Stanford hosts power-hitting Wazzou

Washington State visits Sunken Diamond this weekend to kick off the Stanford baseball (29-14, 11-10) Pac-12 home stretch. The Cougars (23-20, 9-11), who boast the conference's two leading home run sluggers in Taylor Ard and Derek Jones, have also stolen a Pac-12 best 65 bases. They're also only a point behind league-leading Oregon (.977) in the fielding percentage column.

Miserable pitching, however, has neutralized Washington State's fine offensive and defensive efforts. The Cougars' 4.74 staff ERA is better only than Utah's, and their 4.97 bullpen mark isn't pretty either. Kellen Camus (2.84) is the only regular reliever with a sub-3 ERA. Most notably, the pen surrendered eight runs in the ninth inning at home against soft-hitting USC earlier this year to blow a win.

Prediction: In short, Stanford's offense has an opportunity to beat up on a subpar pitching staff that has struck out a Pac-12 low 224 batters this year. The Cardinal must be wary of Washington State's aggression on the bases and of the middle of their lineup. They'll have to find a Saturday stopper just in case Brett Mooneyham can't go again. But during home fireworks weekend, this needs to be a sweep. Mark Marquess' squad will win all three.


Power Rankings

1) Oregon (16-8; previous rank: 1)
The Ducks are the Pac-12's second -worst hitting team, but they lead the conference in pitching (3.10 ERA, .230 OBA), defense (.978 fielding percentage), and sacrifice bunts (63). That's why the title is Oregon's to lose.

2) Arizona (13-8; previous rank: 2)
The Wildcats aren't out of the hunt yet, but they blew a scheduling gift by dropping their UCLA and Oregon home series. Here's a fun stat: Arizona leads the league in slugging percentage despite ranking second to last with only 13 total home runs. That speaks to the cavernous outfield of Hi Corbett: Andy Lopez's squad leads the Pac-12 in both doubles (99) and triples (25).

3) Oregon State (11-10; previous rank: 5)
The gutsy Beavers prevailed in a hard-fought series against Stanford that wasn't determined until the 11th inning Sunday. Like their in-state counterpart, Oregon State is scrappy; Pat Casey's club leads the Pac-12 in walks. The Civil War series in Corvallis to end the season will have major postseason implications.

4) Stanford (11-10; previous rank: 3)
The Cardinal desperately need Brett Mooneyham to effectively lock down the post-Mark Appel Saturday role. If he returns to form after missing his past series with flu-like symptoms, Stanford has a shot to run the table over the course of the remaining nine games against mediocre competition: Washington State, Utah, and Cal are on the docket.

5) UCLA (12-9; previous rank: 4)
Yes, the Bruins did take two out of three from Purdue in this past weekend's home nonconference series. But the lasting memory from that set is the fact that UCLA surrendered 10 runs in the 9th inning Sunday to blow the sweep over the Boilermakers.

6) Arizona State (14-10; previous rank: 6)
They may be banned from the 2012 postseason, but a sweep over Utah moved the Sun Devils to within two games of league-leading Oregon with six to play for both clubs.

7) Washington (11-10; previous rank: 9)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: this Huskies team is the most improved in the Pac-12. Lindsay Meggs' squad took USC to the woodshed on the road and gave the Trojans an old-fashioned beatdown this past weekend. The total combined score of the series was 18-3. Not bad for a Washington club that managed only six sacrifice flies all of last season.

8) Cal (9-12 previous rank: 10)
Despite their horrid start, the Bears have a legitimate shot to make noise over their final nine Pac-12 games. It will be a brutal stretch, though: Arizona, UCLA, at Stanford.

9) Washington State (9-11; previous rank: 7)
While all the home run talk has been about Cougars' all-time king Derek Jones, first baseman Taylor Ard has passed his teammate and sprung into the conference lead with 10 bombs. Remember, Ard led the Pac-10 with 10 homers last season. The dynamic power duo travels to face Mark Appel next.

10) USC (7-13; previous rank: 8)
Not sure what's worse: the Trojans' home butt-whipping at the hands of Washington, during which they scored only three runs all series, or the fact that they must finish the season against Arizona and UCLA. Ouch.

11) Utah (6-18; previous rank: 11)
There's USC bad, and then there's Utah bad. The Utes are at whole other level of incompetence in their first year in the Pac-12. Would Colorado's club team be ahead of them if the Buffs were eligible for these power rankings?


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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