Baseball (7-4) readies for Pac-10 play

Since being swept at Texas, Stanford (7-4) has won three of four, including two dramatic, walk-off wins versus UC-Santa Barbara. With Pacific and USC on deck, read on to learn of likely starters at several positions. Of note to football fans is two-sport star Tyler Gaffney -- where might he fit into the mix on the diamond?

UC-Santa Barbara
Friday, March 5: W, 6-5. Saturday: W, 5-4 (11). Sunday: L, 11-15.

In the March 5 opener of the three-game series, the bottom of the order for the Cardinal drove in all six runs, while starter Jordan Pries pitched five innings, allowing three earned runs and striking out six, setting up late-inning heroics. Batting right-handed with a 1-1 count in the bottom of the ninth and the score tied at five-all, pinch-hitter Jonathan Kaskow drove a ball to deep left-center to drive in Stephen Piscotty for the game-winning run. Piscotty reached on a two-base throwing error by the shortstop. Kenny Diekroeger was intentionally walked after Eric Smith grounded back to the pitcher with one out to setup Kaskow. Pries was relieved by Chris Jenkins, who gave up one earned run and struck out four in two innings, and Mark Appel, who struck out five in two shutout innings.

On Saturday, Jake Schlander hit the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th over the leftfield wall, ensuring Stanford of a series victory. But the story was Stanford's relief, which was solid after starter Scott Snodgress threw 2.1 innings and gave up two earned on two hits and four walks. Dean McArdle pitched an inning, giving up two earned on three hits. Then, the UC-Santa Barbara offense was completely shut down. Sophomore Brian Busick, who had never pitched more than two innings in any game, pitched six shutout innings, only surrendering one hit and striking out six. He threw 65 pitches in those six innings, compared to Snodgress' 53 in his 2.1 innings. Alex Pracher pitched the final 1.2 innings, only allowing one hit.

On offense, the Cardinal once again capitalized on a UCSB error, this time committed by first-baseman Trevor Wyte in the fifth, costing the Gauchos two unearned runs. Adam Gaylord tied the game while pinch-hitting in the eighth with his second RBI of the series.

The Cardinal sent hard-throwing lefty Brett Mooneyham to the mound on Sunday in search of a sweep. However, Mooneyham only lasted a third of an inning, surrendering six earned runs on four hits and three walks. He threw 36 pitches including one wild pitch. UCSB's catcher, Marty Mullens, hit a grand slam and drove-in five runs during the game. In what turned into a slugfest, UCSB took a 14-3 lead in the sixth, before Colin Walsh hit a three-run homer as part of an eight-run bottom half for Stanford. Pitchers Connor Whalen and Jesse Meaux allowed a combined two hits and no earned runs over the final 3.1 innings to help salvage a win for the Gauchos. The Cardinal bullpen was shaky after Danny Sandbrink threw 3.2 innings and gave up one earned run on four hits. Mark Appel, Chris Reed, Elliot Byers, and Garret Hughes, all underclassmen, allowed a combined seven earned runs in three innings of work. Junior Alex Pracher pitched the last two innings, allowing only one hit. The final score was 16-11.

Season Summary

Stanford stands at 7-4 with four more games before Pac-10 play begins. Stanford's best wins came in the opening series against Rice, and their only lapse was their three-game losing streak at Texas. They have moved up in the rankings since the start of the season and are ranked no worse than No. 25 in most of the major polls.

The Cardinal came into the season with questions at outfield, closer, and starting rotation, especially in trying to determine a No. 1 starting pitcher. In the outfield, Junior Ben Clowe has batted very well since starting in LF. He has a .333/.417/.429 line in 21 at-bats and has yet to make an error. Freshman Jake Stewart has gotten most of the starts in CF, and hits at or near the top of the order. His defense has been outstanding. He not only has yet to commit an error, but has terrific range and has already made highlight-reel plays with the glove. His "slash line" (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 54 at-bats is .204/.218/.352. He has shown the ability to hit for power, though his main weakness thus far has been his inability to get on-base. He has yet to draw a walk, but has struck out eight times. Still, a would-be replacement has yet to emerge and Stewart's stellar defense should give him the inside track in keeping the CF job. RF has seen a slew of starters, including Kellen Kiilsgaard, who also DHs often, Christian Griffiths, Kellen McColl, and Tyler Gaffney. As of late, Gaffney seems to have taken control of the position, with a solid series against UCSB. Stanford would certainly like somebody to establish himself in RF, especially with the bat, though Coach Marquess is never hesitant to give several players a chance while playing the hot hand.

Last year, the Cardinal were in a unique position by having Drew Storen, projected to pitch in the majors this year, as their dominant closer. Without anybody with Storen's ability at the end of games, Stanford has looked to various options at closer. The team's best pitchers so far have been starter Jordan Pries and relievers Brian Busick and Alex Pracher. Busick has made five appearances, pitching 10 innings, while giving up seven hits, allowing two walks and striking out nine. He has a 0.90 ERA. Pracher, who may have already established himself as the team's closer, has made six appearances, pitching 11 innings and giving up three earned runs on eight hits. He's walked three and struck out eight. His ERA is 2.45. Freshman Mark Appel has also pitched well, posting in ERA of 2.70 in 6.2 innings of work.

Jordan Pries remains the No. 1 starter for the Cardinal. He's easily been the most consistent starting pitcher, posting an ERA of 5.00 in 18 innings of work. He pitches to contact, but has allowed 21 hits. Last year, Pries gave up only 61 hits in 76 innings of work, so as long as he limits his walks (he's walked eight in three starts), his current hit-to-inning ratio should regress.

Behind Pries, sophomore lefties Scott Snodgress and Brett Mooneyham continue to struggle with their control. They have both given up at least as many walks as innings pitched (Snodgress: 12.1 IP, 12 BB; Mooneyham: 10.2 IP, 15 BB). However, their strikeout rates are high, especially Mooneyham's (15 Ks), which suggests that they are more or less beating themselves on the mound by throwing too many balls. Looking ahead, experienced righty Danny Sandbrink might earn a start versus Pepperdine, as he tries to reestablish himself in the rotation.

It's important to note that the season is still very young. The Cardinal have only played 12 games, including the exhibition versus Rikkyo, so it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from less than a quarter of a season. Stanford will host Pepperdine this weekend for three, followed by a game at Pacific on March 23, during spring break. These will be the final contests before Pac-10 play starts with a three-game homestand against USC, kicking off on Friday, March 26.

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