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Baseball looks to keep postseason hopes alive at UCLA

Without a doubt, it’s been a year of growth for Stanford baseball (19-19, 7-11 Pac-12), and the upcoming month of May could provide a showcase of just how far the team has come as it prepares to make a desperate push towards the postseason.

Junior lefty John Hochstatter (above) has been dominant for the Cardinal, compiling a 6-1 record, and he'll be key if Stanford wants to make a statement against the defending NCAA champion Bruins. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Junior lefty John Hochstatter (above) has been dominant for the Cardinal, compiling a 6-1 record, and he’ll be key if Stanford wants to make a statement against the defending NCAA champion Bruins. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

While the team has had its fair share of defensive struggles, inconsistent pitching and long stretches of silent bats, the Cardinal are still in the picture and have done a respectable job of rebuilding after the losses of Mark Appel ’13, Austin Wilson ’14 and Brian Ragira ’14. Now, it’s time to see if the Cardinal can rally behind their combination of talented youth and experienced veterans and make a run when they take on the UCLA Bruins (22-19-1, 9-9) for a three-game series beginning in Los Angeles on Friday.

UCLA, the defending NCAA champion, has taken a step back in the Pac-12 pecking order this season, currently sitting at sixth place in the conference standings — two spots (and two games) ahead of the Card. The Bruins have also struggled a bit in the past week, being swept at home by crosstown rival USC and playing UC-Santa Barbara to a 5-5 tie on Tuesday after the game was called due to darkness in the 12th inning.

For the first game of the series, UCLA will likely send out Friday starter James Kaprielian (5-4). Kaprelian, a sophomore right-hander, has done a solid job for most of the season to the tune of a 2.53 ERA, but he gave up 5 runs in 6.2 innings in the Bruins’ 10-0 loss to USC last week.

In game two, expect the Bruins to send out their number-two man, junior lefty Grant Watson (4-6). Watson started off the season strongly but has lost his last three starts, so the Card will look to take advantage of his slump in the second leg of the series.

Sophomore righty Cody Poteet (3-2) will more than likely take the mound for game three of the series. Poteet has put up good numbers this season with three wins and a 3.83 ERA, but he will have his work cut out for him on Sunday as he will likely take on Stanford’s scorching-hot number-three pitcher, John Hochstatter (6-1). Hochstatter, a junior lefty, took over the third starting spot from freshman Chris Viall and has dazzled in his new role, posting a team-best 1.93 ERA and keeping the Card’s postseason hopes alive by leading the team to its lone win against Cal in the second game of last weekend’s series.

Aside from Hochstatter, freshmen righties Brett Hanewich (1-4) and Cal Quantrill (3-4) will pitch games one and two of the series, respectively. Although they don’t have the wins to prove it, Hanewich and Quantrill have both shown a tremendous amount of talent and composure as first-year starters and Stanford head coach Mark Marquess will be counting on his pair of freshman phenoms to get the job done in a crucial series against the Bruins.

The biggest challenge to Stanford’s pitchers will come from sophomore outfielder Ty Moore and junior catcher Shane Zeile, who typically bat back-to-back in the order. For Stanford’s hurlers, it will be extremely important to keep runners off base ahead of UCLA’s murderers’ row of Moore and Zeile, who have 20 and 21 RBIs, respectively.

In the other dugout, the Card have received a huge offensive lift from freshman second baseman Tommy Edman in the last week. Edman brings a nine-game hitting streak with him down to Los Angeles and will look to keep complementing Austin Slater and Alex Blandino and putting runs on the board for the Card.

Edman’s recent surge marks the second time this season that a first-year hitter has stepped up for Stanford, as Edman followed the lead that Alex Dunlap set back in March. The impressive performances from Stanford’s youth have been vital to keeping the Cardinal’s postseason hopes alive and should provide the program with a good deal of confidence heading into the future.

Stanford will look for its talented youngsters to step up and cast aside their spell of inconsistency at Jackie Robinson Field against the Bruins. Although a series sweep is not absolutely necessary, Stanford cannot afford to drop more than two games on this road trip. The fate of Stanford’s season will depend a lot on this upcoming series, and Cardinal fans will soon see if this talented but shaky squad can finally put a run together.

First pitch from Jackie Robinson Field is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday. Saturday’s game is set for 7 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPNU. The final game of the series is set to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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.
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