The Trojans (11-10) have won five of their last seven, but they lost two in their most recent three-game series, at Pacific last weekend. They beat Pepperdine 3-2 on Tuesday at home.
Picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 in a preseason coaches' poll, the Trojans have had an up-and-down year so far. They began the season with a three-game series win versus Cal Poly, lost two of three in their next three-game series versus New Mexico and won three of four at Hawaii from March 12-15 before dropping the series at Pacific. In addition, they lost to UCLA 6-1 on February 28, and have beaten Pepperdine, a team that Stanford swept last weekend, twice in two meetings.
The Trojans offense is led by sophomore first baseman Ricky Oropesa, who has a .341 average/.432 on-base percentage/.671 slugging percentage, with a Pac-10-leading six homers on the year. Oropesa also has five stolen bases in seven attempts. Former major leaguer and USC Coach Chad Kreuter's freshman son, Cade, is also among the team's best hitters with a .346/.373/.615 line and four home runs of his own. However, in 18 games, Cade has struck out 16 times while having drawn only two walks, so the righty has a tendency to be overaggressive. Sophomore outfielder Matt Foat is also having a nice season with a .321/.375/.583 line and four home runs. But he leads the team in strikeouts with 17, compared to only five walks.
There are seven batters on USC who have accumulated double-digit strikeouts, compared to only four on Stanford, though they have 21 home runs to Stanford's 11. (Admittedly, USC has played six more games than the Cardinal.
The Trojans have already set their rotation for the weekend. Sophomore ace Andrew Triggs will take the mound on Friday for USC. The righty has accumulated a 4.13 earned-run average in 32.2 innings. He's given up 33 hits, struck out 30, and walked nine. Triggs got the loss last Friday at Pacific, when he pitched 6.2 innings, gave up six earned runs on 10 hits, struck out five, and did not walk a batter.
On Saturday, the Trojans will send out 6-foot-8' righty Ben Mount, who's been arguably their best starting pitcher. He leads the team in innings pitched with 33.2, while allowing 30 hits, striking out 25, and walking nine. The sophomore leads all regular starters with a 3.21 earned-run average and has the team's only complete game. He threw 5.2 innings against Pacific, gave up four earned, struck out three, and walked four.
Senior righty Kevin Couture will make his seventh start on Sunday, after accumulating a 5.54 earned-run average in 26 innings. The righty pitches to contact, as he's given up 39 hits and only struck out 14, while walking seven.
The entire pitching staff of the Trojans is extremely right-handed, which should help for the predominantly right-handed Cardinal starting lineup. Chad Smith, Chris Mezger, and Brandon Garcia lead the relief corps, though Smith has started five games on the mound. Mezger and Garcia have 2.51 and 2.77 respective earned-run averages, and Mezger has 14 strike outs in 14.1 innings pitched. USC has a 9-2 record when leading after six innings, so the bullpen has been solid. However, they are 1-8 when giving up more than five runs, a number the Cardinal hasn't struggled to reach recently.
The Cardinal offense has gotten double-digit hits in eight straight games and is averaging nine runs per game for their last five games. Leading the way are three freshman: first baseman Stephen Piscotty is 10-for-17 in his last four games from the clean-up spot, third baseman Kenny Diekroeger is batting .347/.411/.592, and right-fielder Tyler Gaffney has cemented his place in the starting lineup with a .367 average in seven starts. Second baseman Colin Walsh continues to produce from the leadoff spot (.316/.443/.544) and senior designated hitter Adam Gaylord is sizzling at the plate, with 11 hits in 20 at-bats. Needless to say, the very talented offense is doing its job by scoring a lot of runs against less talented pitching.
The main question heading into the series, as has been for most of the season, is the starting pitching behind Jordan Pries. Pries, coming off a two-hit shutout versus Pepperdine on Saturday, will likely get the nod on Friday. Overall, he has a 3.33 earned-run average in 27 innings, giving up 23 hits, striking out 17 and walking 10. After his last start, his innings total rose above the number of hits he's given up.
The two sophomore lefties, Scott Snodgress and Brett Mooneyham, will likely get the starts on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Snodgress pitched on Sunday versus Pepperdine, as he gave up two earned in 3.2 innings. He looked unhittable at times, controlling both his fastball and curveball with pinpoint precision, but struggled with his command later. Overall, Snodgress has a 5.06 earned-run average in 16 innings, while striking out 15 and walking 16.
Mooneyham threw 96 pitches in five innings last Friday and got the nod at Pacific, though he only threw two-thirds of an inning in a discouraging start on three days of rest. The 6-foot-5 lefty also has potentially dominant stuff, which he even struggles to command at times. Overall, he has an 8.82 earned-run average in 16.1 innings, striking out 20 and walking 21.
The Stanford bullpen has continued to pitch well, with righties Brian Busick (12.1 IP, 1.46 ERA) and Mark Appel (9.1 IP, 3.86 ERA) as the go-to guys for middle relief. Closer Alex Pracher only threw 1.1 innings last week and maintains a solid 2.19 earned-run average in 12.1 innings.
Keys to the Series
Can the Stanford offense continue to hit well, despite running into a slight bump on Tuesday, against a predominately right-handed USC pitching staff?
How will Snodgress and Mooneyham pitch, given their recent struggles with control? Both have a good chance to generate a lot of strikeouts if they pitch well, considering the USC offense is prone to striking out a lot.
If Mooneyham and Snodgress struggle with their control, will the USC offense adjust to become more patient at the plate?
USC is 3-4 in games decided by two runs or less, while Stanford is 5-0. Stanford's bullpen has been better than USC's to this point. How will the USC bullpen perform in late-game situations?
Projected Defensive Alignment
Friday – 5:30 p.m.
RHP Andrew Triggs vs. RHP Jordan Pries
C – Kevin Roundtree (So., .405/.442/.486)
1B – Ricky Oropesa (So., six HRs, .671 slg.)
2B – Joe De Pinto (Jr., .303/.361/.404)
3B – Matt Hart (Jr., .303 avg., 3-for-7 in stolen base attempts)
SS – Taylor Wrenn (So., .350 on-base)
LF – Matt Foat (So., four HRs, eight 2Bs, one 3B)
CF – Garret Houts (So., 11-for-24, .500 on-base)
RF- Alex Sherrod (So., .303/.390/.424)
DH – Cade Kreuter (Fr., .615 slg., four HRs, 16 SO, two BB)
C – Zach Jones (Jr., .309, two HRs, four SBs)
1B – Stephen Piscotty (Fr., .383, 10-for-17 in his last four games)
2B – Colin Walsh (Jr., .443 on-base, two HRs)
3B – Kenny Diekroeger (Fr., .347, six 2Bs, two HRs)
SS – Jake Schlander (Jr., .283, 12 BB)
LF – Ben Clowe (Jr., 11-for-34, three 2Bs)
CF – Jake Stewart (Fr., .222 avg)
RF – Tyler Gaffney (Fr., 11-for-30, two 3Bs)
DH – Adam Gaylord (Sr., 11-for-20, two 2Bs)
Saturday – 1:00 p.m.
RHP Ben Mount vs. LHP Scott Snodgress
Sunday – 1:00 p.m.
RHP Kevin Couture vs. LHP Brett Mooneyham
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