For the first time since 2000, Sunken Diamond will host No. 1 vs. No. 2 when Stanford (19-3, 6-0 Pac-12) welcomes No. 1 UCLA (21-5, 7-2 Pac-12) to the Farm. The Cardinal will look to duplicate the success they found nineteen years ago when they swept No. 2 Cal State Fullerton.
The last time the top two teams in the country faced off back in 2016, No. 2 Florida swept No. 1 Texas A&M at home.
“When you have the number-one team rolling into town, everyone’s ears perk up a little bit,” said junior RHP Jack Little. With a save on Tuesday against Fresno State, Little has 22 for his career, just four behind Steve Chitren (1986-1989), who holds the program record 26.
UCLA has six players on D1 Baseball’s top-350 prospects for the 2019 MLB Draft. Stanford, for its part, has five. “I’m anxious to see the type of focus our guys will come out with,” Esquer said. “It brings your team to a different level.”
The Bruins can be confident in recent history, having won eight of their last nine games and two straight series against the Cardinal. Stanford can point to its 161-112-0 advantage in the all-time series, which began in 1959, as well as its current ten-game win streak.
“We want to come in and approach it as a regular series,” Little said. “Everyone in our league has a chance to surprise you.”
The Pac-12 has the most teams ranked in the top ten of any conference, as Stanford and UCLA are joined by Arizona State (25-2, 8-1 Pac-12) and defending champion Oregon State (19-6-1, 6-3-0 Pac-12). The Bruins have already faced the Beavers this season, winning the series 2-1 at home in Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The Cardinal has swept its two conference series this season. “There’s no weekends off in our league,” Esquer said.
Slashing .426/.611/.522, Jack Stronach has taken advantage of an uptick in playing time to lead his team offensively. Four other Bruins have at least 48 total bases – Garrett Mitchell, Ryan Kreidler, Chase Strumpf and Michael Toglia.
The Bruins’ pitching staff is elite, carrying a 2.54 ERA, which ranks third in the nation, into the weekend. The Cardinal, however, retain the nation’s premier arms, and have maintained a 2.36 ERA through 22 games. The bullpen, lead by Little, is sitting at a 1.54 ERA.
Not only has Stanford’s pitching been successful, but the defense’s .980 fielding percentage currently ranks second the nation. Among conference teams, Stanford has allowed the fewest runs (60), walks (66), doubles (23) and home runs (4). Senior outfielder Brandon Wulff, with his team-high five homers, has outslugged all Cardinal opponents.
Junior catcher Maverick Handley has allowed just two steals in seven attempts, as Cardinal opponents have successfully stolen on only occasions. This will be tested by UCLA, who have compiled 30 steals in 36 tries.
Stanford will open the series Friday at 6:05 p.m. PT with a likely matchup between RHP Zach Pettway (2-2, 3.59 ERA) and sophomore RHP Brendan Beck (1-2, 2.45 ERA). In his last start, Beck allowed one earned run in 4.1 innings with eight hits and three strikeouts.
On Saturday, the projected starters for Stanford’s first annual Youth Baseball Day are RHP Jack Ralston (4-0, 2.66 ERA) and sophomore LHP Jacob Palisch (2-0, 4.94 ERA), with first pitch coming at 2:05 p.m. Palisch will look to rebound from a 2.1 inning, five-earned-run outing his last time out. Freshman RHP Alex Williams (2-0, 1.42 ERA) came out of the bullpen to pitch 4.2 innings of perfect baseball to allow the Cardinal to come back.
Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. PT finale will feature junior RHP Ryan Garcia (2-0, 1.35 ERA) and junior LHP Erik Miller (3-0, 2.56 ERA). Pitching with a lead, Miller threw 6.0 innings with 6 strikeouts allowing just one earned run on six hits and a walk in his last start.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.