LSU has never played San Diego State before Friday’s opening round game in the Corvallis Regional. Playing a new opponent (in a new ballpark) is always refreshing, but in this particular case I’m not sure it’s the opponent LSU wants to draw in a regional.
San Diego State finished 39-19 overall on the season with an 18-12 record in the Mountain West. Weirdly enough, the Aztecs have only completed two sweeps all season long: UC Santa Barbara to open the season and UNLV in late April. That may be something you would see from a three seed that comes out of a power conference, but not something you see from mid-majors, even ones that wind up as a three seed. SDSU has dropped three series all season: Nevada to close out the regular season, Air Force in early April, and New Mexico the week prior. Outside of that, they won every series with one dropped game.
The Aztecs came into the Mountain West tournament as the 2-seed and won the punctuated double elimination tournament with the shortest path possible. They skirted past San Jose State 2-1 and then advanced to the conference championship game by walking off UNLV 4-3 in 12 innings. UNLV bounced back and won the struggle bracket game to force a rematch, where the Aztecs crushed them 14-5 for their 28th (TWENTY-EIGHTH) conference championship, the fifth in the past six years, the only team in the nation to do so.
SDSU finished the conference tournament with an RPI of 50 and a SOS of 100 (85 non-conference). The Aztecs finished 1-2 against RPI Top 50, which is the biggest hit to their RPI and seeding opportunities. Usually only playing three of the 50 best teams in a given year doesn’t help your odds any.
But that’s through no fault of their own, as they have played the following teams out of conference: UC Santa Barbara (x3), San Diego (x2), Arizona (x2), Arkansas, Michigan, UC Irvine (x2), Washington, Long Beach State, and Cal State Fullerton (x3). In those games, they went 11-6. So they played usually good teams or at least teams with strong RPIs, but it just so happens that every one of those teams did not live up to expectations.
You want to create a three seed that can very easily to get to Omaha? That’s how you make a roux.
San Diego State has six players batting over .300, and four batting just a hair under .330 or above. Just because they are a west coast team does not mean that they play west coast baseball. Repeat after me:
They. Can. Rake.
Chase Calabuig leads the team in overall hitting for average, batting .359/.561/.426 with 27 extra base hits and five home runs and 46 RBI. Calabuig has only struck out 28 times on the season, drawing a K/BB just north of 1.00 (28/27), which is what you want as a better.
If Calabuig is the hit for average hitter, Jordan Verdon is the power player. Verdon is swinging a mean .341/.620/.394 with 12 dingers and 27 extra base hits with 65 RBI. What makes Verdon dangerous is that he doesn’t get cheated at the plate often, only striking out 38 times on the season, which is low for a given team’s power bat.
In fact, there aren’t many Aztecs who strike out a lot. That’s just not their thing. Only two SDSU batters have struck out more than 40 times, and those two are batting .292 or better.
One of those batters is Chad Bible. Bible is the supplemental power bat to Verdon, batting .333/.536/.389 with 13 extra base hits and nine homers for 42 RBI. Like Verdon, if Bible’s AB didn’t end with his bat hitting the ball, then it is inherently a failure. Bible has only walked seven times this season, which doesn’t really excuse his 44 strikeouts.
If Bible is the second Verdon in the lineup, then Matt Rudick is the second Calabuig. Rudick is batting .329/.374/.426. Rudick is a singles machine, with 72 singles on the season with only seven extra base hits and no out of the park hits....yet. Rudick is a run producer with only 19 RBI and 43 runs scored. One thing Rudick does better is that he has more walks (33) than he does strikeouts (32).
Also: be wary of Dean Navarez. He’s batting a decently modest but not great .292/.472/.376 with only 11 extra base hits and 32 RBI and is the only other Aztec with 40+ strikeouts (44). But hidden in there are eight dingers and that is the exact type of player to deliver a gut punch after a hit batter to take the lead or tie late in the game. It happens at least once in every single regional.
If this preview has sounded like doom and gloom, here is your ray of hope: The Aztecs are not good at pitching.
By the numbers the best pitcher on staff is Jordan Erickson, who holds a 3.19 ERA in just 67.2 innings pitched. That’s the issue, because Erickson has only started four games all season. His K/BB of 7.00 (56/8) is hella impressive, but opponents are still batting .256 against him.
And the numbers only get worse the further you go down the list. As the innings pitched increases, so do the ERA. This is seriously the only thing stopping me from calling the Aztecs the eventual regional champion. To save myself (and you) the time of writing virtually the same thing five more times, I’ll just show you exactly how dire the situation is for SDSU.
Keep in mind that these numbers are from a team in a mid-major conference.
That’s almost as bad as LSU’s situation without Hilliard.