Baseball Preview: Washington State

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With the non-conference slate all but done, Cal looks to open their final conference season with a bang. The Bears will open up the Pac-10 season against the Cougars of Washington State in Berkeley. Though the forecast doesn’t look good in terms of weather, there’s still hope the Bears can get in their 3 game series.

Washington State opened the season with high hopes, as some even thought a trip to Omaha was possible. Their season has not gone exactly as planned. At 9-7, the Cougs are not exactly having a terrible start, but it’s definitely not the one they envisioned. Most recently, they were hammered by Fresno State, as the Bulldogs took all 3 games. A lot of their struggles have come as a result of not having one of their top pitchers, Chad Arnold, in the rotation due to injury. He likely will be back for the series, although he is definitely a question mark.

If Arnold is pitching in the series, Washington State is immediately legitimized 1-3 in their rotation. He made his season debut last week against Fresno State and was roughed up, giving up 5 runs in 2 innings of work. When fully healthy and ready to pitch, Arnold is an ace. Drafted by the Dodgers a year ago, he returned to school to build on his 5-3 record and 3.74 ERA last year. Those are very good numbers. Arnold has devastating breaking stuff, but not an overwhelming fastball. Not letting him get into comfortable 2 strike counts will be key. The WSU ace, at least until Arnold is completely back, has to be Adam Conley. The junior lefty has dominated in his first full season starting, posting an obscene 10.60 K/9 and a .76 BB/9. That’s ridiculous, and it matches his 1.51 ERA. Conley features a hard fastball that touches 96, but needs work on his breaking stuff. His changeup functions as his second pitch, with a developing curveball and slider to complement it. The third starter of the group is James Wise, who throws in the high 80s but with pretty good control. He doesn’t have great strikeout stuff, but he’s definitely a nice arm to have and his 3.38 ERA is very good. In the bullpen will be former starter Spencer Jackson, who got rocked, and a pair of quality relief arms in Richie Ochoa and J.D Lockenby. Both have kept their ERA under 3 to date.

Matt Argyropoulos has an incredibly difficult name to spell, and he’s also incredibly difficult to get out. With 3 home runs, a .373 average, and a .468 OBP, the third basemen is the star of the Cougar offense. Taylor Ard is the second threat to look for, as the first basemen hits for power with 3 home runs, and for average at .321. He and Argyropoulos are the only power threats in Washington State’s lineup. Jason Monda, who DHs, has hit for a scorching .357 but doesn’t hit with any authority. He still hasn’t left the ballpark yet this year. Brett Jacobs, Cody Bartlett, and Derek Jones are the other every day players for the Cougs, who rotate players in the other lineup spots. Jones provides the most patience in the lineup and some home run power, while Jacobs is a solid bat. Barlett hasn’t hit very well but provides a solid glove at shortstop.

Overall, this is a flawed but still very good Washington State team. Their pitching beyond Conley and Wise has been largely a disaster. Their bats lack balance, as they only have two hitters who can command respect from a pitcher. The others lack power and only really provide average to the team. It makes a decent offense, but not one that will strike fear in Pac-10 pitchers.

Series Prediction: The Bears take 2 out of 3 from the Cougs. Conley takes the first game, but the Bears rotation depth trumps Wise and the still rusty Arnold.