Schools in the southern half of the United States have always had an advantage in college baseball. It’s called weather.
Baseball is a warm-weather game and schools with more of it have an edge.
To level the field, the NCAA decided last decade to institute a common date for the start of practice and games. With everyone starting later in the year, it was believed, the gap would shrink.
The change may have helped, though the balance of power hasn’t seemed to shift. The entire top 12 in this week’s Collegiate Baseball poll are all from below the Mason-Dixon Line.
Teams such as top-ranked Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA, to use three Pac-10 examples, played nearly all of their preconference games at home, using warmer weather as part of their home-field advantage.
There was another, unintended consequence – the proliferation of midweek games. With fewer weeks to play the allowed 56 contests, college coaches shove more into the days between weekend conference series.
“It used to be one midweek game, now mostly you’re playing two,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf said.
The midweek outings have put a strain on academics – an area the NCAA cites often when opposing a football playoff – and on the arms of already strained pitching staffs.
“With us, personally, it’s good and bad right now,” Machtolf said Wednesday, prior to the Zags’ second game of the week against No. 18 Oregon. “We’re playing good competition. Unfortunately, we’ve had a few injuries. We’re four or five pitchers down. It really puts you in a bind in terms of pitching during the midweek.”
The Zags have relied heavily on two pitchers, Liam Baron (20 appearances, 63 innings, 5.13 ERA) and Andrew Danner (13, 34.2, 5.97), to get through their recent midweek games, hoping to rest other arms for West Coast Conference play on the weekend.
“We’ve had to ride them quite a bit,” Machtolf said.
Down the road in Pullman, WSU coach Donnie Marbut said his team is tired, so he’s pleased the Cougars have the week off until Friday, when Oregon State comes to town.
“It’s going to be a tough weekend for us,” Marbut said, “but I think it’s going to be a tough weekend for every club in the conference, nine straight weekends of Pac-10 play.”
In fact, with the Pac-10 featuring nine teams that have been ranked and currently sporting seven in the top 27 of the RPI, Marbut front-loaded his nonconference schedule. The Cougars have no midweek games scheduled for the next three weeks. The opponents those three weekends: OSU, Oregon and No. 15 California.
The Zags hit the road this weekend, with a crucial series at WCC-leading University of San Diego looming. “They are a very good team,” Machtolf said. “We’ll have to go down there and play well.” … Oregon State, NCAA champion in 2006 and 2007, was roughed up last weekend at home by No. 22 Stanford, losing three games. The Beavers come into the series tied with WSU for seventh in the Pac-10 at 3-6. “If you look at your record, what you’re trying to do with your Pac-10 record, it becomes very important,” Marbut said. … Whitworth has struggled, having lost 11 of its last 12. The hitting has been more than adequate – the Pirates are batting .284 as a team, led by Landon Scott’s .454 average, 28 runs and 30 RBIs – but the pitching has struggled. In the last dozen games, Whitworth has given up an average of 11.3 runs per game. … Sophomore right-hander Justin Murphy from North Central High is among the NWAACC leaders with five wins for Community Colleges of Spokane. Freshman Tanner Knutson from Deer Park is also in tied for seventh in the league with three saves.