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Friday, June 08, 2007

It is base-ball time. Tomorrow at 3 Michigan opens a three game series against Oregon State in Corvalis. In search of the scoop on the Beavers, Building The Dam and MGoBlog viciously questioned each other. The results... below! Check BTD for the mgoversion of these later today.

Were you a big baseball fan before the Beavers won it all last year? Personally, college baseball hasn't appeared on my radar screen until the past couple years, since Michigan hasn't really done anything since the mid-80s. Is the sport a big deal at OSU and, more generally, the Pacific Northwest?

Baseball has always been one of my favorite sports, so yes, I followed the Beaver baseball team before they won the CWS. Obviously, the '05 trip to Omaha made Beaver Nation follow the team more closely, so the '06 and '07 seasons have definitely had a much larger fan base in general.

The sport is a big deal at Oregon State now... when we were 2-3 after the first five games of this year's football season, everyone sort of had a "at least we have baseball to look forward to" attitude. As it ended up, we finished the season out 10-4 and won the Sun Bowl. Beaver fans are feeling pretty good about the athletic program now, with the exception of the basketball team. (3-15 in the Pac-10 this year)

As far as baseball in the Pacific NW is concerned, it depends on what level you are talking. We really only have one MLB team, and that's the Mariners, but youth baseball is very big at least where I live, although it is being overtaken by Lacrosse to some extent. If you've looked at the Beavers roster before, you'll see that we are having all this success with local guys, and that's something our team takes great pride in. Twenty-eight guys on our roster are from Oregon and Washington, and the rest aren't from much farther away. These talented college players are coming from great high school programs around the Northwest, so yes, baseball is a big deal here.

Oregon State didn't seem to get much respect from the committee after winning the national championship, managing only a three seed despite having a 39-17 record. Was the schedule weak? Was the seeding unfair?

Although the Beavers had a 39-17 record, most of those wins came in the non-conference part of the schedule. OSU was 28-3 in those games, leaving their Pac-10 record at 10-14, which is not very good. We went down to UCLA for the last series of the season thinking we needed to sweep to make the field of 64, but we won two. On Selection Monday we thought we would be lucky to be one of the last teams in, but the 3 seed was actually a surprise for many fans. We knew that the team could compete at a Omaha level, but we didn't know if our season was good enough to earn us a spot. So to get straight to the point, no our schedule was not weak, we beat some very good teams, but we didn't win enough of the games we should have. The seeding was very fair, they actually skipped over two teams to get to the Beavers.

Who will Michigan face on the mound in games 1, 2, and 3 and how good are they? Who are some key relievers to know?

For the regular season, our Friday starter was Mike Stutes, and our Saturday guy was Joe Patterson. At the beginning of the season Daniel Turpen went on Sundays, but as the season progressed, freshman Jorge Reyes beat him out for the spot. The three starters you will see will likely be Stutes, Patterson, and Reyes, but the order is what I am not for sure about. In Charlottesville, the coaching staff decided to go with Patterson the first day of the tournament to get better match-ups. This descision was made the day before the game by the coaches, so it's really hard to tell. We've done some funky stuff with pitching in the past, so it's very unpredictable.

As far as relievers, we will have Turpen if he is not starting Sunday, along with guys like Blake Keitzman, Mark Grbavac, Greg Keim, Anton Maxwell, and Eddie Kunz. Keitzman, Keim, Maxwell, and Grbavac are all middle relief guys, and Eddie is the closer. But really, you could see any of these pitchers at any time. Eddie is the veteran of the bunch.

[Editor's note: These pitchers are pretty impressive. Reyes has a 3.48 ERA, Turpen 3.65, Patterson 3.81, and Stutes 4.05. One thing to watch: Stutes strikes out a ton of guys, basically nine per nine innings, but also walks a ton.]

How is the lineup, who are key players to watch, and are there any holes?

