged out Arizona by 2 points overall as the Cats came in 5th with 1 First Place vote. If the preseason voting is any indication, it looks like this season might be an interesting one with many ups and downs in the top half of the Pac-10, as the distance between 1st and 5th in the Coaches Poll is 13 points and the distance between 5th and 6th is 14 points. Oregon, who finished with 9 total points appears to be the consensus coaches pick as the bottom of the Pac-10, receiving a last place vote from all 9 coaches who were allowed to for Oregon, as coaches aren't allowed to vote for their own team.

The Cats 2008 season ended in Coral Gables, FL in the Super Regional Final as the Cats dropped two out of three to the Hurricanes of Miami. Arizona had a tough draw entering last years Tournament playing the home team (2,000 miles away) in Ann Arbor, MI to Eastern Michigan (8 miles away), Michigan (0 miles away), and Kentucky (330 miles away) and then went on to play a virtual road game against Miami in Coral Gables, Fl. (3 miles from UM) with an overwhelming majority of Cane's fans in attendance. The Cats fought the overwhelmingly bad schedule draw well, but Junior pitcher Eric Burger got off to a rocky start in Game Three. He allowed Miami's first 3 batters to reach base and touch em all leading to 3 Earned Runs in the first.

He settled down only allowing 3 more hits over the next 6 2/3 Innings, but Arizona's bats never quite woke up and they dropped Game Three 4-2, marking the 4th straight season the Cats were unable to make it to Omaha. It was the first time since their 2004 trip to the College World Series that they made it to the Super Regional Final.

As is usually the case, the Pac-10 is stacked this spring as UCLA and Arizona State make the Top 25 in all 5 major polls (NCBWA, Baseball America, USA Today/ESPN, Collegiate Baseball, and with Stanford sitting on all four except (despite being in the Top 15 on the other polls). 2007 National Champion Oregon State makes the Top 25 in 2 polls (Baseball America and, and USC made #24 on the Collegiate Baseball Poll. Of the two polls that go beyond 25 (Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA) Arizona came in at 35 and 29, Oregon State at 38 and 31, Cal at 39 (Collegiate Baseball) and USC at 33 (NCBWA).

If all preseason indications are correct, this years Division I Baseball Tournament leading up to the College World Series could be a lot like 2005 when half of the Pac-10 made the field of 64. The Pac-10 has sent at least 4 members to the playoffs in each of the last 5 years, and has had a representative in the Final in 5 of the last 10 years. In 1998 they actually sent both of the College World Series participants.

The Cats season is set to open in Tucson against Sacramento State next weekend (2/20-2/22). I encourage all Arizona sports fans to head out to Frank Sancet Stadium this season and show the Cats some love. Season Tickets for the Wildcats Baseball are the most affordable option on campus with 35 games for 66 dollars (less than 2 dollars per game) and you'll get to see games against Georgia, Oklahoma State, Michigan, USC, Oregon State, and Arizona State, amongst other national baseball powers.