By Jose Saldana
No. 2 Stanford baseball is heading into a weekend of epic proportions when it goes on the road to battle No. 3 OSU for the right to be the best in the Pac-12 and maybe even the country. Daily baseball writer Jose Saldana talked with The Daily Barometer sports editor Anna Weeks about the status of this current Beavers squad and how they would fare against the Cardinal.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Last season, OSU went into Stanford and swept the Cardinal. Stanford is a much different team this season with a new coaching staff. How different is this Beavers squad from last year’s iteration?
Anna Weeks (AW): OSU is back this year with new talent and a vengeance to redeem last year’s visit to the College World Series. After clinging to the number one spot for most of the 2017 season, the Beavers fell to LSU in an elimination game which cut their stay in Omaha short. The team added a number of new faces that are showing promise like freshman catcher Troy Claunch and freshman utility Christian Chamberlain, who have had success in their debut season.
TSD: The Beavers had series losses to Arizona and Utah earlier in the season, but they have gone 12-1-1 since then. What has helped spur on this strong run to give OSU its top-3 status back?
AW: OSU came out of the gate hot this season. Six games in, junior infielder Nick Madrigal suffered from a broken left wrist, pulling him out indefinitely. The two series losses gave the Beavers the kick they needed in order to keep the wins coming. I think the team has come to realize that while you can be ranked No. 1, you have to continue to bring it in order to maintain that place. The players have had to work to get back up to the top of the rankings, which will only make them push more in the game against Stanford. Like Pat Casey, the team knows how to win. They just have to make it happen.
TSD: Stanford ranks first in the country in ERA at 2.54, while OSU is fourth in the nation in batting average (.324) and 10th in runs per game (7.4). Which player do you expect to come up huge for the Beavers on offense against an elite pitching staff? Who might make a surprise contribution?
AW: One of OSU’s best qualities is their well-rounded starting lineup. In the most recent game against University of Oregon, OSU racked up 19 hits with each starter getting their piece of the pie. Just based on numbers in the Pac-12 rankings, junior outfielder Steven Kwan comes in fourth in triples with six, and senior infielder Michael Gretler is ranked fourth in doubles with 16. Junior outfielder Trevor Larnach and sophomore infielder/catcher Adley Rutschman are neck in neck with 52 RBI and 51 RBI for the season. Rutschman’s .395 batting average is second in the Pac-12. I think we are going to see Rutschman and Kwan rise to the challenge against Stanford’s bullpen. Madrigal is also fresh out of the gate and is bound to show up and prove himself. With such a talented starting lineup, Chamberlain is sure to make a surprise contribution to this week’s series. He showed promise against Oregon, holding them scoreless for 6.2 innings with only one hit.
TSD: On the opposite end, OSU’s pitching staff comes in at 38th, while Stanford’s offense has been trending upward (8.56 runs per game in the past 16 games). What can the pitching staff not do in order to prevent the hot Cardinal bats from finding success?
AW: OSU’s star pitcher senior Luke Heimlich currently leads the Pac-12 with 101 total strikeouts and leads OSU with a 3.01 ERA. After being selected as the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for the sixth time in his college career, Heimlich will be the first challenge the Cardinal offense runs into. However, with such a strong pitching lineup, OSU will need to limit Stanford’s hits. Stanford can score quickly, like in the game against Arizona where Stanford scored five in the ninth to comeback and win the series. OSU cannot get too comfortable with an early lead, however neither can Stanford with OSU’s batting history.
TSD: Goss Stadium at Coleman Field has featured home crowds of 3,000 or more people in 39 consecutive games. Does the team thrive off the home field advantage more so than other teams would, especially with the first top-5 matchup since 2014?
AW: This season, OSU has lost two series titles, which both occurred away. One thing OSU knows is their baseball. I don’t think that OSU thrives off of the home field advantage significantly more than any other team, nonetheless it’s an advantage. With Stanford coming to Corvallis, they are going to be playing for a much bigger crowd than they are used to at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond. The top-5 matchup is sure to raise more attention as far as attendance. If there’s one thing OSU knows, it’s how to pack the stands of a baseball game.
TSD: OSU right fielder Trevor Larnach and Stanford first baseman Andrew Daschbach have been battling it out for third place on the home run tally. They are tied as of now with 14 home runs each. Which player will (if at all) come out of the series with sole possession of the third spot?
AW: While Larnach and Stanford first baseman Andrew Daschbach have been battling it out for home runs, what sets them apart is their batting averages. Larnach maintains a .339 batting average and has tallied 111 total bases throughout the season, putting him in fourth for the Pac-12, compared to Daschbach’s .304 batting average and 100 total bases. Both players will most likely stay neck in neck throughout the season, however Larnach will prevail and be in sole possession of the third spot, based on his overall stats.
TSD: What is your prediction for the series?
AW: While I foresee this weekend to consist of close-scoring games, my prediction is OSU wins the first of the three and with Stanford taking the second win of the series. While it could go either way, with OSU coming off of a 10-0 win against rival the Oregon Ducks, they will not be going into this series lightly. OSU will ultimately come back in the third game of the series to take home the series win.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.