After a disappointing walk-off loss to San Jose State on Monday, Stanford baseball (12-7, 2-1 Pac-12) will seek its third consecutive series victory as it continues conference play in a three-game series against USC (11-12, 2-1) this weekend.
Although the bats came alive in the loss to the Spartans on Tuesday, the inconsistent Stanford lineup hasn’t yet shown that it can get timely hits and produce runs at a consistent clip. This means that the onus will be on the pitchers once again to limit a potent and disciplined USC lineup hitting .294 as a team (third in the Pac-12) that is also third in the league with 104 walks on the season.
So far, Stanford has tabbed freshman right-hander Tristan Beck (4-1) for the Friday opener, with junior lefty Chris Castellanos set to follow on Saturday. Although the Sunday starter has not yet been released, sophomore lefty Andrew Summerville seems to be a likely candidate as Brett Hanewich’s old control issues have started to flare up in his recent starts.
Although USC’s bats have shown a lot of blowout potential this season, their inconsistency has been one of the major factors in the Trojans’ inability to find victories this season. USC has scored 7 or more runs in nine of its 23 games this season, but has also been held to 2 or fewer runs five times, indicating that it’s able to tee off against bad pitching but is unable to do much damage against better hurlers.
Fortunately for Stanford’s chances, all three of the starters that Stanford will look to put up this weekend have been extremely effective. Beck is the team leader with four wins and is currently fourth among qualified Pac-12 starters with his 1.57 ERA, pairing stellar control with great command of all of his pitches to have 26 strikeouts to just 5 walks this season.
In his last time out, Castellanos combined with three Stanford relievers for a shutout against Washington State and has been impressive all year aside from a shaky outing at Texas. Fellow southpaw Summerville has also been impressive, pairing 18 strikeouts with 3 walks as part of the team’s increased emphasis on control in five appearances this year, including two starts.
Stanford’s staff as a whole currently leads the nation in fewest runs allowed (54) and the collective 2.40 staff ERA is the best in the conference by a wide margin. Given that this pitching staff was able to shut down the potent Vanderbilt lineup for three games, it’s safe to say that Stanford will by far mark the toughest test of the season for USC’s hitters.
That’s not to say that USC’s lineup can’t do damage: The Trojans boast seven hitters batting .300 or better, with senior outfielder David Oppenheim leading the charge with his .390 mark (third in the conference), followed closely by power threat A.J. Ramirez, the team’s RBI leader with 21.
Oppenheim also reaches base in nearly half of his at-bats (.478 OBP), meaning that the Cardinal will need to be particularly careful to avoid unnecessary traffic on the basepaths via walks, hit batsmen and errors. The starters outside of Hanewich have been fine in that regard, but the bullpen, which started the season so well, has tapered off a bit as of late. However, the entire staff has been helped out a lot by Stanford’s stellar gloves in the field, which have combined for a nation-low 10 errors this year.
Meanwhile, the USC pitching staff should offer Stanford’s struggling lineup plenty of opportunities to build off the momentum of a 16-hit outburst at San Jose on Monday. With normal Friday starter Kyle Davis not slated to pitch on Friday, spot starter Joe Navilhon and his 4.43 ERA will take the mound in the opener, followed by righty Mitch Hart making his season debut.
The Trojans as a whole have struggled with their control this season, and with Stanford’s newfound patience, things could play right into Stanford’s hands if the Cardinal take a patient approach at the plate and force the Trojans’ pitchers, none of whom have overpowering stuff, to attack the Stanford hitters.
USC currently sits at ninth in the Pac-12 with a 4.64 staff ERA and leads the conference in walks with 100. Opponents are also hitting a collective .264 against the Trojans.
Sophomore right fielder Quinn Brodey is currently riding a six-game hitting streak and has notched 3 hits in each of his last two games — his hot bat should be counted on to provide good at-bats from the heart of the lineup. Sophomore first baseman Matt Winaker and junior center fielder Jack Klein have also reached in six straight after slow starts to the season.
Stanford hasn’t won three straight series since the end of the 2014 season but has a chance to continue its consistent play against a team that, at least on paper, isn’t as good as the Cardinal. Friday’s opener will be at 7 p.m., followed by a 1 p.m. Saturday matinee and a 4 p.m. Sunday finale. The series will be covered by Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.