Just like our season, our line-up has gone up and down as well. I've come to the conclusion that we either hit well, or we don't hit at all. For example, the Beavers were 9/82 in the Arizona State series, which comes out to .110 overall. We either show up like we did in Charlottesville and at UCLA, or we don't.

As far as the line-up is concerned, it's all over the board. The coaching staff likes to move people around like crazy, but generally, they will select players based on their defensive skill before they will play someone because of their bat. This is one of the reasons that Oregon State's fielding percentage has been near #1 all year.

Behind the plate, Mitch Canham is our guy. He's in a major slump as of late, but if he heats up, watch out. Against UNLV when we played a Sunday double header, Mitch hit a grand slam in both games. That's a quick way to pick up 8 RBI's. He has led our team in batting average for most of the season, but as a result of his recent slump, he comes in third on the list. If Canham need a break behind the plate, you're going to see Erik Ammon, who is just as good of a defensive catcher as Canham. If this happens, there's a 99% chance that Canham will DH. He's such a big part of our team on and off the field that Pat Casey hardly ever takes him out of the lineup.

In the infield, we'll start with Jordan Lennerton at first base. He's hot right now, and hit a home run in Charlottesville. He's second on our team in batting average, at .325 on the season. Joey Wong is our second baseman, and he hasn't had that great of a season at the plate, but he is a baller on defense. He's only had three errors the entire season in over 250 chances, leading the Beaver infield. He's a good #2 hole hitter, but if he's not there, he's usually at #8 or #9 in the lineup. He's hitting .283. We also have a beast of a shortstop in Darwin Barney, the junior who was drafted 125th by the Cubs. He has great range at short, and is a great leader along with Canham. He's got a hot bat as well, currently hitting .296. Our usual third baseman is Lonnie Lechlet, although you may see Drew George. The position has been open most of the year, but Lonnie is beginnign to pull away both offensively and defensivley. Lechelt has always been the better defensive player, but he's never swung the bat that well. Last weekend heading into Charlottesville, Lonnie was somthing like 1-25 in his last 25 at bats, or something bizarre like that. He went on to hit two home runs on the weekend, and was the Beavers hottest hitter. Funny how that works.

In the outfield, our regular guys are Mike Lissman (Sr.) in left, and Chris Hopkins (jr.) in center. Hopkins has all kinds of speed, but he's in a slump right now. Lissman is another leader of the team, and he's currently the #1 hitter right now, at .327 with 8 home runs. Right field is usually either Scott Santschi, Braden Wells, or Koa Kahalehoe. Depends on the pitcher matchups, usually.

Jason Ogata is the normal DH for the Beavers. He's at .295 on the year, and he has spurts when he is just lights out at the plate.

The holes in our lineup will be present, I guarantee you, but it's impossible to tell who the hot hitters and who the cold hitters will be this weekend.

How is the Beaver home field configured? Are there any anomalies we should be aware of? Is it a hitter's park or a pitcher's park?

Goss Stadium is a relatively standard ballpark, although the capacity is probably in most cases smaller than most parks in the Big 12 and such. Reports from campus say that it's in top notch shape for this weekend, including bleachers they've brought in for the outfield as well as the outfield foul lines. The way the park plays really depends on the wind. There are days when lazy pop flies clear the fence, and days when you have to have the starts aligned to hit a ball out. I'm not completely certain where the ball flies out the best though.

Does Oregon State consider itself a "northern" team? Geographically it is, but the Pac-10 doesn't seem to be a virtual mid-major in baseball like the Big Ten is.

I would say that yeah, we're a northern team, but we know that we can play with any team in the country. We already swept Georgia in three games this year, as well as victories over the Bulldogs, Miami, Rice, and North Carolina in Omaha last year. The confidence our program has gained with experience against east coast schools is great-- and last weekend's two victories over Virginia only helped that.

The Pac-10 is a very good baseball conference. We had four teams make the Regionals, and three of those move on to the Super Regionals, so the Pac-10 represents almost 20% of the teams remaining in the tourney. If all teams continue their success, Omaha could be very interesting.