Baseball tries to keep Lobos from going loco

Stanford (23-20, 10-11 Pac-10) gets a break from conference play this weekend, but hosts one of the top teams in the nation in New Mexico (32-16, 12-8 MWC), who has been as high as No. 18 this season. While the Cardinal can't gain ground in the Pac-10 standings, a series victory is still essential to keep Stanford's playoff hopes alive.

But things certainly won't be easy for the Card, even if the Lobos are an unimpressive 8-9 on the road. New Mexico is a team that can hit the ball with authority, and will test Stanford's weekend rotation and bullpen. New Mexico boasts three players in its lineup with averages over .400, two more hitting at least .390 on the year, and seven players with at least 40 RBI. The Lobos are hitting .368 as a team, and have a team OPS of .992. Compare those stats to Stanford's team marks (.278 and .789), and the Cardinal bats don't match up.

Of course numbers don't mean everything, especially with New Mexico in a weaker market. Still, weekend starters Jordan Pries and Brett Mooneyham, both freshmen, and junior Jeffrey Inman will need to be on top of their game. Inman looked fantastic last weekend in Pullman, going six innings and allowing just two runs on six hits and no walks—a very encouraging sign after his season-long struggles. Mooneyham got knocked around in a wet and windy game last Saturday, but has been excellent at home all season, and Jordan Pries tossed a complete game three-hitter but took the loss in the Friday game.

For the most part, these three have been strong on the weekends for Stanford, but the Card desperately need all three to put together quality starts in the same weekend -- and repeat the feat two more times to finish out the year. One question will be whether Jordan Pries can bring the dominance he has shown on the road. He has allowed three runs or less in every road start since Cal-State Fullerton in February, but hasn't made it out of the fifth inning at Sunken Diamond since holding Texas to one run in 7.1 frames on March 7.

The Lobos will counter with the trio of senior John Hesketh, freshman Rudy Jaramillo and junior Ryan Escarcega—all of whom have good numbers on the year. Hesketh is 5-3 with an ERA of just 3.31 over 73.1 innings and has 62 strikeouts, while Jaramillo (3-0) and Escarcega (1-1) have been effective but have mostly worked from the bullpen this year. Each will be making only his fourth start of the year this weekend.

But the obvious story is the New Mexico offense and its endless string of excellent batters. The Lobos have so many big sticks in the lineup that it is impossible to target just a few as key threats, but first baseman Kevin Atkinson, second baseman Mark Brownstein and outfielder/designated hitter Ryan Honeycutt jump off the page. Each is hitting at least .400 and has 43 or more RBI -- Atkinson leads the team with 54. All have at least 12 doubles, and Brownstein has 30 extra-base hits including a whopping 11 triples. Stanford has just five three-baggers as a team. And the string of hitters doesn't end there: outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez and third baseman Dane Hamilton also each boast 30 extra-base hits and seven triples each, and catcher Rafael Neda has six homers and 15 doubles of his own. Quite frankly, this team has at least six guys that would be the most productive hitter in the lineup if placed in the middle of Stanford's order.

The good news for Stanford? New Mexico has lost five of its last six, but still has put up 43 runs in that span. The Lobos took 23 of their first 26 games, but are just 9-13 since.

But even with the team cooling off, a series victory against a team that has been in the top-20 this year would do nothing but help Stanford's playoff chances, and give the team more confidence and momentum heading into the final two weekends of the year, series at USC and versus Oregon State. The three-game set gets underway on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Sunken Diamond and continues with 1 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday. All three contests can be heard live at kzsulive.stanford.edu, or on KZSU 90.1 FM in the Palo Alto area.

WHO TO WATCH
Brent Milleville, 1B, Stanford
"A Milli" has been red-hot of late, with two grand slams in the last week and a half. The Cardinal first baseman is rapidly becoming one of the top clutch hitters in the conference, and if he comes up with runners on late in any game this weekend, it could spell trouble for the Lobos.

Jordan Pries, SP, Stanford
The freshman has looked like Greg Maddux on the road – and Carlos Silva at home. He will need to put together his first quality home start since the Texas series if Stanford is going to take the opener on Friday.

Anyone holding a bat, New Mexico
It simply isn't possible to stare at the Lobos' offensive stat sheet long enough to stop being utterly amazed. This team is crushing the ball so well and so deeply through the lineup that even the bat boy could probably go yard. Stanford will need quality pitching from beginning to end in all three games, or the series could slip away in a matter of seconds.


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