Arizona State and TCU kick off a great weekend tonight in Tempe. In this battle of Top 10 teams, we thought it'd be the perfect time to do our inaugural clash with SBNation's Arizona State blog, House of Sparky. We sat down with their baseball writer, Connor Pelton, and talked a little of everything including; which day is this weekend's most intriguing matchup, Terrell Chatman and ASU football, and ASU's baseball culture.
Congrats on getting the series win against a very good Oklahoma State team. What’s it like to get that momentum early in the season?
With such a challenging schedule early on in the season, getting that momentum on opening weekend was huge. Mostly, I like what it does for some of the newer guys. Sophomore Colby Woodmansee already has two game-winning hits. Another second year player, catcher Brian Serven, is hitting at a .400 average so far. Then there is the closer, Ryan Burr. He is an upperclassmen but does best when his confidence his high. The flamethrower is already off to a great start, tying the program record for saves in Saturday's win, then breaking the record on Wednesday against Oklahoma.
In addition to the momentum gained, the results have only added to first year head coach Tracy Smith's "anywhere, anytime" mindset. It's nice to see the team not back down when in tough positions against quality opponents.
I know (Ryan) Kellogg and Brett Lilek are great--but what else can we expect from the team; both offensively and pitching wise?
On offense, the production we have seen from the upper half of the batting order is extremely encouraging. Leadoff man Johnny Sewald is batting at a .471 clip, and the man behind him, Jordan Aboites, has driven in four runs in four games. Three hole hitter Joey Bielek leads the team with a .500 average at the plate, and the two men that follow him have shown some early signs of power. The aforementioned Woodmansee keeps things together at the bottom of the lineup. He already has two home runs and two doubles in one week of play.
What the team does need to work on is getting rid of the dumb mistakes. Some of the errors are to be expected this early in the season, but they are still frustrating nonetheless. Simple things like not trying to take an extra base on a hard hit single and being doubled up because of straying too far off the bag on a line drive in the infield need to be fixed if Arizona State wants to take this weekend's series. In the game against Oklahoma, Sewald ran the Sun Devils out of an inning because he left second base too early trying to tag on a fly ball.
The pitching staff has really intrigued me thus far. One of the aces is Brett Lilek. The southpaw will go on Friday night and is coming off a no decision against Oklahoma State. He struggled with control at times against the Cowboys but had a solid first outing, all things considered. Arizona State will throw junior Ryan Kellogg on Saturday, who many consider to be the best starter on the team. He did give up three runs last weekend but did a good job of working out of the trouble he created.
Who will start on Sunday is still being worked out. Darin Gillies got the nod last weekend but allowed five earned runs in just 2.1 innings. Right-hander Seth Martinez, who threw 98 pitches on Wednesday against the Sooners, looked very good and might see some extended action if the situation calls for it. But at this point, it's anyone's guess as far as the end of the weekend goes.
Given y’all’s great history (Bonds, Reggie Jackson, etc.) What’s the baseball culture like there? Where does it rank amongst the other sports? Are fans into the games?
Baseball is right up there with football as the biggest sport here. Excitement is at one of its highest points in awhile with the new coach and new ballpark. Phoenix Municipal Stadium is just a ten minute or so drive from campus and is absolutely beautiful. The fans came out in record numbers for opening weekend, and even the midweek game drew well considering it was played at the same time as the UCLA-Arizona State basketball game in Tempe. The students and alumni combine to create an intense, fun atmosphere during the game. It is a very knowledgeable fan base to boot.
Also, a quick congrats to landing Terrell Chatman. As much as I would’ve liked for him to be a Frog, I think he’ll do great in y’all’s system. This is still a blog based in Texas, so I have to ask--How are y'all going to be in football next year after a very successful 2014 campaign?
Things are shaping up nicely for the 2015 Sun Devils. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is gone, but Mike Bercovici is set to step in and keep things rolling. Bercovici went 2-1 as a starter last season replacing an injured Kelly, and perhaps had one of the best throws in school history at USC. As I'm sure Horned Frog fans know, coach Todd Graham put together a very nice recruiting class earlier this month. I don't know how many of those guys can contribute right away, but excitement is high in Tempe and this team should compete for a conference title next fall.
What are the keys for ASU to take this weekend’s series?
We know TCU is going to put the bat on the ball. The biggest key will be for Arizona State's pitchers to work well while the Horned Frogs have runners on base. This needs to extend to the middle relief pitchers, who have struggled in big situations thus far. As long as they do well enough to give the ball to Burr in a save situation, the Sun Devils have a great chance at coming out with two or three wins this weekend.
Alright, now for the Great American Pastime--score prediction. Who do you have and in how many games?
I think Preston Morrison is going to be very tough to beat on Friday, but Arizona State should bounce back the next two days to send TCU back home with a series loss. The first two games of this series should be classic pitcher's duels and I expect two or three runs by either side to be enough to win it. On Sunday, all hell might break loose. But I like the Sun Devils at home.