What is the best thing for a struggling offense? Facing two of the best pitchers in college baseball may not be the appropriate response, but that is exactly what Stanford is facing when it opens a three-game set at Cal State Fullerton on Friday night at 7 p.m.
The Cardinal (1-3) has an ace (Cal Quantrill was named a preseason All-American) or two (John Hochstatter won 10 games a year ago) it can rely upon, so this weekend's pitching matchups may just be among the best in the nation.
Stanford takes a team average of .225 on its first road trip of the season, along with a combined eight doubles and one triple. The Cardinal has been outscored 22-10 over its first four games, though that figure was 11-9 until visiting California doubled it Monday afternoon with an 11-1 nonconference win.
As rough an offensive start Stanford went through, the Titans (1-3) won't sympathize with the Cardinal. Cal State Fullerton batted .175 with two doubles through its first four games, which included a loss to USC on Tuesday.
The Bears roughed up Stanford pitching enough to inflate its team ERA to 4.38 from the 2.76 the Cardinal carried through its series with Indiana to open the season. The Hoosiers won the first two games, 4-2 and 4-3, before Stanford won Sunday's game, 4-3.
The Titans have also dropped some close games and managed to outscore its opponents, 11-10, despite losing three of four.
A lot of that has to do with the Cal State Fullerton pitching staff, which carries a 3.46 ERA and is led by two-time All-American, and Collegiate Baseball Freshman of the Year in 2013, Thomas Eshelman, who has won 20 of his 27 decisions and has a career ERA of under 2.00.
Senior left-handed specialist Tyler Peitzmeier, an all-conference pitcher, and freshman left-hander John Gavin, out of St. Francis High in Mountain View, complement Eshelman. Gavin owns the Titans lone win (Peitzmeier got the save) and shows plenty of promise despite allowing a home run and hitting a batter in his first career college start.
"They have two of the best pitchers in college baseball," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "We have our work cut out for us. It will be a good test for us on the road. We have a lot of work to do."
Cardinal junior shortstop Drew Jackson remembers his first road trip and the emotions that went with it.
"It's something you can't forget," he said. "My nerves were out of this world. At the same time, it's cool. Once you play the first few, you can play comfortable."
Jackson thinks several of the Stanford freshmen will handle the trip just fine. The Cardinal featured rookies at third base, first base and catcher along with appearances at other positions. Stanford also used several freshmen pitchers, getting the best results from Chris Hock and Andrew Summerville.
"There are guys who really stepped up big for us," Jackson said. "It's good to see the young guys do their best when their number is called."
Matt Winaker was solid at first base and hit .333 for the weekend. Quinn Brodey appeared in three games and hit .375. He's also a pitcher, allowing two unearned runs in Saturday's extra-inning loss to Indiana.
"We're young and we have a lot to improve upon," Jackson said. "A lot of pitchers did well. The hitting hasn't clicked yet. I have high expectations for this team. It's unfortunate to lose three games already."
The results weren't what Stanford expected following its season-opening four-game homestand but there's plenty of baseball to. be played and the Cardinal is anything but worried.
Stanford's first three games were each decided by one run. The Bears scored four runs before an out was recorded.
"The starters gave us a chance to win in the first three games," Marquess said. "A lot of position players got the chance to play and a lot of guys got the chance the pitch. We're just not doing enough to win."
Summerville struck out the side in his one inning against the Bears. Hock gave up a home run on his first pitch and then retired seven straight.
"Our work ethic is fine," Marquess said. "We just have to get better. We have to improve our execution and hopefully get some hits. Our defense hasn't been great but it hasn't been poor. Any time you give a team extra outs it will usually come back to bite you."