Baseball looks to climb in Pac-10 standings

Baseball (13-11, 3-3 Pac-10) has lost four of five, dating back to the three-game series at UCLA (23-2, 2-1). The offense has gone relatively cold over the last three games, including the last game of the series against the Bruins. During that stretch, the offense has scored only eight runs and averaged about seven hits per game, dropping their season average to slightly under ten per contest.

In Tuesday's contest at Cal (17-10, 3-3 Pac-10), Stanford was shut out and only gathered six hits. In Wednesday's contest versus St. Mary's (9-14-1), which featured a more average group of pitchers than UCLA, the Cardinal managed eight hits, but could not string together a big rally.

While it's incorrect to draw conclusions from such a small sample size as three games, there are certain season-long trends exhibited by the offense that could use some improvement. For example, the team's on-base average is only .379, while UCLA's is .429 and Arizona State's (27-1, 5-1 Pac-10) is .451. On-base percentage is the most important factor for scoring runs and the Cardinal is trailing teams that are above them in the Pac-10 standings in that category. Still, the offense's rate statistics are better, overall, than Oregon State's (19-6, 2-1 Pac-10), which was picked to finish second in the Pac-10. For the season, Stanford has scored 147 runs, while its opponents have scored 143, so the team's record is representative of the run differential.

Individually, first-baseman/designated hitter Jonathan Kaskow has emerged as Stanford's best hitter over the last week or so. The junior switch-hitter has a .413 average/.500 on-base/.543 slugging line and is now seeing regular playing time at first-base. Freshman Stephen Piscotty, who has been consistent with a .348/.422/.425 line, has moved from first base to left field to make room for Kaskow.

Several regulars have seen their averages drop over the last couple of weeks, including third-baseman Kenny Diekroeger (.301), shortstop Jake Schlander (.256), and catcher Zach Jones (.278). These factors, combined with the fact that the team is not built around power (14 home runs) and has not stolen a whole lot of bases (22-for-26) explains some of the recent struggles on offense.

Meanwhile, the pitching has been susceptible to the base on balls throughout the year. The pitching staff's strikeout-to-walk ratio is 169-to-142, a rate of only 1.2. This statistic is a quick measurement of the staff's control of the strike zone and difficulty for hitters to make contact, that is, how good the pitching's "stuff" is. Usually, a rate of two-to-one is seen as about average, with anything above that as above-average. UCLA's strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3.7, Arizona State's is 3.4, and Oregon State's is 3.2. The biggest concern for the Cardinal, in terms of allowing walks, is the pitching of lefties Brett Mooneyham and Scott Snodgress, who strikeout a lot of batters (34 in 26.1 IP and 23 in 22 IP), yet walk plenty as well (32 and 22). However, Mooneyham performed well in his only inning against St Mary's, with one strikeout in an inning of work, and should start one of the three games against Oregon.

Oregon

Despite being picked to finish last in the Preseason Pac-10 Coaches' Poll, the Ducks (19-10, 2-4) shocked everybody by handing previously undefeated Arizona State their first loss on Saturday. However, the Ducks have lost four of six to Arizona and Arizona State, with their only other conference win coming against the Wildcats two weekends ago. To this point, the only common opponent the Ducks and Cardinal share is Pepperdine, to whom Oregon lost 11-7 in late February.

The Ducks' offense is averaging 5.8 runs per game, with a batting average of .277 and on-base percentage of .368. The team has hit only ten home runs in 29 games, but has 40 stolen bases in 52 attempts. Their best hitters are senior catcher Eddie Rodriguez, who has a .365/.421/.469 batting line with two home runs, sophomore second-baseman Danny Pulfer, with a .343/.403/.417 line, and sophomore shortstop KC Serna, who is batting .343/.395/.407.

The starting pitching has been relatively consistent, with four regular starters with earned-run averages under four. Their best pitcher has been sophomore lefty Tyler Anderson, who threw a complete-game, four-hitter in a 1-0 loss to Arizona State last Thursday. The southpaw has a 2.23 earned-run average in 44.1 innings, with 46 strikeouts and 12 walks. He will likely be the starter for Friday's opener against Stanford. Rounding out the rotation are righties Justin LaTempa (33.1 IP, 2.70 ERA, 35 hits allowed, 31 strikeouts) and Alex Keudell (44.1 IP, 3.45 ERA, 46 hits allowed, 49 strikeouts).

Six Oregon relievers have earned-run averages under three and right-hander Zach Thornton (38.2 IP, 3.96 ERA) has started five games. Righties Drew Gagnier and Joey Housey each have sub-one earned-run averages in ten appearances each. As a whole, the pitching staff has a 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Overall, it appears the Oregon pitching staff, while not overpowering, has been consistent by pitching to contact. In addition, there appear to be several reliable relievers out of the bullpen, so the Cardinal will be in for a challenge in scoring runs.

Keys to the Series

Can the Stanford offense improve its on-base average and return to early-mid season form? Remember, the Cardinal are not necessarily built around power, though there is certainly power potential. So, the key will be putting together quality at-bats that not only help score runs, but fatigue the opposing pitchers.

Stanford has struggled to find a consistent middle relief options. Given that the starting pitching, behind righty Jordan Pries, has struggled, middle relief will be a key to preserving leads or keeping Stanford in the game.

How good is Oregon's starting pitching? Will the Ducks' offense have enough firepower against good, but not great, Stanford pitching?

Projected Defensive Alignment

Friday – 5:30 p.m. at Sunken Diamond
LHP Tyler Anderson (44.1 IP, 2.23 ERA) vs. RHP Brian Busick (18.2 IP, 2.41 ERA)

Oregon Ducks
C – Eddie Rodriguez (Sr., .365/.421/.469, two HRs)
1B – Jack Marder (Fr., three HRs leads team)
2B – Danny Pulfer (So., .343/.403/.417)
3B – J.J. Altobelli (Fr., .289 AVG)
SS – KC Serna (So., 10-for-13 in SBs)
LF – Marcus Plazzisi (Jr., .272 AVG, 20 BBs, 7-for-8 in SBs)
CF – Curtis Raulinitis (Sr., .250 AVG, 7-for7 in SBs)
RF – Steven Packard (Fr., .292 AVG)
DH – Shawn Peterson (RJr., .472 OBP)

Stanford Cardinal
C – Zach Jones (Jr., four HRs leads team, 6-for-6 in SBs)
1B – Jonathan Kaskow (Jr., .500 OBP, .543 SLG)
2B – Colin Walsh (Jr., 18 BBs leads team)
3B – Kenny Diekroeger (Fr., 23 Ks tied for team lead)
SS – Jake Schlander (Jr., .256 AVG, .388 OBP)
LF – Stephen Piscotty (Fr., .348 AVG)
CF – Tyler Gaffney (Fr., .317 AVG, .442 OBP)
RF – Dave Giuliani (Jr., 6-for-25)
DH – Adam Gaylord (Sr., 11-for-31)

Saturday – 1:00 p.m.
RHP Justin LaTempa (33.1 IP, 2.70 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Pries (43 IP, 3.35 ERA)

Sunday – 12:00 p.m.
RHP Alex Keudell (44.1 IP, 3.45 ERA) vs. LHP Brett Mooneyham (26.1 IP, 7.52 ERA)


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