With a new rotation, baseball to host Arizona

Stanford baseball (17-16, 7-8 Pac-10) hosts Arizona (17-19, 3-12) in a critical three-game series this weekend. The Wildcats sit in the cellar of the conference, and Stanford needs to pick up every Pac-10 win it can to make the postseason. How have they tweaked their rotation to try to do just that? Read on!

It will be difficult for the Pac-10 to get more than two or three NCAA qualifiers this season, so Stanford truly needs to finish strong if they want to make another run at Omaha. Arizona is already out of the playoff picture, but that doesn't mean they won't be a tough team to beat this weekend.

The Wildcats bring a solid offense that can hit for contact, even if the power numbers are a bit low. So though they have only gone deep 31 times in 36 games, this team is averaging just fewer than eight runs per game, and is hitting .314. They have eight regular players with averages over .300, and three batting higher than .350. In fact, Arizona leads the conference in batting average, doubles and triples, and is in the top-three in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs, hits and RBI. And they have smashed at least one double in every game except one—April 14th against New Mexico.

Junior first baseman Dillon Baird is killing the ball this season, hitting .411 with an on-base percentage of exactly .500, 33 RBI, five home runs and 17 total extra base hits—all team bests. But he isn't the only bat Stanford will need to watch out for. The leadoff hitter, sophomore shortstop Bryce Ortega, has posted a .460 OBP with a .360 average, and scored a team-high 40 runs while going 13-for-15 in stolen base attempts, while senior outfielder Hunter Pace is right behind, hitting .356 with a .450 OBP and 11 steals of his own.

The reason that kind of production hasn't led Arizona to the upper reaches of the Pac-10 is, simply, that the pitching has not been effective, posting an overall ERA of 5.63 and an allowed batting average of .303. Friday starter Preston Guilmet has held his own: the senior is just 2-4, but has a 3.98 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 55 innings.

The rotation, however, dips a little after that. Freshman Kyle Simon will pitch on Saturday, and he has struggled to get hitters out all year. In 43 innings, he has an ERA above six and is allowing an opposing batting average of .339. Because of the rotation's struggles, Arizona will turn to redshirt sophomore Daniel Workman on Sunday to make only his second start of the year. He has been effective out of the bullpen though, compiling a 1-1 record with an ERA of just 2.08 over 21.2 innings.

Stanford's offense should be able to take advantage if the pitching falters for Arizona again, especially considering this team has scored double-digit runs in four straight midweek games. As evidence, Arizona State is one of the best pitching teams in the country when it comes to weekend rotations, and Stanford still managed to score 10 runs in last weekend's three-game series. Sure, that is only 3.3 runs per game, but remember that none of the ASU starters had ERAs over three, with their top two pitchers both below 1.60 on the season. Sophomore outfielder Kellen Kiilsgaard, senior outfielder Joey August, junior outfielder Toby Gerhart, senior first baseman Brent Milleville and sophomore second baseman Colin Walsh all seem to be on a roll, and junior third baseman Adam Gaylord has kept his average at or above .300 pretty much all year.

The only obvious question mark for the Cardinal is how the weekend rotation will perform against such a contact-happy offense. After the struggles junior Jeffery Inman endured against Arizona State last weekend, Stanford has shuffled the order around. Freshman Jordan Pries will now start on Friday and freshman Brett Mooneyham on Saturday, while Inman will be pushed back to Sunday. Pries has been effective for Stanford all year, and actually shut out the potent ASU offense while striking out a career-high 10 over seven innings last weekend, but Mooneyham has slipped back into his early-season control problems. If he and Inman turn in clunkers this weekend—or at any point the rest of the way—Stanford's hopes of catching the conference's top tier could slip away.

Who to Watch:

The entire rotation, Stanford
How they perform will be the key to Stanford's success the rest of the way. Will Pries crumble now that he is pitching on Friday nights (and on national television this series), or will he keep racking up the quality starts? Will Mooneyham bounce back to be nearly unhittable with huge strikeout totals, or was last weekend just the start of recurrent control problems? How will Inman react to being pushed back to Sunday? Will he go seven-plus strong innings like he is capable of, or will his command problems from last weekend linger?

Toby Gerhart, LF, Stanford
Gerhart seems to have been either hot or cold most of the year, and right now he is pretty hot, knocking out two doubles and three hits in the game against Cal on Wednesday. If he can continue to produce, the top half of Stanford's order is one of the best in the country.

Drew Storen, CL, Stanford
After a disappointing outing last weekend, in which he allowed seven runs, Storen worked in both mid-week games to try and get back in his groove. He pitched a perfect four-out save on Wednesday against the heart of the Cal order, and it looks like he is locked in again.

Dillon Baird, 1B, Arizona
The question with Baird is whether can Stanford get him out at all. He reaches base half the time, and can drive the ball with authority. If he stays hot and gets pitches to hit, the Wildcat starters should have some run support.

Brad Glenn, 3B/OF, Arizona
Don't overlook the senior with the .239 average. Sure he only has 32 hits, but 16 of them are for extra bases, and he is tied for the team lead five homers. Plus, he is second all-time in home runs for the Wildcats, with 39 career jacks. You can't ignore this guy just because the average is well below respectable.

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