Stanford opens Pac-12 play against the Washington State Cougars starting Thursday night at Sunken Diamond. The Cardinal comes in off the heels of a weekend sweep of the Kansas Jayhawks as well as a rain-out at UC Davis on Tuesday. The series sets up as a battle of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness, as the heretofore light-hitting and stalwart pitching Cardinal goes after a heavy-hitting pack of Cougars who bring along a scoring-friendly pitching staff.
Stanford begins league play with the fewest earned runs allowed and a team ERA of 2.18. The 33 earned runs allowed by Stanford is 15 fewer than the second-best pitching staff in the league (Oregon). Washington State, conversely, has been running a merry-go-round for opposing lineups, having allowed 87 earned runs in 19 games, most in the Pac-12.
It seems the Cougars may be just the elixir to warm up what has been a struggling Stanford offense. The bats perked up over the weekend against Kansas, but the Cardinal still has the fewest runs scored among Pac-12 teams, whereas the Cougars sit squarely in the middle of the pack at sixth. Stanford has excelled at putting the ball in play, with the fewest strikeouts in the conference. However, as DoHyoung Park noted in his piece on the sweep of the Jayhawks, the Cardinal seems more willing to risk K’s as a byproduct of a more aggressive approach at the plate.
Stanford’s named probables for the first two games of the series, with the finale for the starter still undisclosed. Brett Hanewich (2-1, 3.86) takes the ball in Game 1 and will be opposed by Ryan Ward (1-0, 4.32). Game 2 sees Tristan Beck (3-1, 1.74) go for Stanford against Ian Hamilton (0-5, 3.64). The Cougars have named Ryan Walker (2-1, 2.66) as the Game 3 starter. All five pitchers are right-handed, so look for the prevailing team to be the one who handles left-handed hitters.
For the Cardinal arms, slowing down Washington State means slowing down two of the best hitters in the conference. Patrick McGrath (.395) and Trek Stemp (.385) have been scorching hot to start the season. Both are right-handed hitters, so it will be interesting to see how the Cardinal’s righties fare against the hot-hitting duo.
Another component Stanford must account for this weekend is the running game. Washington State has the most stolen bases in the conference with 33. Stanford’s been essentially middle of the “Pac” in terms of holding down opposing baserunners. Teams have attempted 19 steals against Stanford, and have been caught seven times. Teams have been running on Washington State, to the tune of 18 steals on 26 attempts.
Stanford also sits tied with two other teams in most passed balls, and that’s always a danger at Sunken Diamond with its vast space between plate and backstop. The Cardinal has made the fewest errors in the nation thus far, and playing cleanly can help it take a big step towards only its third series win of the season.
Bottom line is if the bats keep up what they started last weekend, Stanford’s got a great shot to get off on the good foot as Pac-12 play starts and hopefully, the Cardinal’s drive to the postseason as well.