Writer’s Roundtable: Baseball’s Mountain West play, no postseason

Junior+outfielder+Matt+Rudick+makes+contact+with+a+pitch+during+the+Aztecs+8-4+win+over+Cal+State+Fullerton+on+Feb.+18%2C+2020+at+Tony+Gwynn+Stadium.

Luis Lopez

Junior outfielder Matt Rudick makes contact with a pitch during the Aztecs’ 8-4 win over Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 18, 2020 at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State baseball is about to open Mountain West Conference play against Fresno State at Tony Gwynn Stadium on March 6.

However, this year’s conference slate includes doubleheaders and no conference tournament at the conclusion of the season, prior to the NCAA Tournament.  

Our baseball beat writers — senior staff writer Reese Savoie, staff writer Andrew Finley and contributor Jenna Meyer — addressed what to expect for the conference schedule.

Breven Honda: How much will doubleheaders challenge SDSU during conference play?

Jenna Meyer: “It is a schedule unlike anything they have ever seen before. They will probably have those challenges of playing 18 innings in one day. This roster is absolutely stacked. I believe this team has some talented guys and they work really well together. Their team chemistry really shows on the field and in the dugout. I talked to (senior first baseman Jacob Cruce) recently with Reese and he talked about the importance of the energy that they all bring to the field and working together as a team. They aren’t really focused on singular statistics anymore; they are focused more on what they can do to win and contribute as a team. While doubleheaders are something new and different than we’ve seen previously, they have talked about how that energy lacks throughout the day and how they are going to do whatever it takes to win every day.”

Reese Savoie: “It’s going to be really taxing on the body, like 18 innings in a day, it’s a lot and you’re doing it every single week. I think the team is prepared for it. We talked to head coach Mark Martinez about it early on when we were doing the preview of the season and he said the team will be prepared for it. (The players) have been working on their physical strengths as well as their mental strength. Baseball goes so beyond the physical aspect and it is a huge mental game as well. There’s a lot that goes into it. I don’t think it is going to be that much of a challenge on the team. They are ready for it. I think they performed really well last weekend (against UCSD) in their doubleheader. They swept the doubleheader. I think that they are going to have a lot of success in this new format. I think it is something that is going to challenge every single team in the conference, but I think that it is something the Aztecs are ready for and will totally be OK.”

Andrew Finley: “Well, we’ve already seen it with USD and UCSD, but something I’ve noticed is a growth in hitting. Of the starting nine who have started six or more games for (SDSU), all of them have a batting average over .280. That’s incredible. But something else we see is a high amount of errors in the field. They rank last in fielding percentage in the Mountain West and their starting pitching has also struggled this year. I think their lowest ERA for a starter is 4.20 and that is not sustainable. They give up a lot of home runs, but that also has to do with them not playing in 12 months until this last start in February. I think they will settle down, but I think the doubleheaders will produce a lot of runs if this is going to be any tale of anything we are going to see that there is going to be a lot of really long baseball games. Because of the craziness 2020 brought as well as doubleheaders, you spend all day playing baseball, you are going to get tired. I see sloppy baseball coming to be honest. That’s not a hit on anyone. It’s just the state of doubleheaders and that we haven’t played for a long time. It should make it really interesting. It is going to come down to the team that makes the least amount of mistakes and the team that can capitalize on those mistakes that their opponents make, that is who will end up on top. (SDSU) is in control in their own destiny that way.”

BH: The Mountain West does not have a conference tournament in place for 2021. How much more importance does that have on each regular season conference game?

JM: “One thing that Martinez said is to treat every game like Opening Day. Every at-bat they have, he wants them to treat it like it is the first of that season, Opening Day, every time. Especially with not having that tournament this year, they really need to treat every game like it is the most important, they need to win out as much as possible because obviously to get that (automatic bid), they have to finish first in the Mountain West and I think they really have their eyes on the prize. And they want to go even further than the Mountain West. They want to take it to Omaha and win a national championship for this program. I think it is really important to focus on that each and every game. Each game is just as equally important as the next. They really want to bring that energy and intensity and competition so that they can win out this season.”

RS: “It’s huge. Obviously there is a lot more at stake with every single game. You don’t have that tournament at the end, so there’s really no room for mistakes. Every single game is going to be weighted more heavily and that is going to be really exciting to see because that translates into more intense play because they know they have a lot on the line and they have a lot to lose. You come out on top in the regular season, you get an automatic bid into the championship tournament. So, it definitely makes the game matter a lot more, but at the end of the day, it’s going to really show in their play and it has so far. This team doesn’t give up and that’s something we’ve seen early on. It is something that will continue into the rest of the season and it serves more as a motivation to come out on top every time.”

AF: “It reminded me of Major League Baseball’s 60-game schedule in 2020 and it was a sprint. Yeah, there might have been an extra playoff spot, but at the same time, it was a sprint and it was a whole different mentality from a 162-game regular season. For the Mountain West, because they don’t have their conference tournament, it’s a sprint to make it to the College World Series this year. The lack of a conference championship eliminates another chance to get into the College World Series. Let’s say the Aztecs go .500 and another team like New Mexico or Fresno State are ahead of them, the Mountain West isn’t an extreme powerhouse in baseball (compared to) the SEC, ACC, Pac-12, they are going to have a bunch of teams that are eligible to make the College World Series. This regular season is super important because the Mountain West doesn’t have the conference championship for someone to say ‘We didn’t have a regular season, but we’re here to play, we’re here to finish strong.’”

BH: Besides SDSU, who is the one team that will contend for the regular season title? 

JM: “I am thinking Fresno State. They are definitely one to watch and the Aztecs are going to face them (March 6-7) in a weekend series at home so I am really excited to see how that goes. I know both rosters are quite talented. So I am excited to see how the pitching rotation goes this weekend and who comes from the bullpen. I think Fresno State will be the one to watch besides the Aztecs, but I think the Aztecs will finish first this season.”

RS: “I would honestly say it comes down to teams in Fresno State and New Mexico. Fresno State, they are projected to finish second in the Mountain West this year. New Mexico, conference-wise, even though SDSU hasn’t played any conference games yet, but they are 3-0 in conference play and they return all four of their starting pitchers. They have (sophomore Justin Fleebe), who was their most impressive pitcher, so they have a dynamic rotation right now on top of their pretty solid lineup. I would probably say New Mexico, be a little different. I know Fresno would be the favorite but New Mexico will give the Aztecs a run for their money. I still think SDSU will still come out. I think (they) have a very talented team, especially given the number of veteran players that we return. (They) are the only team that lost players to the (MLB) draft this past season. (They’re) still going to come out on top, but New Mexico is going to definitely be a challenge for us this year.”

AF: “It’s been a trend since 2017 where you see Fresno State and New Mexico with San Diego State as the top 3 teams. I think these are the teams to watch, especially Fresno State. Even though they have played three games this year, they’re 2-1, but keep an eye on Fresno State, New Mexico, UNLV is up there right now. The only two teams that have played a ton of baseball in the Mountain West is San Diego State, Nevada and Air Force. Air Force isn’t going anywhere; they are kind of in the cellar. So, watch out for New Mexico, they are a very solid program, same with Fresno State.”  

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