Football isn’t Stanford’s only team with an Oregon problem.
Though Cardinal got that monkey off its back on the gridiron in the fall, No. 22 Stanford baseball will also be looking to avenge consecutive season-changing defeats when it travels to Eugene this weekend.
In both 2011 and 2012, Stanford came off a series win only to be edged by the Ducks in a three-game set; Oregon finished just a game ahead of Stanford in the 2012 conference standings. The stakes are no lower this year, as the Cardinal (23-12, 9-6 Pac-12) travels to Eugene this weekend two and a half games behind the No. 7 Ducks (30-10, 13-5) in the conference standings.
It’s the early part of a brutal, six-weekend home stretch for Stanford that includes series against five of the Pac-12’s six top teams.
“It’s going to be good playing the guys at the top of the conference and being right in it,” said junior first baseman Brian Ragira. “That’s how we’re going to see who the best in the Pac-12 is.”
Oregon’s baseball program is now in just its fifth year after a hiatus from 1982 to 2008, but that hasn’t stopped it from quickly becoming a Pac-12 contender. Past the midway point of the conference season, the Ducks are just a game and a half behind in-state rival Oregon State for the Pac-12 lead.
They’ve produced that success with small-ball, which the nascent Oregon program has played by since its revival. With a .983 fielding percentage, the Ducks are the third-best defensive team in the country, and they’ve got the pitching to boot; Oregon’s three-man rotation of sophomores Jake Reed and Tommy Thorpe and freshman Cole Irvin has stayed constant since opening day. Backing them up is closer Jimmie Sherfy, a junior righty whose 13 saves rank second in the country.
That would’ve been a mismatch a few weeks ago for a Stanford team that struggled out of the gates offensively. But since recording double digits for the first time on April 6, the Cardinal has eclipsed 10 runs four times in 10 games, going 5-0 in those contests.
After a 12-8 victory to close out a crucial series win against another conference nemesis, Arizona, on Sunday, Stanford followed up with its strongest hitting performance of the season on Tuesday, a 17-2 clobbering of San Jose State.
Ragira, who had earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors on Monday, ignited the Cardinal’s explosion with four hits, three RBI and a home run, his fifth long fly in seven games.
“I feel like I’ve been swinging it pretty well most of the season,” he said on Tuesday. “Hits weren’t falling early…I’ve been just staying the course, so it’s nice to see some results.”
Senior designated hitter Justin Ringo and junior rightfielder Austin Wilson added two homers each on Tuesday. After missing most of the first half of the season with an elbow injury, Wilson is suddenly playing like the slugger he was expected to be in 2013; his .405 average and one RBI per contest lead all Cardinal hitters, albeit only over the 12 games he has played this year.
Oregon is also coming off a dominant day at the plate, an 11-7 midweek win against Portland that saw the Ducks hit three homers of their own. Though only two of their starters, junior Ryon Healy and freshman Mitchell Tolman, are hitting above .300, the Ducks put runs on the board pretty consistently and hadn’t been held scoreless this season until last weekend, when UCLA shut out Oregon twice by identical 1-0 scores.
On the mound, Stanford has still yet to find much consistency behind senior ace Mark Appel. Neither sophomore John Hochstatter nor senior Dean McArdle made it out of the fourth inning last weekend, and Hochstatter incurred an automatic four-game suspension after being ejected for hitting Arizona’s Joseph Maggi last weekend.
“Everyone thought it was a ridiculous call,” head coach Mark Marquess told Scout.com, but with relievers A.J. Vanegas and Sahil Bloom also out due to mono and a finger injury, respectively, Marquess himself may be making some pretty ridiculous calls to the bullpen this weekend.
First pitch tonight between Appel (7-2) and Reed (5-3) is at 6 p.m., with a 2 p.m. start time tomorrow and a 12:30 p.m. start time for Sunday’s series finale.
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.