Oregon State Preview

The Stanford Cardinal baseball team is getting awfully comfortable in their road, gray uniforms. This weekend marks the end of a stretch of 15 out of 18 road contests for the Cardinal, but standing in their way is a vastly improved Oregon State team. The Beavers have started strong with an 18-9 overall record this year while Stanford will be trying to maintain their perfect series win record this season.

#1 Stanford (23-4, 2-1)  at  Oregon State (18-9, 3-3)

Thursday - 5:00pm
Friday - 5:00pm
Saturday - 12:00pm

The top-ranked Stanford Cardinal are back on the road this weekend as they head north to Corvallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers in a three-game series.  For Stanford, this weekend ends a stretch of 15 out of 18 games away from Sunken Diamond - they've gone 13-2 (3-0 at home, 10-2 on the road) thus far.  Last weekend, the Cardinal were down in Los Angeles where they took 2-of-3 games from the UCLA Bruins.  Stanford blew out the Bruins 11-4 in the first game before outlasting UCLA 15-13 in the Saturday contest.  The series would end though with a bitter taste in the mouths of Stanford players and fans when the Bruins came-from-behind to win 6-5 on Sunday capped by a walkoff solo home run in the bottom of the ninth.

The Beavers are enjoying one of their best seasons in recent history.  Oregon State has not finished above .500 in conference play since the Pac-10 merger in 1999, but there are high hopes in Corvallis that this may finally be the year.  In conference play thus far, Oregon State has won 2-of-3 games at Cal before dropping 2-of-3 at home to Arizona last weekend.


PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS

Thursday : Stanford - Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 6-1, 3.40)  vs.  Oregon State - Jake Postlewait (LHP; 6-1, 3.04)

Friday : Stanford - Blake Holler (LHP; 3-1, 3.89)  vs.  Oregon State - Andy Baldwin (RHP; 4-3, 4.91)

Saturday : Stanford - Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 5-1, 4.71)  vs.  Oregon State - Dallas Buck (RHP; 1-2, 3.86)


WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH

* The Stanford bullpen -
Last weekend wasn't one of their best as the Cardinal couldn't hold onto an 11-2 lead on Saturday and then freshman reliever Jeff Stimpson surrendered the game-winning homer in the ninth on Sunday.  With the quick turnaround and one fewer day of rest for the starters, it's possible Coach Marquess may be quicker to pull the trigger in terms of going to his bullpen.  But even if he's not, the Cardinal relief corp needs a good bounce back weekend as you can expect plenty more closely contested ballgames.

* Thursday night energy - Oregon State has been drawing very well at the gate this season and more big crowds can certainly be expected this weekend (by the way, the weather report looks great for all three days).  OSU's strong play in the first half of the season combined with a large crowd and a high-profile opponent should make for a great atmosphere this weekend - especially on Thursday night.  If OSU can feed off that energy, it's only going to be that much more of an advantage for them.  Historically, Stanford hasn't played all that well in Corvallis as they dropped a series during their most recent visit in 2002.

* Jonny Ash - The senior third baseman is incredibly hot at the plate right now.  During a current nine-game hitting streak, Ash is hitting .463 (19-for-41) to raise his season average to a team-high .391.  Last Saturday at UCLA, Ash hit two home runs including the game-winning blast in the top of the ninth inning.  A hot Jonny Ash hitting in front of the big boys in the middle order makes the lineup very, very potent.


BY-THE-NUMBERS

* Where each team stands in the Pac-10 in four major statistical categories

Stanford
Batting Average: .317 (3rd)
Runs Per Game: 8.9 (1st)
ERA: 3.87 (1st)
Fielding: .973 (2nd)

Oregon State
Batting Average: .308 (4th)
Runs Per Game: 8.4 (2nd)
ERA: 4.02 (2nd)
Fielding: .957 (9th)


STANFORD NOTES

The Cardinal won their eighth straight series to begin the year last weekend and their 12th in a row overall going back to last season.  It doesn't get any easier though as Stanford continues the road-dominated part of their schedule.  Stanford's offense put up some more big numbers last weekend at UCLA as they pushed across 31 runs and hit six homers in the three games.  Most notably, Chris Minaker looks to have solidified himself as the team's starting shortstop.  All season, Stanford has been looking for some consistency from a second middle infielder opposite Jed Lowrie, and Minaker has come through of late.  He hit the first homer of his career while also driving home four during Friday's game and he continued to swing a hot bat the rest of the weekend.

Brian Hall also continues to be one of Stanford's hottest hitters with a career-high 12-game hitting streak.  He's raised his average nearly 125 points during the streak all the way to it's current standing of .330.  Meanwhile, as a team, Stanford's team average has risen up to .317 (just one point off the Pac-10 lead) while they're scoring at nearly a nine run per game clip.  By contrast, last year's potent offense scored 7.4 runs per game.

