Five Games In Five Days

Tonight marks the beginning of a busy five-day stretch for Stanford Baseball. The struggling Cardinal host 16th ranked Arizona State for three games this weekend before single non-conference matchups versus California and San Jose State on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Stanford, under .500 for the first time this year, is looking to snap a string of five straight series losses.

Tonight marks the beginning of a busy five-day stretch for the Cardinal.  Stanford welcomes 16th ranked Arizona State to Sunken Diamond for three games this evening, Saturday, and Sunday.  Then it's a non-conference affair in Berkeley on Monday afternoon versus the California Golden Bears in a make-up game from an earlier rainout.  That'll be followed by a return to the Farm on Tuesday evening for a single contest against the San Jose State Spartans. 

The Cardinal have dropped three in a row to fall under .500 for the first time this season (17-18).  This busy five-day period could give Stanford a chance to regain some positive momentum or the struggles could continue sending this team even further below the break-even point.

This weekend marks a three-game series versus the young Sun Devils (28-14, 7-5 Pac-10).  ASU qualified for the College World Series last June and made a deep run in Omaha nearly advancing to the championship series.  Pat Murphy's club though lost a significant amount of talent and thus many were unsure what to expect from the Sun Devils in 2006. 

One thing they did have was a talented freshman class - rated as high as #2 in the country.  And that group of first-year players has accomplished some amazing things this year giving hope to fans in Tempe that their club could make a return trip to the CWS. 

Three freshman play major roles on this offense with first baseman Ike Davis (.341, 6 HR, 49 RBI) leading the charge.  Davis is a run-producing machine and actually began the year as their Friday starting pitcher.  His current ERA of 7.46 has him out of the rotation, but his mound struggles have certainly not hampered his ability at the plate.  Davis is, without a doubt, one of the top freshman hitters in the country and poised to put together an All-American-type career at ASU.

He has more than enough help though from classmates Brett Wallace (.376, 2 HR, 16 RBI) and Preston Paramore (.317, 2 HR, 25 RBI).  This trio of freshmen will no doubt wreak havoc in the years to come on the west coast.  This weekend, the Stanford Cardinal get their first taste.

Overall, Arizona State features one of the better offenses in the Pac-10 - it's certainly the strength of the team.  ASU is scoring slightly over seven runs per contest while their team average sits at a cool .317.  The Sun Devils are a scrappy group of hitters as they draw a lot of walks, steal bases at an impressive rate, and flat-out put a lot of pressure on an opposing pitching staff.  Youth may be the only thing going against them, but that hasn't seemed to stop them at all this year.

Sophomore second baseman Eric Sogard (.400, 6 HR, 28 RBI) is the leading hitter on the club and has really come on of late.  Meanwhile, junior right fielder Colin Curtis is one of the most experienced players in the Pac-10.  One of the few key holdovers from last year's CWS team (hit .342 in '05), Curtis is currently batting .299 with four homers and 34 RBI.  Normally batting near the top of the lineup, Curtis has stolen a whopping 20 bases this year in 22 attempts.

Where ASU will sometimes run into trouble is on the mound.  Their 4.79 team ERA isn't horrible, but it is better than just Washington when it comes to the Pac-10 rankings.  Like with the offense, there are plenty of freshmen and sophomores playing key roles on the staff.  Overall, the starting rotation has been fluid all season long with no clear ace emerging.

That possibly may have changed last weekend though in their series at UCLA.  Sophomore lefty Josh Satow made his first start of the season last Friday night and promptly fired five dominant innings with just one run allowed, one walk, and ten strikeouts.  The last thing the Stanford offense probably needs right now is to face a hot pitcher, but that's what they're up against tonight versus Satow. 

For the year, Satow is 3-0 with a 3.98 ERA spanning 31 2/3 innings.  He stands just 5'9" tall and weighs 145 lbs., but clearly showed last weekend that he can shut down one of the better teams in the conference on the road.

Jeff Urlaub gets the nod on Saturday afternoon.  Another young lefty, Urlaub is only a freshman but has put up very solid numbers - primarily as a starting pitcher (seven starts, four relief appearances).  Urlaub is currently 5-1 with a 3.26 ERA and just 13 walks in 47 innings.  Meanwhile, Sunday's spot is still officially "TBA."  Junior righty Pat Bresnehan (3-2, 4.71 ERA) had been in that slot, but he's struggled recently and didn't get out of the third inning last Sunday versus the Bruins (five runs allowed).  If Bresnehan doesn't start, Davis certainly has plenty of experience in the rotation this year.

Arizona State is certainly one of the better teams in the Pac-10 right now as they have a realistic shot of winning the conference title.  They're currently two games behind first-place Oregon State and have to be looking at this weekend has an opportunity to gain ground.  The Sun Devils have already notched home series wins (two-of-three) versus USC and Washington while they also managed two wins up in Pullman versus the Cougars a few weeks ago.  Last time out, ASU dropped two-of-three to UCLA falling by an 11-10 score in the rubber contest. 

