Sports

Stanford makes a pitch to stay in Pac-12 baseball race

 

In the competitive Pac-12 Conference baseball race, Stanford shares fourth place with Oregon, a game behind conference leader Utah. In fact, there are seven teams within 2 1/2 games of the lead.

For the Cardinal (19-12 overall, 7-5 in the Pac-12), it's been about recovery and resurgence. A year after one of its worst seasons in school history, Stanford has returned to Pac-12 prominence. Most of the credit goes to a pitching staff that sports a 2.60 ERA heading into a three-game home series with Arizona State that begins Friday in Sunken Diamond at 6 p.m. The teams play Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.

Stanford finished 24-32 overall and 9-21 in conference play last year.

This year, four pitchers, with at least 20 innings, are under 2.00: Tyler Thorne (0.86), Colton Hock (1.42, No. 24 in the nation), Andrew Summerville (1.89, No. 57) and Tristan Beck (1.91, No. 61).

Cal Quantrill, limited to three starts and 18 innings, was the only Stanford player with a sub 2.00 ERA last year. He could be returning to the rotation in the near future after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.

"Everybody has good pitching and if you don't play well you're going to get beat," Cardinal coach Mark Marquess said. "The thing we're doing well is we're playing good defense. The pitchers aren't walking many people and that's key for the defense."

Stanford pitchers have a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 2.5 to 1 and the defense, ranked first in the nation, has turned 24 double plays, allowing fewer baserunners and better efficiency. The Cardinal entered the week ranked seventh nationally in ERA.

"Our pitching has been fabulous top to bottom," Stanford infielder Matt Winaker said. "The offense has to avoid relying too much on the pitching. We have to continually do our best to support them. Tristan Beck may be throwing another two-hit shutout and we still need to provide run support. We can't get lackadaisical."

The Cardinal batting average is.248, roughly the same as it was last year (.253) but seems to be more productive. Alex Dunlap shines as an example of this turnaround. He's batting .321 with a home run and nine RBI a year after hitting .209 with a pair of home runs and 14 RBI. He has seven doubles after hitting six all of last year.

Menlo School grad Mikey Diekroeger hit .315 (34-for-108) with one homer and 15 RBI last year and is at .248 (30-for-121) with two homers and 16 RBI this year. He's also hit 11 doubles this year after accumulating five last season.

Tommy Edman (.308) and Dunlap are the only players above .300, though Nico Hoerner is close at .296.

Quinn Brodey leads the Cardinal with 24 RBI and is tied with Jonny Locher for the team in home runs, each with three.

Stanford hit 18 home runs in 56 games last season and has 12 in 31 games this year, a pace that would give them 23 homers. The Cardinal is also on pace to drive in about 40 more runs.

"We're doing a better job this year of coming to play every game," Winaker said. "If we're sloppy, we can lose. If we show up, we have a chance to win."

Stanford sports a 3-5 record in games decided by one run and is 3-0 in games decided by two runs.

The Pac-12 is up for grabs. The Utes own a half-game lead over California and Washington and they also own an overall 13-18 mark, one of four conference teams with a sub .500 record. Washington State, the current cellar dweller, is 4 1/2 games behind Utah.

Cal rallied to beat Stanford on Tuesday, 5-2, in a nonconference game in Berkeley.

The Sun Devils have been struggling this year but have a solid pitching staff capable of shutting down an offense. Arizona State swept the three-game series in Phoenix last year and are 98-93 all-time against the Cardinal.

With the Pac-12 beating up on each other and Texas suffering through a forgettable year, Stanford's RPI rating took a hit. The Cardinal is currently 6-3 against the Top 50, which include victories over Vanderbilt, California Cal State Fullerton and St. Mary's. Stanford ranks No. 66, fifth best among Pac-12 teams. Utah ranks No. 123, ahead of only No. 155 Washington State.

"That's the state of college baseball now," Marquess said. "There was a time I could tell you the five teams with the best chance of winning the national title. Now there are up to 50 teams who could possibility win. There's so much parity."

Stanford hopes to tip the balance in its favor beginning this weekend.

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