Stevens: Birmingham's Lobos Not Playing Great But Still In First Place

March 27, 2013

NEW MEXICO LOBOS BASEBALL - AT LOBO FIELD - VS. SAN DIEGO STATE

When:Thursday, 2:05 p.m. (MT), Friday, 2:05 p.m. (MT), Saturday, 1:05 p.m. (MT)
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Promotions: Thursday is Jersey Day. Wear a jersey and buy a ticket for only $3. Saturday is Youth Day. All youth ages 2-18 will receive a ticket for $3, or anyone can bring a new or gently used children's book and get in to the game for free! The Easter Bunny will be on hand, and following the game kids can get player autographs and participate in our Easter egg hunt.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The good news for Ray Birmingham's Lobos is that they are in first place in the Mountain West baseball race.

The (maybe) better new might be that these Lobos aren't playing that well.

"The club hasn't been playing as a team well yet and we're in first place," said Birmingham. "So, I take that as a positive. But (we're) getting there."

The Lobos play host to the San Diego State Aztecs in a three-game series at Lobo Field. The Lobos made the jump from Isotopes Park to Lobo Field for the obvious reason. They need to establish their own home-field tradition. They need to play where they practice.

"Playing at Isotopes is a really cool deal, but it just doesn't fit," said Birmingham. "It's not anybody's fault, but it doesn't work. It doesn't work for a premier division one baseball team to have to take batting practice over here and then walk back over there (Isotopes Park) and play a game.

"Steve Alford is not going to warm up at Albuquerque High and then go play in The Pit."

There are other advantages to Lobo Field. The fans will sit in a tighter bleacher section giving UNM condensed and loud support. There also is a first-class artificial turf that should improve UNM's defense simply because they will play on the surface on which they practice.

Birmingham likes all that cosmetic stuff, but he also wants to see better stuff on the field - particularly from his pitchers.





"Our pitching has a chance to be really good or who know?"
Ray Birmingham's preseason comment on his 2013 bullpen


"I've been concerned about the entire bullpen, some of the defense and the bus we ride to the game on," said Birmingham, referring to his attention to every detail.

"I'm not happy where (the pitching) is at. We can't figure out why (some pitchers are struggling)."

The crafty Lobo coach also is concerned about the focus of a few Lobos. There might be a sense of entitlement on this squad that hasn't yet been matched by on-the-field focus. The Lobos have failed to finish a few games and it has cost them in the won-lost column.

Birmingham likes a finish - to a hitter, to a grounder, to a game, to a season.

"We've talked. There have been a lot of individual meetings and a lot of team meetings," said Birmingham. "The stuff that I've seen this year, so far, where we're at now, I'd never seen before. I'd never seen the things that I've seen to end the game.

"The upperclassmen (pitchers), who last year did a great job and were fantastic, aren't the same people There were some kids who got a lot of attention after a great year last year and had really good, low ERAs. They aren't doing the same thing.

"Those are some of the challenges and I think we are cleaning them up. Pitching is the key, baby, pitching is the key."

The Lobos and the Aztecs take to the field with 4-2 Mountain West marks so lone possession of first place is on the line Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The Aztecs are not noted for their offense and have only one hitter, Jake Romanski, in the .300s. Romanski is at .370. The Aztecs are hitting .242 as a team.

The Lobos are hitting .312 as a team behind DJ Peterson (.392), Mitch Garver (.389), Alex Real (.349), Alex Allbritton (.316), Luke Campbell (.313) and Chase Harris (.313).

Birmingham is right about the importance of pitching, but you also need to plate runs in order to win - and help out your pitchers. The Aztec bats haven't always helped the Aztecs on the moound.

The Aztecs have three solid arms in Michael Cederoth (2.08 ERA), Philip Walby (3.12) and Ryan Doran (3.28). The Aztecs like to pull Bubba Derby out of the bullpen with his 3.14 ERA. SDSU leads the Mountain with a .973 fielding percentage.

The Lobos top the Mountain in hitting with their .312 team average. The Lobos have a handful of hitters to fear, but the scariest on the list are Peterson and Garver. Peterson is either tied or on top of the Mountain in 11 offensive categories. Garver is on a 22-game hitting streak.

So far, these two Lobos don't seem to care where they swing the bat -- at Isotopes Park, at Lobo Field.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.