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BASEBALL: No. 24 Cougs host last place USC in final home series

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This will also serve as tonight's game thread, if you so desire.

Time (PDT) WSU Starter USC Starter GameTracker
FRIDAY 5:30 p.m. RH Chad Arnold (4-2, 3.43 ERA, 1.269 WHIP, 63 K, 86 2/3 IP) RH Ben Mount (5-4, 3.38 ERA, 1.318 WHIP, 57 K, 82 2/3 IP) Here
SATURDAY 2 p.m. RH James Wise (2-1, 4.20 ERA, 1.328 WHIP, 29 K, 40 2/3 IP) RH Chris Mezger (4-1, 3.50 ERA, 1.403 WHIP, 39 K, 46 1/3 IP) Here
SUNDAY Noon TBA TBA Here

 

I gotta admit -- I'm having a hard time getting worked up about this series, and I hope the same isn't true of the team.

USC is pretty clearly the worst team in the conference. That doesn't mean they're terrible, given the overall strength of the Pac-10, but it does mean there's a clear distinction between the Trojans and everyone else, who all still have aspirations of making it to the postseason.

The Trojans have only won a single Pac-10 series this season, three weeks ago against Arizona at Dedeaux Field in Los Angeles. They followed that up with a home sweep of Utah, a middling MWC team, but went back to their losing ways last weekend by being swept on the road at UCLA. The first two were blowouts, with the last a 2-1 loss on a two-out walkoff homer. Ouchie.

If you were a certain reporter for Cougfan who just lazily glances at batting average, you might conclude USC has an OK offense, as they're just behind the Cougs. Their slugging percentage even looks respectable, as it's the same as WSU's. But where the Trojans really struggle is in simply getting on base in any way other than a hit -- they're dead last in on-base percentage. It's awful tough to score a lot of runs, even when you hit a lot of homers -- USC is tops in home runs in the Pac-10 with 48 -- if there just aren't a lot of guys on base.

That's great news for the Cougs' pitchers, who like to pound the strike zone. The Trojans will swing at most anything (they lead the league in strikeouts) and don't take a ton of walks. If the Cougs don't give up a lot free passes, it won't hurt if Ricky Oropesa adds to his league-leading home run total (15).

Pitching-wise, nobody really scares you. Both of the Trojans' probables for the first two games trot out FIPs a lot higher than their ERAs, suggesting there is some hay to be made there for the Cougs.

Besides the fact that this is the weakest team WSU has seen for a series in Pullman since the end of March, it's hard to get a read on just how important this series actually is. The Cougs have proven they can beat anyone at home, as taking five of six from ASU and Cal showed. We placed a lot of emphasis on showing the NCAA Tournament committee the Cougs could win on the road; they did that last weekend against Stanford.

This weekend? Of course you want to keep winning and pile up victories to earn a higher seed, but I don't see how this weekend really impacts their tournament chances. Maybe a sweep casts some doubt, but if they merely lose the series? To a USC team that might not be good this year, but has historically had a great program and has a lot of pride? I dunno. Seems to me that next weekend's series at UCLA is much more important.

Like I said, I hope the players aren't thinking like I am. I hope they just take care of business and win another series against a team they really ought to beat.