This weekend SDSU looks to keep its hot streak going with some victories over Fresno State.
SDSU is firing on all cylinders right now. They are off to a hot 5-2 record and have only shown positive signs as the season has started. Against their inner-city rivals, USD and UCSD, the Aztecs have been on an offensive barrage. In five of the seven games, they have scored double-digit runs.
While not great at times, their pitching has done its job maintaining this lead in most cases. SDSU has given up double-digit run totals twice, and one of them was a blown game against USD.
This matchup against Fresno State marks the start of conference play for both teams. The Aztecs are on a two-game losing streak as the Bulldogs took the loss in their last two games.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the matchup.
Three key Fresno State players
Fresno State had three players named to the preseason All MWC team.
Zach Presno is the Bulldog’s starting catcher. In 2020 he had 8 home runs in the 16 games played in the pandemic shorted season. In that season, he slashed .321/.441/.804 for an OPS of 1.245. Behind the plate, he has a great glove shown with his .992 fielding percentage last season.
Ryan Higgins serves as a great batter that can play all over the field. As a sophomore, he was on an absolute tear before the season was cut short. He only started in 6 of the team’s 16 games. That didn’t matter much to him because he had 6 multi-hit games and 10 extra-base hits. He finished with a .350/.400/.600 slash.
The final player to highlight is pitcher Nikoh Mitchell. Last season he was converted into a full-time relief pitcher. The results spoke for themself when he only allowed one run in 9.2 innings pitched. He also struck out 15 batters while only walking 4.
Keys for the series for SDSU
Limit the errors!
SDSU has been killed by errors that extend innings. They are currently leading the MWC with 12 errors in their 7 games. They host a .956% fielding percentage, which is the second-lowest team rank in the MWC. That is killing the pitching staff. SDSU has given up 16 unearned runs this season. In their two losses, this season they combined for eight unearned runs on four errors.
The nice thing about errors is that it’s a pretty fixable issue. They aren’t getting errors off of diving attempts in the outfield. Errors only come from the every day plays that they should and can make. Jacob Cruce and Caden Miller are the only players with multiple errors this season. The issue will likely fix itself as the season goes on, but the sooner, the better.
Have the offense attack from all angles
Against UCSD, coach Martinez got a little bit fancy with his small ball. Last Friday, two bunt attempts in the 7th inning led to a seven-run inning which ultimately won the game for SDSU. Then on Sunday, SDSU outslugged them with four extra-base hits and 13 total runs.
This versatility is extremely effective and must frustrate opposing teams. Five batters in the Aztec lineup have an on-base percentage of .400 or higher. That same lineup has four batters with a slugging percentage of .450 or higher. Jaden Fein, Brian Leonhardt, and Jacob Cruce appear on both lists. To top it all off, the Aztecs are 10 of 11 in steal attempts this season. Coach Martinez can attack Fresno’s pitching with a small ball approach or let his batters swing away. Either way, he should be confident that his batters will have success at the plate.
Troy Melton and the pitching staff need to limit the walks.
Melton is the top MLB prospect on the Aztecs. D1 Baseball lists him as the 79th best prospect in all of college baseball coming into this season. He is the reason why 42 scouts tried to get into the SDSU vs. UCSD game last week. In his last outing, he threw 100 pitches but only got through 4.2 innings.
The Fresno State lineup is a patient group. They are currently tied with SDSU for the second-most walks in the division despite playing three fewer games than SDSU. As a team, they are right behind SDSU in on-base percentage at 0.404%. Perhaps the most impressive part of this is that Presno and Higgins, the two batters highlighted earlier, have been struggling to start the season. They thrive off a patient approach, and this matchup against SDSU pitching is perfect for them. The Aztecs’ best way of stopping this finding the zone and forcing Fresno State to swing the bat.