Welcome to Dirtbags Baseball blog! I was introduced to Long Beach State baseball in 2002 when my nephew, Neil Jamison, joined the team (and university) as a freshman. I started the blog in March of 2004, and generally discuss the team, current players and those that have moved on to professional baseball - as Neil has done in the San Diego Padres organization. Living in San Diego County, and with Neil moving to the next level, I won't be attending as many Dirtbags games. But, mostly from a distance, I'll remain a Dirtbags fan. I welcome tips on stories and information concerning the Dirtbags (current, past and future). I can be contacted at email@example.com.
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A few days after taking two of three games from No. 1-ranked Cal State Fullerton, it sounds odd to say that the Dirtbags' preliminaries are over.
But it's true. The series win over the Titans was gratifying but it doesn't count in the Big West Conference standings. The league race starts tonight against UC Riverside.
The Dirtbags begin the weekend series 18-10 overall and with 13 wins in their last 17 games, good enough to return the team to the Top 25 rankings in the various collegiate polls No. 20 in Collegiate Baseball, No. 22 in Baseball America, and No. 24 in the Sports Weekly/Coaches poll.
They've also played half of their games against ranked teams. It's a nice resume to date. Now they have to put it aside and try to win as many of their 21 conference games as they can over the next eight weeks.
Fullerton and the Dirtbags are the only ranked teams in the Big West, but only Pacific has a losing record. Both Pacific and Cal State Northridge are improved after poor seasons in 2004, and most every team has quality pitchers.
They're also battle tested, having played up and down the west coast against Pac-10 teams and other reputable west coast opponents.
"Everyone plays a tough schedule," said Dirtbags coach Mike Weathers. "Week in and week out. No one out here has the mentality to play an easy schedule and run up a good record. We play and beat each other up."
Six of the eight Big West schools have RPIs, the strength of schedule ratings, in the top 70. The Dirtbags' biggest statistical edge as league play begins is team pitching the Dirtbags have a 2.31 ERA, more than a run per game better than No. 2 Fullerton (3.72). They are 14-0 this season when they lead after six innings, with relievers Brian Anderson and Neil Jamison allowing one earned run between them.
Cesar Ramos (5-3, 1.70) was named conference pitcher of the week again after his two-hitter over the Titans a week ago, and he'll open the series tonight against either James Simmons (3-1, 2.95) or Jose Shaw (1-01, 4.35).
Saturday, it will be Marco Estrada (5-0, 2.08) versus Hayley Winter (4-3, 1.58) and Sunday Jared Hughes (2-2, 3.55) against Taylor Bills (2-4, 5.32).
A look at the seven Big West opponents, with records and dates of their series with the Dirtbags:
UC Riverside (12-12; today-Sunday at Blair): The Highlanders have received good work thus far from Winter and Simmons. They took two of three from then-No. 9 Arizona in Tucson last month and split a pair with USC. Catcher Nick Salotti (.367, five home runs, 19 RBI) is the leading hitter.
UC Irvine (13-11; April 8-10 at Irvine): The Anteaters, who made the NCAA tourney last season for the first time, have gone 6-2 against Pac-10 teams and three of their losses came at Clemson. They have an experienced pitching staff led by Chris Nicoll (3-1, 2.36), Justin Cassel (3-1, 3.40) and closer Blair Erickson 2-0, 0.40, five saves). Jaime Martinez (.371) leads the team in hitting.
Cal State Northridge (12-11-1; April 15-17 at Blair): The Matadors, coached by one-time Dirtbag assistant Steve Rousey, have rebounded from a 19-38 mark last season despite playing only five home games before last week. Erik Hagstrom is hitting .391 and closer Peter Eberhardt (2.22) has three wins and six saves. The Matadors lead the league in errors with 51.
Pacific (12-15; April 22-24 at Pacific): The Tigers had lost eight of nine before beating Stanford Tuesday, 2-0. Justin Baum has a league-leading nine home runs but the Tigers do not have a .300 hitter and are hitting .244 as a team. Closer Josh Schmidt (0.57) has four wins and five saves.
UCSB (14-12; May 6-8 at Santa Barbara): The Gauchos opened 7-2 but then lost eight of nine, getting swept by Oregon State and Washington. The pitching has been spotty Andy Graham is 4-1 and Alex McRobbie has six saves and 2004 freshman All-American Chris Valaika is hitting .208. Matt Wilkerson leads the conference in RBI (28).
Cal Poly (17-12; May 13-15 at Blair): The Mustangs, who do not play a single game outside California in 2005, are led by Kyle Blumenthal (.337, 24 RBI) and Matt Cooper (.318, five home runs, 20 RBI). Garrett Olson is 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA.
Cal State Fullerton (18-6; May 20-22 at Fullerton): The Titans need no introduction after visiting Blair last week for the annual nonconference series. The defending national champs are led by pitcher Ricky Romero (1.98) and swingers Ronnie Prettyman, Justin Turner, Brett Pill and Sergio Pedroza.