Baseball visits Pullman for the weekend

Stanford baseball (20-18, 8-10 Pac-10) is fresh off its longest homestand of the season, having posted a solid 5-2 mark during the seven-game stretch. But the two losses both came during a critical conference series against Arizona, and caused the Cardinal to slip into the bottom half of the conference standings with just nine Pac-10 games to play.

Now Stanford will travel north to take on the No. 2 team in the Pac-10, Washington State (21-18, 10-5), in a must-win three-game series.

In fact, at this point of the season it might be more of a must-sweep series for the Card. Taking all three games would pull Stanford just 1.5 games back of the Cougars with just three weeks remaining in the season, and put the Cardinal in striking distance of the top-three in the conference. It will be very difficult for Stanford to make the postseason without finishing in that range.

Still, the Cardinal don't want to think about a sweep, preferring instead to take things the proverbial game at a time.

"After last Sunday, when we dropped a tough one against Arizona, we put ourselves in a spot where we have a lot of work to do," said senior center fielder Joey August. "You can't think about needing to sweep because if you think too far ahead, you can get overwhelmed. We just need to win Friday and go from there."

There is no doubt that Stanford is heading into the weekend on a high note after rallying to win the final game of the home stand, 6-4 over Sacramento State. Senior first baseman Brent Milleville blasted a mammoth grand slam to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth to turn the contest.

"It's always good to win some mid-week games for confidence and momentum," said August. "I was glad to see us not panic when we fell behind. We need to carry that confidence and momentum into Friday and then find a way to win on Saturday and Sunday after that."

But Washington State comes in with plenty of momentum, too. The Cougars have won six of their last eight, and 12 of their last 13 home contests. They need to win just as badly as Stanford does, and they still have an actual shot at winning the Pac-10 this season if they can finish strong. And they are opening up a season-long eight game home stand this weekend.

They don't have enough hitting or pitching to overwhelm opponents, but they pack a solid lineup top to bottom, and can throw out more than a few high quality arms. The Cougars boast seven batters with at least three home runs on the year, and three hitting above .315. But what is most impressive about the Washington State offense is its level of balance in production. Alex Burg is the team leader in both runs and RBI, with 29 and 34 respectively, but six other players have at least 20 runs scored or 19 RBI on the year. That level of balance is not unlike Stanford's.

In fact, these two clubs have remarkably similar offensive numbers. The Cardinal bring seven players with between 20 and 30 runs scored, as well as seven with 18 or more RBI. The Cougars are batting .281 as a team, Stanford is at .273. The Cougars have 39 home runs, Stanford has 36. The Cougars have scored 248 runs in 39 games (6.36 per game), Stanford has 230 in 38 (6.05 per game).

On the mound, Washington State hasn't been particularly flashy, but they have a true ace in Matt Way, who has compiled a 5-4 record with an ERA of just 2.14 and 81 strikeouts in 71.1 innings or work. He has also issued only 25 walks, and opposing batters are hitting just .216 against him. And closer Jeremy Johnson is putting up almost the same numbers as Stanford's star closer sophomore Drew Storen: a 3.18 ERA and six saves, with 42 Ks and just seven walks in 39.2 innings.

Clearly this weekend will not be easy for Stanford, unless the bats find a way to drive in runs the way they have in last month's midweek games. But perhaps the biggest challenge for the Card this weekend will be how it responds if the Friday contest doesn't go well.

"It is always really tough to lose a game you know you needed to win," said August. "But you have to not get too up or down. We know we need to put a run together, and that our season depends on it, but everyone is close in the Pac-10, and you never know what can happen if you just keep playing well."

Games this weekend will be at 5:30 P.M. on Friday, 1 P.M. on Saturday, and at noon on Sunday. Each game can be heard online at kzsulive.stanford.edu, or on KZSU 90.1 FM in the Palo Alto area.

Who To Watch

Toby Gerhart (LF), Kellen Kiilsgaard (RF) and Brent Milleville (1B), Stanford
The 3-4-5 hitters have been crucial to the Card's run production all season, and if there bats disappear in Pullman, Stanford is in real trouble. Kiilsgaard is from Washington, and will be playing in front of friends and family.

Max Fearnow, RHP, Stanford
The senior started the year in the weekend rotation, but was demoted to a bullpen role after early struggles. Since then, he has become the most reliable long-relief option Stanford has, and could keep the Cardinal in games if the starters falter.

Jeremy Johnson, CL, Washington State
The closer has put up great overall numbers on the year, but his stats in conference games have been a little shaky. He still has a 2-0 record with five saves within the Pac-10, but his 4.96 conference ERA and .300 batting average against offer some hope of a late rally if Stanford falls behind.


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