On the mound, sophomore #1 starter Mark Romanczuk delivered another stellar outing last weekend when he went eight innings.  Romanczuk struck out ten and pitched very well with the lead all game.  His season record now stands at 6-1 while his career record is currently 18-3.  #2 starter Blake Holler is looking to bounce back from a start in which he was pulled in the fifth inning while Jeff Gilmore was in complete control last weekend until allowing the game-tying home run in the bottom of the eighth.  A walk issued by Gilmore in the fourth inning last Sunday was his first free pass in 24 innings pitched.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Sam Fuld, CF  (Sr., .282, 1 HR, 18 RBI)
2. Jonny Ash, 3B  (Sr., .391, 3 HR, 22 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B  (So., .388, 8 HR, 37 RBI)
4. Danny Putnam, LF  (Jr., .342, 6 HR, 22 RBI)
5. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B  (So., .373, 6 HR, 32 RBI)
6. Donny Lucy, C  (Jr., .310, 4 HR, 21 RBI)
7. Brian Hall, RF  (Sr., .330, 4 HR, 25 RBI)
8. Ryan Seawell, DH  (Fr., .364, 0 HR, 7 RBI)
9. Chris Minaker, SS  (So., .295, 1 HR, 11 RBI)

Notes: Fuld got off to a strong start in Pac-10 play with a 5-for-13 (.385) series last weekend ... He blasted his first homer of the year to leadoff Saturday's game ... Lowrie has fallen off a little bit the last week and a half, however he's still tied for first in the Pac-10 in homers, second in RBI, sixth in batting average, first in slugging percentage, and tied for first in triples ... Mayberry, Jr. is 11-for-22 (.500) with nine RBI during his current six-game hitting streak ... Hall paces the club with eight stolen bases (next closest is Fuld, Mayberry, and Lucy with three apiece) ... Seawell has started four of the last five games at DH (went 2-for-11 at UCLA).


OREGON STATE NOTES

Not much was expected of this Oregon State team heading into the 2004 season.  Last year, OSU finished tied for last place in the conference (Washington State) with a dismal 7-17 and they were picked to end up 8th in the Pac-10 by the coaches prior to this season.  However, a very strong non-conference record has baseball people excited up in Corvallis and they have a chance to really prove themselves against the #1 team in the country this weekend.  It's a bit early to be talking about NCAA hopes for the Beavers, but a series win this weekend would go an awful long way to securing a bid.

This is a ballclub with a very balanced offensive attack.  They score a lot of runs - second in the conference behind only Stanford.  Their schedule hasn't been nearly as difficult as the Cardinal's, but their offensive production still a vast improvement over past year's.  There really isn't a big home run hitter in their lineup, but the home run ball is still a part of OSU's offense.  Leading the way is cleanup man and third baseman Shea McFeely with his .354 average, four homers, and 30 RBI.  Meanwhile, leadoff batter and right fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is one of only three hitters in the conference currently over .400 at .407 right now.  Not a lot of easy outs in this lineup.

Oregon State is also vastly improved with their pitching this season.  After compiling a team ERA of over six last year, the Beavers currently stand at an impressive 4.02 this season (again, second only to Stanford).  They boast a strong #1 starter in senior lefty Jake Postlewait.  Postlewait is tied with Romanczuk for second in the conference in wins at six.  #2 starter Andy Baldwin is a sophomore right hander who is enjoying a decent year, but is someone the Cardinal bats should be to score against (.331 opposing average).  Meanwhile, #3 starter Dallas Buck was the closer for OSU to begin the year and actually leads the conference in saves with five.  He moved into the starting rotation a couple of weeks ago and will be making the biggest start of his young career on Sunday.  Buck is a freshman right hander who averages a strike out an inning.

Oregon State is certainly improved this season at 18-9, but bear in mind that they've yet to play a ranked team this year (although Arizona was ranked for most of the non-conference season).  They're coming off a tough series loss at home to Arizona last weekend (although they won the finale) and badly want to prove to themselves and the rest of the conference that this is a team to be reckoned with the rest of the season.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, RF  (So., .407, 3 HR, 12 RBI)
2. Mike Lissman, DH  (Fr., .368, 2 HR, 15 RBI)
3. Chris Campos, LF  (Jr., .292, 3 HR, 19 RBI)
4. Shea McFeely, 3B  (So., .354, 4 HR, 30 RBI)
5. Tony Calderon, SS  (Sr., .239, 1 HR, 19 RBI)
6. Andy Jenkins, 1B  (Jr., .310, 5 HR, 24 RBI)
7. Aaron Mathews, CF  (Jr., .356, 3 HR, 28 RBI)
8. Paul Richie, C  (Sr., .319, 1 HR, 17 RBI)
9. Chris Kunda, 2B  (So., .253, 0 HR, 12 RBI)

Notes: Ellsbury is third in the Pac-10 in batting average ... He also leads the team in stolen bases with 14 (in 15 attempts) ... McFeely is third in the conference in doubles and fifth in RBI ... Calderon has had a rough first half of the season after hitting .362 last year as a junior ... Mathews is an experienced player who is a very tough out ... Rarely ever strikes out and has good speed.


KEYS TO THE SERIES

* Make their defense work -
Clearly the #1 weakness of this Oregon State team is their defense.  They're dead-last in the Pac-10 with a dismal .957 fielding percentage, so that means the Cardinal hitters need to do a good job of putting the ball in play with two strikes.  Their shortstop, Calderon, is a having a particularly rough year with already 14 errors committed.

* Strong performance from the bullpen - As mentioned above, this is something to watch this weekend.  Stanford clearly has a much deeper staff this season, but Coach Marquess always tightens things up as Pac-10 play approaches.  Expect more close games this weekend, so that means the likes of David O'Hagan, Jeff Stimpson, and Matt Manship will be called upon in big spots.

* Don't look ahead - Stanford has played an unusual amount of road games the last two months capped off by this series in Corvallis.  So far, the Cardinal have come through with some fantastic results, but it's important to keep the pressure on, especially now that the Pac-10 season has started.  The team will get to play at Sunken Diamond (where they are 11-1 this season) almost exclusively for the next three weeks after this weekend, but they can't look ahead and need to take care of business against the Beavers. 



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