Baseball hosts Arizona State

STANFORD - Statistics suggest that small ball won't be on the menu when Arizona State (24-13, 9-6 Pac-12) visits Stanford (22-7, 5-7 Pac-12) this weekend at Sunken Diamond.

In fact, both teams have laid down successful sacrifice bunts only eight times so far this season, - number dwarfed by conference-leading Oregon State's 46 bunts. The Sun Devils lead the Pac-12 with 28 home runs and 15 triples; the Cardinal are second with 22 jacks and on top with 77 doubles.

But with the caliber of starting pitching taking the mound for both sides in the first two games of the series, those offensive numbers may well prove to be moot. Arizona State's Brady Rodgers, statistically the most dominant starter in the nation (1.12 ERA) squares off against projected Cardinal first rounder Mark Appel to kick off a three-game set off tonight.

Rodgers has walked only nine batters all season. He has thrown two straight complete games, while Appel is coming off an epic 149-pitch effort in which he went toe-to-toe with Oregon's Alex Keudell for nine innings.

For what it's worth, though, Round One of the Appel-Rodgers duel last season ended in a 12-10 Arizona State shootout victory in the desert. So I guess the truth is no one knows what to expect in Friday's series opener.

On Saturday, the Sun Devils will throw another right hander with a microscopic ERA. Sophomore Trevor Williams, who just accepted an invitation to play for the Team USA Collegiate National Team, will pit his seven wins and 1.41 ERA against scuffling Stanford left-hander Brett Mooneyham. The southpaw has lost his past three decisions after opening the season 5-0.

It'll be a daunting task for a previously powerful Stanford offense which has gotten stuck in a rut as of late. The Cardinal, once the odds-on favorite to win the conference championship, have scored only eight runs in their past four games as they've fallen into the bottom half of the Pac-12 standings. This weekend's series is a chance for revival against an Arizona State team that has won eight of nine and swept two straight conference sets to move within a game of first place despite facing an NCAA postseason ban.

Like Stanford, the Sun Devils are stocked with talent. Reigning Pac-12 batting champion Joey DeMichele leads the charge with his conference-leading five triples, while senior infielder Abe Ruiz is tied with Washington State's Derek Jones atop the league leaderboard with nine home runs. Remember that DeMichele blasted three home runs against Stanford in the rubber match of last year's series in Tempe, a 7-1 Sun Devil win.

There appears to be separation between the two clubs' bullpens. Arizona State's league-leading pitching staff (2.66 ERA) is anchored by junior closer Jake Barrett and his filthy 27:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Unlike its Stanford counterpart, the Sun Devils' bullpen has been used frequently, and has come up big.

There are plenty of fascinating connections between third-year Arizona State head coach Tim Esmay and the Stanford glory days of the late 1980s. Esmay was an infielder for the 1987 Sun Devils' College World Series squad. That was the same year that Mark Marquess' Stanford program won its first national championship (with current Cal head coach David Esquer as shortstop). The following season, Esmay was an assistant coach on the 1988 Arizona State team that back-to-back champion Stanford defeated 9-4 in the College World Series championship game.

I'll have more juicy historical details for you on air tonight at 5:30 p.m. PT on KZSU 90.1 FM (kzsulive.stanford.edu). Bring your radio and headphones with you to Sunken Diamond.

Prediction: It's tough to say this, but Arizona State is clearly a better team than Stanford at this point in the season. Their starting pitching has been better, they're hitting for more power, they're stealing twice the amount of bases, and their bullpen is significantly better than the Cardinal's. Defensively, both teams are statistically even (.965) fielding percentage. Oregon burned me big-time after I predicted a Stanford sweep this past weekend. Until the Farm Boys show that they're definitively back, I have to pick Arizona State to win two of three this weekend.


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.


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