Baseball power rankings and Oregon look-ahead

The rest of the Pac-12 is alarmed: Stanford's bats are back. With only 21 games remaining in the conference race, though, the Cardinal (21-7, 4-5) must make their move now to climb back into the thick of the championship chase.

This weekend's series against surprising power Oregon (22-9, 8-4) continues a regular season-defining nine-game homestand that features conference visits from both the Ducks and perennially stocked Arizona State.

The Ducks made UCLA look silly on the road in taking two of three from the Bruins last weekend, so they'll enter Sunken Diamond with plenty of confidence. Pac-12 Player of the Week Brett Thomas is on an offensive tear, as is Friday starter and reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week Alex Keudell (2.06 ERA).

The Ducks lost over 333 innings of pitching experience after last year, but their 2012 performance doesn't show that (2.96 ERA). Though Aaron Jones and Kyle Garlick (.357) have mashed half of Oregon's 18 home runs, the boys in green and yellow – like Arizona – play small ball, too. George Horton's squad has stolen 45 bases on the season.

Prediction: As well as Oregon is playing, it's hard to ignore the return of Stanford's offense over the course of the past three games. The bats have returned for the Cardinal, and Mark Marquess' squad is hungry for a sweep as it looks to find its way back to the Pac-12 race. I'm going to go out on a limb here. Stanford sweeps Oregon this weekend at Sunken Diamond.

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Power rankings

1) Arizona (9-3; previous rank: 1)

The Wildcats slipped once against Power Ranking cellar dweller Utah, but the team still leads the nation with its .331 batting average. UCLA visits Tucson for a 1 vs. 3 showdown this weekend, highlighting Arizona's favorable 2012 Pac-12 schedule. The Bruins, Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State all must travel to Hi Corbett's concrete infield this year.

2) Oregon (8-4; previous rank: 5)

With their dominant series victory over UCLA, the Ducks shoot up our rankings and are officially in the title hunt. Stanford will have its hands full with outfielder Brett Thomas, who terrorized Westwood with a .636 clip. But can Keudell handle a resurgent Stanford offensive juggernaut?

3) UCLA (8-4; previous rank: 2)

Despite their weekend setback, the Bruins still have the Pac-12's leaders in on-base percentage, runs, wins, and saves. A series win in Arizona this weekend will help UCLA forget about Oregon very quickly. That, of course, will be much easier said than done in hostile territory.

4) Stanford (4-5; previous rank: 3)

It isn't that Stanford has taken a step back, but rather that Oregon shot ahead of a lot of teams. After having averaged only 3.9 runs per weekend game since their mid-March final exam break (down from 8.8/game before), the Cardinal have awoken from their offensive slumber. Monday's 19-run, 23-hit barrage over Cal was a scary sign for the rest of the conference.

5) Arizona State (6-6; previous rank: 7)

Despite this season's postseason sanctions, it was only a matter of time before this Sun Devils team shot back up the Pac-12 rankings. The Sun Devils were sensational in their emphatic sweep of Oregon State, and Brady Rodgers still leads the Pac-12 with a 1.12 ERA.

6) Oregon State (6-6; previous rank: 4)

The Beavers' nice conference start crashed with a thud in Tempe. Oregon State scored a total of five runs in the series. Time for some wound licking? Perfect, because Arkansas-Pine Bluff is coming to Corvallis for three.

7) Washington (4-5; previous rank: 6)

The Huskies' marked improvement from last year's dismal season was impressive to behold firsthand. Lindsay Meggs' squad pushed Stanford to the limit. One man at the forefront of the building process: 6-foot-4, 227-pound freshman Branden Berry. He'll be a conference star very soon.

8) USC (5-6; previous rank: 10)

The Trojan offense is generally punchless, but they do seem to possess a clutch gene. Frank Cruz's club won in walk-off fashion twice against California, one week after an eight-run ninth inning rally in Pullman and two weeks after a last chance comeback against Stanford.

9) Washington State (3-5; previous rank: 9)

No action on the conference front for the Cougars, but Derek Jones blasted a grand slam to break the school's all-time home run record. It was the 41st blast of Jones' career. One of the slugger's secrets? He activates his abs by doing 10 minutes of sit-up work before each game.

10) Cal (2-7; previous rank: 8)

The misery in the field continues for the Golden Bears. Cal is decent with the bats and on the mound, but their 62 errors translate to a .949 fielding percentage. It gets even uglier in conference play: try a .935 clip. Is this high school baseball?

Utah (4-8; previous rank: 11)

Good for the Utes. Their 7-6 late-inning comeback victory over Arizona in game two of that series may mark the high point of their season. In all seriousness, though, Utah has surprised of the Pac-12 by only folding into one easy sweep (so far).


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.


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