Baseball Pac-10 Season Preview

Stanford baseball returns to action this weekend with a three-game series at Cal. The Card is off to a rough start after winning just one of its last eight games to enter the Finals break at 3-8, the worst mark of any Pac-10 team. To get ready for the rest of the season, The Bootleg brings you this preview of the road Stanford will have to travel on its quest for a postseason berth.

March 21-23: at Cal (9-7)

The Golden Bears struggled with No. 21 Cal Poly last weekend, losing two of three, but earlier put together a six-game winning streak that included a win over Vanderbilt and a series sweep at Long Beach State. Cal boasts a potent offense batting .324 and averaging over a home run per game that could cause problems for Stanford's inconsistent pitching. Junior outfielder Brett Jackson and sophomore first baseman/outfielder Mark Canha are both hitting above .400 and have three and five home runs respectively. The Card will have to find a way to hold this offense down and score more runs than they has been in order get off to good start this weekend.

March 27-29: vs. Washington (6-9)

Washington was putting together a nice run, taking four out of five from Oregon and Nevada, before being swept by San Francisco at home last weekend. The Huskies have pitched fairly well so far: an ERA of 3.58 and 110 strikeouts in 135.2 innings is certainly respectable. Senior right-hander Jorden "No Typo" Merry, the Friday starter, has an ERA of just 2.42 in four starts and has limited opponents to a .185 average with 27 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. But this team is dangerous when the offense is firing. Junior Kyle Conley has slugged seven home runs in just 63 at-bats so far, while sophomore catcher Pierce Rankin is hitting .404 and has 11 extra-base hits in 53 at-bats, for an OPS of 1.172.

April 3-5: at Oregon (8-8)

The Ducks are holding their own so far in their first season since 1981. They won their season opener against St. Mary's and took two of three from defending national champion Fresno State, ranked No. 15 at the time of the series. Plus, they have won five of seven heading into this weekend. The offense has been largely unimpressive so far, scoring just 62 runs in 16 games, but the pitching has been able to keep the Ducks competitive, allowing just 62 runs as well. It is difficult to know what to expect from this team when Stanford travels north to open April, but so far they have been very tough at home. People in Eugene are excited to have baseball back and have turned out to cheer the Ducks on to their 5-2 home record. The average attendance at home so far is 2,566 (Stanford's is 1,673), so it is a sure thing large and excited crowds will be on hand when a 2008 College World Series team like Stanford arrives.

April 9-11: vs. UCLA (5-12)

UCLA opened the year with a pair of wins against UC-Davis and took three of their last five, but dropped 10 straight contests in between. The problem the Bruins have faced so far is huge inconsistencies in production, both from the pitching staff and the offense. Of batters with at least 28 at-bats, five are hitting better than .333, but five are hitting below .237. The same divide is true in the pitching staff where freshmen right-handers Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole have been shutting down opposing offenses consistently, but five other pitchers with at least 10 innings of work have ERAs over 5.80. This is a team that can either be dominant, or utterly ineffective.

April 17-19: at Arizona State (14-3)

The Sun Devils have climbed up to grab the No. 7 national ranking but, as they do most every year, have not really played anyone so far. They steamrolled teams like Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Holy Cross, and have lost a game apiece to Missouri, Kansas State and Kansas. They have yet to leave the state of Arizona for any game, and won't do so until the end of March, when they visit USC. So this year, as always, the early dominance of Arizona State doesn't mean all that much. They are a good team that will give itself a chance to win almost every day, but have barely been tested so far. If Stanford shows up, pitches well and gets a few hits, anything could happen.

April 24-26: vs. Arizona (11-7)

The Wildcats have only played two road games so far, and they won both of them at UNLV. After sputtering a bit to start the year, they enter this weekend having won seven of 10 and fresh off a three-game sweep of Michigan by a combined score of 25-7. After junior right-hander Jason Stoffel, the pitching staff has been ordinary at best, but the offense ensures no one takes the Wildcats lightly. The Wildcats are hitting .320 as a team and scoring over 8.5 runs per game. (When you score that much and are only a few games over .500, you know there is something wrong with the pitching.) The offense is balanced as well, with eight players having homered so far and seven having RBI totals in the double digits. To beat this team, Stanford will need to turn in outstanding pitching, light up weak pitching or, most likely, do a little of both.

May 1-3: at Washington State (5-9)

Unlike those Arizona schools, the Cougars put together an early-season schedule rivaling Stanford's in difficulty. The opened the season by being swept at No. 16 Arkansas, before splitting a four-game series with No. 13 Oklahoma. They also fell 2-1 to No. 7 Rice. Last weekend, they took two of three at Long Beach State, and in the middle of this week, travel to Malibu for a pair of games at No. 17 Pepperdine. With all this in mind, a 5-9 record actually looks reasonably impressive. No part of their game really stands out as exceptional, but they are a balanced team that knows how to compete. Even if Stanford is on a roll at this point, they can't look past the Cougars.

May 8-10: vs. New Mexico (16-3)

The Lobos have more wins right now than any team in the Baseball America top-25 except for No. 13 Oklahoma (17-4), yet they haven't been able to crack the national poll. The reason? More than any other team on this list, and possibly any team in the country, New Mexico hasn't played anybody of note. They are hitting over .400 as a team and have a team ERA below 3.50, but it doesn't mean anything until they do it against some real competition. Yes, they have scored over 20 runs in three games this year, and even reached 30 against Binghamton, but can they do anything close to it against top-25 teams? Probably not.

May 15-17: at USC (6-8)

The Trojans looked en route to a very rough season, before exploding for three straight lopsided wins against Winthrop last weekend. So far, the pitching has been respectable, but the offense hasn't done anything special outside of sophomore infielder Joe De Pinto, he of the .341 average, two homers and 11 RBIs. The real problem for the Trojans has been errors, with 35 in only 15 games so far. Stanford won't meet this team for another two months, so a lot could change, but unless they tighten up the defense, USC won't be very competitive against any conference teams this year.

May 22-24: vs. Oregon State (8-5)

Stanford ends the regular season by hosting arguably the most successful team of the decade. This series could make all the difference, as it will be played right before the NCAA sets its tournament field for the next weekend's Regionals. So far, the Beavers have had almost no power, hitting just three homers in 13 games, but are scoring 7.77 runs per game. The pitching hasn't been anything special, as no starter has an ERA below 4.50. But, regardless of how Oregon State is playing at the end of the season, Stanford will need to have a strong showing. A collapse on the last weekend could cost a bubble team a spot in the tournament.

Clearly, there is still plenty of hope for this Stanford team. The weekend schedule is certainly challenging, but no more difficult than what this team has faced already in Vanderbilt, Cal-State Fullerton and Texas. If the Card can tighten up the pitching, finally wake up the bats, and give itself a real chance to win four or five games a week rather than just two or three, this slow start could quickly be forgotten.

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