Two teams that got off to hot starts but have struggled as of late will meet at Sunken Diamond this weekend for a pivotal series when Stanford baseball (21-18, 8-10 Pac-12) welcomes California (24-16, 10-11) for a three-game series from Thursday to Saturday. The series marks the final time the two rivals will meet this year after having split two non-conference meetings earlier in the season.
Even though Stanford baseball has struggled as of late, having dropped seven of its last nine games, the Cardinal are still (remarkably) in the thick of the Pac-12 race thanks to parity and chaos.
While Stanford currently sits at 10th place in the 11-team conference, the Cardinal are somehow just three games back of conference co-leaders Washington and Utah, meaning that the race for the postseason is very much still on — but the Cardinal really have to pick up the pace from here, with just four series remaining in the season.
Meanwhile, Cal — a preseason top-10 team — has dropped out of the D1Baseball top 25 altogether after having dropped its last four series, including a brutal sweep at home at the hands of Arizona.
The potent Golden Bear lineup has been inconsistent over the last month, and though Cal’s 32 home runs still lead the Pac-12 by a wide margin, the Bears’ run total is disproportionately low for their power, meaning that they’ve had trouble stringing together hits and rely on power strokes to drive in most of their runs.
Another source of Cal’s recent struggles has been the pitching staff — after spending most of non-conference season sitting just behind Stanford at second in the Pac-12 pitching standings, the Bears have dropped to third behind Arizona State with their staff ERA having gone up almost a full point in the last month.
That said, the Bears’ pitching staff — particularly Friday (in this case, Thursday) starter Ryan Mason — still provides a formidable challenge to a Stanford lineup that has started to see the ball better over the last few weeks. Alex Dunlap has continued to rake and is hitting .315 on the season, while Tommy Edman has continued to give the .300 production that is expected of him at this point, giving Quinn Brodey and the heart of the order plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.
Stanford’s recent struggles can be attributed to a marked decrease in consistency from the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, which has faltered in four games over the last two weeks, including another meltdown on Tuesday against San Francisco, when relievers surrendered a five-run lead late in the game before Stanford was able to plate the late winning run.
Even through the struggles, Stanford has been able to retain the crown of the conference’s best pitching staff with a collective 3.11 ERA and will need to keep the potent Cal lineup in the park to give the offense a chance to stay in the game.
The Cardinal were able to do just that when they won 8-6 in Berkeley on April 5, but allowed two long balls two weeks later in a 5-2 loss on April 19. Stanford will, as always, need to take particular care against catcher Brett Cumberland, who might very well be the best hitter in the conference.
Cumberland, who homered against the Cardinal in that April 19 affair, is the conference leader in home runs (12), RBIs (38) and slugging (.694), second in getting on base (.491) and sixth in batting average (.358). Everybody in the Cal lineup has driven in at least 13 runs this season and only two are hitting worse than .260. Stanford’s pitchers are certainly going to get all they can handle for all three games — but if they can stay in it, the bats are certainly capable of doing enough damage to pull the series out for Stanford.
Freshman lefty Kris Bubic will get the ball in the opener on Thursday against Mason for a 7 p.m. first pitch and will be followed by freshman Tristan Beck and junior Chris Castellanos in the following two games — also 7 p.m. contests. All three games will be carried by the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.