Stanford baseball (22-31, 7-20 Pac-12) will wrap up a difficult season this weekend when it travels to Pullman, Washington, to take on the Washington State Cougars (28-25, 10-17) in the final three games of the year.
The Cardinal, which have long since been eliminated from playoff contention, will have an opportunity to end things on a high note against a Washington State team that sits at ninth place in the conference due to its weak offense, which sits in the bottom two of the conference in batting average, home runs and RBIs.
“They really haven’t quit,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “They really work hard in practice even though it’s been very frustrating.”
Stanford will bring a rather bare-bones team to Pullman, as sophomore Alex Dunlap, who has caught and played outfield for the vast majority of the season, will likely not see action this weekend due to an illness, and junior Jonny Locher is still recovering from cutting his hand open during the Oregon State series.
This means that junior Austin Barr will likely catch to close out the year, and freshman catcher Bryce Carter could be forced into action as the team’s fourth outfielder if Locher’s hand doesn’t heal quickly enough.
What is set, though, is Stanford’s starting rotation: Brett Hanewich, Marc Brakeman and Chris Castellanos have been more than serviceable in their recent starts, and Stanford will likely have to lean on them to take the team deep into games. The trio’s performances are particularly crucial going into the weekend, as the team has experienced a drop-off in both hitting and defense as of late.
The offense has been wildly inconsistent, leaving 13 runners on base in Friday’s game against Oregon State before notching only 4 hits in Saturday’s game and being limited to 3 runs in Sunday’s Senior Day home finale. This offensive trouble came on the heels of a weekend series at USC in which the team only managed to score 3 runs through three games.
The defense, which has traditionally been one of Stanford’s strong suits, has also suffered from an uncharacteristically inconsistent season, with Stanford currently sitting at third-to-last in the Pac-12 in fielding percentage. Things really came to a head in Sunday’s matchup, when three Cardinal errors in one inning led to Oregon State blowing the game open.
The struggles of both the offense and the defense can likely be attributed to the significant youth of the team this season as a result of both injuries and heavy attrition from last year’s graduating class and MLB Draft class.
Stanford has been starting freshmen — Beau Branton and Matt Winaker — at both of its corner infield positions over the last several weeks, and combining that inexperience with the defensive inconsistency of shortstop Drew Jackson this season has led to a rather porous Stanford infield.
The pitching also hasn’t been immune this year — after Cal Quantrill and John Hochstatter went down for the season with injuries, Stanford had to dig into its crop of freshmen and sophomores to fill those starting roles. While Hanewich, Castellanos and freshmen Andrew Summerville eventually filled those roles, Stanford lost several key conference games down the stretch while it tried to stop the bleeding, which ultimately put it in too deep of a hole to make a legitimate run at another postseason.
Although this weekend will end a tough season for Stanford, the Cardinal will head to Pullman knowing that there’s still a silver lining: Next year, after the team loses key contributors in Jackson and Zach Hoffpauir, the team’s underclassmen will be all the better for having been forced into action this season, and next year should be looking up for Stanford baseball.
The team will open the weekend at 4 p.m. on Friday, followed by Saturday and Sunday games at 1 p.m. and noon.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.