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@LombardiESPN @RJ_Abeytia @ESPN_Pac12blog Litmus test for OL is against respectable defenses. TG averaged 5.12 YPC against top-25 teams: 21 hours ago, Stanford Daily Sport
@RJ_Abeytia @LombardiESPN @ESPN_Pac12blog true, but there's inflation with cupcake teams. He's averaged 3.67 YPC against top-25 teams: 21 hours ago, Stanford Daily Sport

Stanford baseball looks to climb out of Pac-12 cellar

As the Pac-12 baseball season nears its halfway mark, Stanford baseball (13-16, 4-8 Pac-12) faces a make-or-break situation.

Junior centerfielder Austin Slater (above) is one of two Cardinal hitters with a team-leading .317 average. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Junior centerfielder Austin Slater (above) is one of two Cardinal hitters with a team-leading .317 average. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Sitting in a tie for 10th in the conference with Cal, the Cardinal have sputtered in the last two weeks, having been swept at the hands of Oregon State before losing two out of three to Washington. The team’s series win over then-No. 10 Oregon three weeks ago feels more like three years ago, as the Card have gone from triumphing over a top-10 team to needing late-game heroics from Danny Diekroeger and Zach Hoffpauir to escape with a win against St. Mary’s on Tuesday.

While the losses to OSU and Washington — the two top teams in the conference — shouldn’t lead the Card to push the panic button, Stanford now finds itself needing wins quickly to climb up the standings and contend for the postseason.

Beginning Thursday, the Cardinal will get their chance to start to right the ship when they host Arizona State (19-14, 9-6) for a three-game series. The Sun Devils come into their series against Stanford as winners of seven of their last 10 games, most recently with a 5-2 win over UNLV in Tempe. ASU currently sits alone in third place in the conference, 1.5 games ahead of Oregon in fourth but two games behind Oregon State in second.

For Stanford to come out on top at Sunken Diamond, it will need its strong pitching and timely hitting to sync and show up in the same game. Against Washington, the Card never had a chance to contend in the first two games as freshmen starters Brett Hanewich and Cal Quantrill were chased early after each surrendering five runs.

On the other hand, Stanford’s bats were the issue against the strong pitching of Oregon State, scoring just two runs during the entire three-game series and spoiling Quantrill’s eight-inning shutout performance with a 1-0 loss in extra innings.

Stanford will look for offense anywhere it can find it — from Diekroeger and Hoffpauir, who will try to carry over their success from Tuesday’s game, to leading hitters Austin Slater and Alex Blandino, each with a .317 average, and to breakout performers Brett Michael Doran and Alex Dunlap, who have regressed to the mean in recent weeks but are still batting .301 and .280, respectively.

As for the Sun Devils, junior catcher Nate Causey represents the most potent threat at the plate, leading his team with a .361 average and a .481 slugging percentage. Sophomore Dalton DiNatale is also a serious offensive threat for ASU, leading the team with 41 hits and 29 RBIs.

On the rubber, Arizona State head coach Tim Esmay will likely send out sophomore lefties Brett Lilek and Ryan Kellogg for Thursday’s and Friday’s games, respectively. Lilek owns a 3-2 record and a 2.23 ERA, while Kellogg is a team-best 4-2 with a 4.07 ERA.

To counter, Stanford head coach Mark Marquess will almost certainly send out Hanewich and Quantrill for the first two games. The starter for the third game is still a bit up in the air. Freshman righty Chris Viall has held the spot for most of the year, but failed to make it out of the second inning in his last two starts and was replaced by junior lefty John Hochstatter for the series finale against Washington, who guided the Cardinal to its only win of the series.

At the conclusion of the series on Saturday, Stanford will have played four games in five days, including Tuesday’s game against St. Mary’s. Ultimately, the upcoming series against the Sun Devils represents more than just a jam-packed week of baseball: It will be Stanford’s chance to make a move and start climbing back into contention. With a series sweep, Stanford can improve to a .500 record overall and will remain right in the thick of things with a 7-8 conference record. A series loss, on the other hand, could lead to a long month of May.

First pitch at Sunken Diamond is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m., with Friday’s game also set to start at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game is slated for 1 p.m.

Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Vihan Lakshman

Vihan Lakshman is a desk editor and columnist for the Opinions Section. He also contributes to the Daily's coverage of Stanford football and baseball and has served as a broadcaster for women's soccer, men's basketball and baseball on KZSU. Vihan is a sophomore from Savannah, Ga. (currently undeclared). In his free time, he loves reading and playing just about any sport. To contact him, please email vihan@stanford.edu.
  • TreeBall

    Whatever happened to Stanford baseball being a top 10 team?