ASU has been a dominant team at home this season (20-5), but far less effective away from Packard Stadium (8-9).  Pitching and defense (.962 fielding percentage - second-worst in the Pac-10) will give them problems at times as it could very well keep them from returning to Omaha this year.  But the offense, despite being one of the youngest in the country, is outstanding and fully capable of knocking around the Cardinal hurlers.  The Stanford offense will probably have to find a way - especially on Saturday and Sunday - to keep up if they're to have any chance this weekend.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Ryan Sontag, DH  (So., .302, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 7 SB)
2. Colin Curtis, RF  (Jr., .299, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 20 SB)
3. Eric Sogard, 2B  (So., .400, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB)
4. Brett Wallace, LF  (Fr., .376, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 3 SB)
5. Ike Davis, 1B  (Fr., .341, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 1 SB)
6. Frank Mesa, 3B  (Sr., .189, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB)
7. Preston Paramore, C  (Fr., .317, 2 HR, 25 RBI, 3 SB)
8. Andrew Romine, SS  (So., 12-for-22, 0 HR, 7 RBI, 3 SB)
9. J.J. Sferra, CF  (So., .313, 0 HR, 14 RBI, 5 SB)

Fri- Josh Satow, LHP  (So., 3-0, 3.98 ERA, 31.2 IP, 10 BB, 31 SO)
Sat- Jeff Urlaub, LHP  (Fr., 5-1, 3.26 ERA, 47.0 IP, 13 BB, 37 SO)
Sun- TBA

The Cardinal will definitely have their hands full with Arizona State this weekend as they attempt to move out of the Pac-10 cellar.  After dropping two-of-three to Arizona in Tucson, Stanford currently sits at just 3-9 in conference play.  To make matters worse, the Cardinal then lost a 6-1, ten-inning affair to visiting Santa Clara this past Tuesday. 

Only two regulars are batting above .300 (Chris Minaker .338, Ryan Seawell .313) while the pitching staff certainly endured their fair share of struggles in the final two games at Arizona (26 runs allowed). 

Greg Reynolds (3-3, 4.00 ERA) and Jeremy Bleich (2-3, 3.23 ERA) will make the starts on the mound Friday and Saturday respectively.  Sunday's series-finale is still up in the air after a subpar performance from Matt Manship last weekend.  Manship's ERA has climbed all the way up to 5.48 while Matt Leva has dominated the last two Tuesday nights.  Leva has fired a total of 11 innings with no earned runs allowed in his last two starts to lower his season ERA to 3.48.  His .214 opponents batting average is the best on the team.  His recent hot streak may be enough to vault him back into the weekend starting rotation.

And while the Cardinal have struggled in recent weeks (five straight series losses), they aren't alone.  Cross-bay rival California, who Stanford matches up with on Monday, also has seen their overall record dip under .500 (19-21).  The Bears have been swept in two out of their last three weekend series.  They dropped three straight at USC (April 7th-9th) before a difficult three losses in a row to visiting Oregon State last weekend.  Combined with a Tuesday loss to San Francisco this week and California has seen their record drop two games under the .500 mark.

In Pac-10 play, the Golden Bears are currently 6-9.  They'll host UCLA this weekend in their final conference home series of the year.  Monday's contest versus the Cardinal will actually be their last home game this season.

California (.264) is just a shade above Stanford (.262) in the race for the worst batting average in the Pac-10.  Although Stanford (4.8) does score just a little more than the Bears (4.75) on average.  Bottom line, both offenses have struggled for the better part of this season. 

The Bears have a dominant Friday starter in likely high-first round draft pick Brandon Morrow (7-1, 1.52 ERA), but it's doubtful the Cardinal will see him on Monday afternoon.  Morrow should take the mound at Sunken Diamond a week from tonight in the opener of a three-game, conference series.

Stanford and Cal split two one-run games at Evans Diamond back in early-March.  The Sunday game was postponed due to rain and rescheduled for this upcoming Monday.

The Cardinal will conclude this busy stretch on Tuesday night when they take on the San Jose State Spartans at Sunken Diamond.  One of Stanford's best games this year came against SJSU when they won by a 13-3 score.  The output of 13 runs and 18 hits were both season-high totals for the Cardinal.

The Spartans are currently 27-17 this season while also posting a 6-6 mark in WAC play.  They lost two-of-three at home to Fresno State last weekend with a three-game series at Nevada on the docket beginning today.  San Jose State doesn't have the RPI ranking right now to garner mention as an at-large contender, but they're certainly having a solid year. 

The offense has struggled at times (.270 AVG, 4.9 runs/game), but the pitching (3.68 ERA) and defense (.979 fielding percentage) have been superb all year.



PAC-10 STANDINGS

                     Conf  GB  Overall
Oregon State         9-3   -   29-10
USC                  9-6  1.5  23-20
Arizona State        7-5  2.0  28-14
UCLA                 7-5  2.0  23-17
Washington           6-6  3.0  28-15
Washington State     5-7  4.0  27-15
Arizona              5-7  4.0  19-20
California           6-9  4.5  19-21
Stanford             3-9  6.0  17-18

This Weekend:
* Arizona State at Stanford
* Arizona at Washington
* UCLA at California
* USC at Washington State
New Mexico (2 games)/Cal Poly (1 game) at Oregon State

Thursday's Result:
at Oregon State 3, Cal Poly 0

* - Pac-10 series

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