Mountain West Conference Baseball Round-Up

Eddie DzurillaCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2010

We are entering the end of March with teams at or approaching the 20-game mark.  Cool and rainy weather has caused a few delays, especially in Texas, but that is to be expected.

League play has started this weekend as TCU played BYU and New Mexico took on Utah.  Here is the latest round up of the Mountain West teams' progress to date.

TCU continues to impress, reaching the No. 4 spot in the national rankings.  The Frogs, off to their best start in over a decade, are 15-3, including a recent sweep of Texas Tech.  Opening Mountain West play, the Frogs took two of three from BYU. 

The team is hitting at a .339 clip and has shown some decent power with 14 round-trippers.

The real strength of the club, however, has been outstanding pitching.  TCU hurlers have held opposing batters to a meager .232 batting average while compiling an excellent 3.22 ERA. 

The three main starters are all undefeated; Matt Winkler (3-0, 1.98 ERA), Matt Purke (3-0, 3.14 ERA, 33K against only 5 walks) and Steven Maxwell (3-0, 4.32 ERA). 

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A fly in the ointment has been their defense; the Frogs have committed 25 errors in the first 18 games, and a four-error effort led to the loss of the last game of the series vs. BYU.

New Mexico has cracked the top 25 in several polls, and are now 14-6, and 1-1 in the Mountain West after splitting their first two games with Utah (the rubber match is scheduled for today). 

Head Coach Ray Birmingham earned his 900th career victory for the Lobos earlier in the month during a four game sweep of Louisiana Tech.

In addition to the sweep of Louisiana Tech, the Lobos also have some other impressive non league victories, taking two of three from Texas, two of three from USC, and splitting a four-game series with in-state rival New Mexico State. 

The success can be attributed to the Lobos .354 batting average, currently tops in the Mountain West. 

Catcher and All-American prospect Rafael Neda was named to the Johnny Bench award watch list, and is batting .395 to start his this year, which follows a junior campaign that saw him finish at .415. 

Their hot bats have offset some mediocre pitching that has surrendered a .301 batting average and 5.28 ERA to the opposition. 

San Diego State was considered to be another contender from the league for an NCAA berth this year, but has started off at only 6-10. 

Although the Aztecs did manage to take two of three from a San Diego team ranked in the top 20, they were also swept by Oklahoma to start the season and are coming off a three-game losing streak to Fullerton, Fresno State and San Francisco. 

The Aztecs woes can be traced to poor hitting; their team average is a meager .250 with only 7 home runs.  Good starting pitching has also been wasted by a shaky relief corps which has only recorded one save all year. 

Still, with quality starters Addison Reed (3-1, 30 K’’s against just 7 walks) and Bryann Crabb (1-2, 2.91 ERA, 21 K’s, 9 walks), State certainly has the capability to improve their results and get into the NCAA picture.

The Utah Utes have also shown some strong pitching on their way to an initial 8-8 record (1-1 in Mountain West play). 

The team has compiled an excellent 3.75 ERA and held opponents to a .267 batting average and, even more impressively, only 5 home runs.  The defense has also been competent, gloving the ball at a .966 fielding percentage. 

Runs have, however, been somewhat scarce as the team is hitting for a substandard .272 average with 12 home runs.  The Ute offense will need to pick it up if the team expects to make some noise this season.

BYU is at 8-11 and 1-2 in the Mountain West.  After being swept in their opening four game series against UC-Riverside, the Cougars have picked it up to go 8-7, taking two of three from Washington, one from Baylor, and splitting two with Gonzaga before losing two out of three in their opening Mountain West series to TCU.

Whereas their cross valley rivals the Utes are good pitch, bad hit, the Cougars have the opposite problem…good hitting, sub standard pitching.  The club is batting a decent .306 with 16 home runs and 26 stolen bases, but has posted a 6.78 ERA. 

Their most effective starter thus far has been Matthew Niel, who is 2-2 with a 5.62 ERA, and they'll need to find some arms who can give them some better results if they want to contend. 

Air Force, starting at 5-13, is in for a long season.  The Zoomies have good bats; they are batting .311 with 12 home runs as a team and have an All-American candidate in the outfield in Matt Alexander (.329, 3 HR, 16 RBI to date).  But their pitching is simply horrible.

The Zoomies have surrendered 10 or more runs in 11 of their 18 games, and the team’s ERA is an atrocious 10.20.  Ouch.  Opponents are crushing the ball at a .398 clip versus the Academy, and have hit 26 long balls while also garnering 68 walks. 

Giving up one-and-a-half homers and almost four walks per game while allowing your opposition to bat for nearly .400 is not going to win you many games.

It’s early, but initial indications are that two teams from the league will qualify for the NCAA’s (TCU and New Mexico), one (Air Force) will definitely not, and the remaining three have a chance if they can put together a good run through the meat of the season schedule.

Play ball.