Baseball to visit juggernaut ASU

There's one thing that Stanford (15-13, 7-5 Pacific 10) certainly can't forget to pack on this road trip: the bats. The Cardinal travel down to the desert to take on No. 2 Arizona State (25-8, 10-2) in a three-game conference series this weekend, and the Sun Devils have been an offensive juggernaut all season long.

Arizona State is a team that has scored a whopping 262 runs in 33 games coming into the series, and has a team batting average of exactly .300. They have lit up opposing pitching to the tune of a 7.76 ERA against, and launched 40 balls over the fence already. Compare those numbers to Stanford's, and it looks like this could be one ugly weekend for the Cardinal. Marquess's crew has played five fewer games, but has pushed across almost 100 fewer runs (169) and hit only 28 taters with a .268 team batting average.

But hitting is only half the game, and when you throw in the pitching numbers, the situation looks even darker. Despite playing in the middle of the desert—where the baseballs can really fly, as the offensive numbers show—ASU has held its opponents to under 3.4 total runs per game, posting a team ERA of 2.43 and batting average against of .222.

The good news for Stanford fans is that the Cardinal's pitching has been very effective recently, and the bats have absolutely exploded during the week. Also, if there is ever a "right time" to catch ASU, this might be it: the Sun Devils have lost three of their last five, and five of their eight total losses have come in the last three weeks.

Stanford's weekend rotation of junior RHP Jeffrey Inman, freshman RHP Jordan Pries and his classmate, LHP Brett Mooneyham, pitched well against UCLA last weekend, and had a good series at Oregon the week before. Inman has allowed just four earned runs in his last 13.1 innings and Mooneyham has logged 17 strikeouts in his last two outings. Really the only concern, albeit a minor one, is Pries, who couldn't get out of the fifth last weekend and struggled with control, but still held the Bruins to three runs while he was on the mound.

The bullpen looks sharp as well, especially with lights-out closer Drew Storen, sophomore RHP, coming in with nearly a full week of rest, after pitching three shutout innings for a save against UCLA last Saturday. Senior RHP Max Fearnow mowed through the Cal lineup on Monday night to pick up a win in relief, and a solid outing or two from him in Tempe would provide a reliable bridge to Storen.

Of course the starters would have to hand-off a lead for Storen to save first, and getting ahead early has been the best way to beat ASU this season. The Sun Devils have only come back when trailing after five twice (out of six times), and haven't won a game yet when trailing anytime after the sixth.

Stanford's offense also looks as capable as it has all season of giving its arms leads, after an explosive pair of midweek games against Cal on Monday and Santa Clara Wednesday. Stanford posted 30 runs over the two games. Plus, perhaps even more encouraging than the total output was the fact that almost every Cardinal batter was in on the action. In fact, in both games, Stanford got at least a run or an RBI from each of the nine spots in the batting order.

But while the atmosphere may be conducive to the Card's red-hot bats, the Sun Devil pitchers certainly aren't. The Friday and Saturday starters for ASU, juniors RHP Mike Leake and LHP Josh Spence, are a combined 15-1 with respective ERAs of 1.53 and 1.01. Both are averaging over a strikeout per inning pitched, and have allowed only one home run apiece in over 60 innings so far. ASU's Sunday starter hadn't yet been announced at press time.

WHO TO WATCH

Jordan Pries, RHP, Stanford
The standout freshman has held down the middle of the weekend rotation better than anyone could have expected, but his control slipped in his last start. The Cardinal will need him to locate his pitches, or the ASU lineup will make him pay much more than the Bruins were able to.

Stanford's "Bridge to Storen"
Storen has been just about untouchable all season, but the Cardinal have to get the ball in his hands with a lead first. The rest of the bullpen will need to keep ASU from coming from behind, against an extremely potent lineup.

Kellen Kiilsgaard, RF, Stanford
The sophomore slugger racked up six RBIs on Monday, and has paced the offense since the opening weekend. Any series in Arizona has the potential to turn into a slugfest, and the Card will need Kiilsgaard to keep putting a drive in the ball. If his bat goes, it could be a good weekend.

The ASU Aces
Mike Leake and Josh Spence have been just about as unhittable as any starter can expect to be, and they have to pitch their home games in one of the most hitter-friendly yards in the country. If they are on top of their game, they simply can't be beat. Stanford will have to find a way to have any chance of taking this series. Can they?

Jason Kipnis, CF, ASU
Kipnis has started every game so far, is leading his team in at-bats, and has managed to keep his batting average over .400 more than halfway through the season. Add in 10 homers and a ridiculous 46 RBI, 25 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases, and you have a complete player. You can't hope to shut him down, but Stanford will at least have to find a way to slow him.


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