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Reaching For My Big West Conference Crystal Ball


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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


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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Reaching For My Big West Conference Crystal Ball

Here are the standings in the Big West Conference race (thanks poster Coeus from the Big West message board, who regularly posts scores and standings):
                               Big West           Overall
W L Pct GB W L T Pct
Cal State Fullerton 13 2 .867 -- 37 12 0 .755
Long Beach State 13 5 .722 1.5 35 17 0 .673
Cal Poly 10 5 .667 3 32 18 0 .640
UC Riverside 8 7 .533 5 23 24 0 .489
UC Irvine 7 8 .467 6 28 21 0 .571
Pacific 9 12 .429 7 24 28 0 .462
UC Santa Barbara 4 11 .267 9 22 28 0 .440
Cal State Northridge 2 16 .111 12.5 18 29 1 .385
Monday my Dad speculated that Cal. Poly might well win the Big West title by winning their final 6 conference games. Which got me thinking...always a dangerous thing!

It's now a 3 way race between the Beach, Fullerton and Cal. Poly for the Big West title (Pacific, UCSB and Northridge have already been mathematically eliminated; and so have UC Riverside and UC Irvine, since either Fullerton or Long Beach will have at least 15 conference wins after this weekend). If it ends in a tie, the 2 or 3 teams tied would be co-champions. But only 1 team receives the conference automatic bid to post-season play. Cal. Poly comes up short here, as the Mustangs have lost 2 of 3 against both Fullerton and the Dirtbags.

Here's the remaining conference schedule for the contenders:
Long Beach State:
May 20-22, 3 games at Fullerton.

Cal. State Fullerton:
May 20-22, 3 games hosting Long Beach State.
May 27-29, 3 games at UC Riverside.

Cal. Poly:
May 20-22, 3 games hosting UC Riverside
May 27-29, 3 games at UC Irvine.
The only chance for the Dirtbags to win the conference title is to sweep Fullerton in their yard - since the Beach is 3 games back in the loss column with 3 games left to play. A sweep would guarantee at least a conference co-championship at 16-5. And in that event, Long Beach State would have the automatic bid to the Regionals since they would hold the head-to-head tie breakers against both Fullerton and Cal. Poly. While this result is something to enjoy in our dreams, it is highly improbable. The last time Long Beach State swept Fullerton behind the Orange curtan was 1993. Not likely, but certainly possible.

Absent a Long Beach State sweep of Fullerton, in my view the Titans appear destined to win the Big West championship. Fullerton has lost only 1 weekend series this year - the non-conference series against the Dirtbags at Blair Field (losing 2 of 3 to the Beach). If Poly goes 6-0, and Fullerton 3-3, down the stretch, they are co-champions but Fullerton gets the automatic bid. I don't see Fullerton doing worse that 3-3, and as I discuss below, I don't think it's at all likely that Cal. Poly will go 6-0.

If the Beach doesn't win the conference title, the more important question for us is whether Long Beach finishes 2nd or 3rd in the Big West. The distinction could prove important, as the NCAA is more likely to grant the Dirtbags' bid to host a Regional if they finish 1st or 2nd, and seems more likely to sent the 'bags packing with a 3rd place finish.

So, for Long Beach State to finish at least tied for 2nd, here's the possibilities:
If the Dirtbags take 2 of 3 from Fullerton, Cal. Poly must do no better than 5-1.
If the Dirtbags take 1 of 3 from Fullerton, Cal. Poly must do no better than 4-2.
If the Dirtbags are swept by Fullerton, Cal. Poly must do no better than 3-3.
In my opinion, it's highly likely that the Beach wins 1 or 2 in Fullerton. These teams rarely sweep one another. In the Dave Snow/Mike Weathers era (1989 forward), it's happened only 6 times in 22 3-game series (in 1999, the Dirtbags and Titans began playing 2 3-game series each year - 1 non-conference and 1 conference). Sweeps occurred in 1991 (lost at Fullerton), 1993 (won at Fullerton), 1998 (lost at home), 2002 (the Beach was swept in the non-conference series on the road, but returned the favor in the conference series at home) and 2004 (lost on the road). In each of the other 16 meetings, one or the other won 2 of 3.

While Cal. Poly has done well, and is a quality team, I don't believe they will finish better than 4-2 in their remaining Big West games, and more likely 3-3. Before their series against Fullerton weekend before last, they had only played the weakest Big West teams in conference games. They opened at home against Northridge (2-16, 18-29-1) and won all 3. Then they went on the road against Pacific (a much improved 9-12, 24-28) and won 2 of 3 - with 1 of the wins in 10 innings. Next, on the road, they swept UCSB (4-11, 22-28). The last 2 weekends they have lost 2 of 3 against Fullerton at home, and the Dirtbags at Blair Field. So at this point in the season, they have played all of the lower tier in the Big West, and the upper echelon. Their next 2 opponents are, together with Cal. Poly, the middle tier of the Big West - each of whom has flirted with winning Regional bids. (UC Irvine did in 2004, UC Riverside in 2003. Cal. Poly has the inside track this season).

UCR plays at Cal. Poly next weekend, where the ball carries well. This past weekend, Riverside won 2 of 3 from UCSB at home - outscoring the Gauchos in the series 36 to 14. The Highlanders loss was by a score of 10-9. In the wins, UCSB scored only 1 and 4 runs. In conference play, UCR is batting .308, and has a team ERA of 3.60, much improved over their earlier - and inconsistent - play. They've already played all Big West teams except for Cal. Poly and Fullerton, and have an 8-7 record. Riverside is only 2 games behind Cal. Poly, so you can bet they will be motivated to make a run at 3rd place. I think the best Cal. Poly is likely to do against Riverside at home is to take 2 of 3, but losing 2 of 3 would not be a huge surprise.

Then Cal. Poly has to play Irvine at Anteater Ballpark. 7-8 in Big West play and 28-21 overall, Irvine is tough at home - 15-9 at home overall, and 3-3 at home in conference (2 of the 3 losses were against the Dirtbags). Since April 1, they are 13-6 against teams other than Fullerton and Long Beach (from whom they won 1 of 3 apiece). The stakes for Irvine are even greater than for Riverside. Riverside is 97th in RPI, so they have no chance of making a Regional. But the Anteaters are 51st in RPI, and Cal. Poly is 60th. Irvine plays UCSB at home this weekend coming off a sweep of UC Davis - a sweep of the Gauchos wouldn't surprise me at all. It is unlikely that both Cal. Poly and Irvine can get an at large berth in Regionals, so this series could well determine which of them keeps playing in June. Cal. Poly may win this series, but I believe it is much more likely that Irvine will win 2 of 3.

So as I gaze into my crystal ball, I see Cal. Poly going 3-3 over their final 6, and the Dirtbags finishing either 1st - or more likely 2nd - in the Big West conference.

posted on 5/18/2005 by Jeff Agnew

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