Ace Mark Appel has an outside chance to break Stanford’s career strikeout record tonight, but when No. 5 Oregon State comes to the Farm this weekend for the No. 21 Cardinal’s toughest series of the season, all eyes will be on the Beavers’ shutdown staff.
Oregon State (38-8, 17-4 Pac-12) boasts one of the best rotations in the country, a group that has posted an impressively low 2.04 ERA, good for second in Division I, and a 1.04 WHIP, good for third. If Stanford (26-17, 11-10) wants to make it out of the series with a pair of wins—which would be a huge step towards punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament—it will have to be firing on all cylinders at the plate against the Beavers, who currently lead the conference standings.
Almost out of nowhere, Oregon State’s three-man rotation of senior lefty Matt Boyd (9-2) on Fridays, freshman righty Andrew Moore (9-1) on Saturdays and junior lefty Ben Wetzler (5-1) on Sundays has made a name for itself as one of the most formidable staffs in college baseball. Last summer, Boyd was a career reliever and a 13th-round draft pick and Moore hadn’t played a lick of college baseball. But that duo has won nearly half of the Beavers’ games, and Moore pitched his first career complete game, a two-hitter, against Cal last weekend.
To make matters worse for the Cardinal, Oregon State is coming off consecutive conference sweeps against USC and Cal in which it allowed just 10 total runs in six games.
Stanford’s bats heated up somewhat in April after a slow start to the season, but a lackluster three-run performance in a loss to San Francisco on Tuesday looked like a step in the wrong direction. In the Cardinal’s last two games (both losses), it averaged 11 hits, so the offense has been there—just not always at the right time.
The Cardinal proved that it is capable of playing giant-killer in its series win against then-No. 16 Arizona State—on the road, no less—last weekend. It beat the Sun Devils by pulling off a 9-8 victory in 11 innings last Saturday despite 3.1 shaky innings by freshman Daniel Starwalt, who was yanked after allowing four runs. Crucial relief work by junior Sam Lindquist (4.1 innings, three hits), however, helped send it to extras and allowed Stanford to clinch the series.
So it’s a perceived weakness of the Cardinal—its bullpen—that could make the difference this weekend. Though Appel—who could set Stanford’s career record in strikeouts if he punches out 15 Beavers tonight, tying his best for a single game—and Boyd are expected to pitch late into the night in the opener, the Cardinal’s starting rotation is not nearly as reliable after its senior righty. Without strong pitching by its relievers, Stanford will be hard-pressed to get out of the weekend still in contention for a postseason berth.
Oregon State, like the Cardinal, is a middle-of-the-pack hitting team with a couple of sluggers to watch out for. Leftfielder Michael Conforto, who led the Pac-12 in home runs and RBI last season as a freshman, has fallen back ever so slightly as a sophomore but still leads the Beavers with seven long flies. Across from him in right field, fellow sophomore Dylan Davis has more doubles (17) than any other player in the conference and leads his team with 34 RBI.
Appel goes for the record against those dangerous hitters tonight at 6:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. first pitch slated for Saturday and a 1 p.m. Sunday start to follow.
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.