Surging baseball off to Corvallis

OF Tyler Gaffney

Stanford (10-8) will have its hands full in another brutal Pac-12 road series at Oregon State (9-9) this weekend. Despite hitting only .277 as a team (good for ninth in the conference), the Beavers are as scrappy as usual. 2011 Pac-10 Coach of the Year Pat Casey's club has drawn a league-leading 186 walks, 28 more than second-place Oregon and 35 more than the Cardinal.

The Beavers also lead the Pac-12 with 58 sacrifice bunts. That's over four times as many as Stanford's 13.

Despite the small versus long ball juxtaposition expected this weekend in the Pacific Northwest, though, Oregon State still has its share of loud bats. Freshman phenom Michael Conforto has blasted eight home runs and driven in a conference-leading 54 runs, topping second-place Stephen Piscotty (49 RBI). Infielder Tyler Smith (.384 average) is one of a handful of Beavers who has walked more than he has struck out.

Friday starter Dan Child (my nickname: The Man Child) has impressed with his 2.65 ERA, but his .269 opponents' batting average proves that teams are making contact. Hyped closer Tony Bryant hasn't been as dominant as expected (3.42 ERA), but the Beavers are still a complete club that is excellent at home.

Prediction: Stanford has been on a mission the past two weekends. This is a must-win series for the Cardinal, so they'll play excellent defense against the Beavers' pesky attack and will not be denied. Stanford takes two of three from Oregon State.

Pac-12 Power Rankings

1) Oregon (14-7; previous rank: 2)
We have a reshuffling at the top of the Power Rankings after the Ducks' home sweep of Cal. Arizona should understand (they don't deserve the top spot after feasting on lowly East Tennessee State). Plus, the Wildcats will have an opportunity to rectify the situation this weekend. Oregon visits Tucson for a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown that may well determine the Pac-12 champion.

2) Arizona (12-6; previous rank: 1)
The Wildcats opened their non-conference series against East Tennessee State with a 24-7 victory and finished it with a 21-6 triumph. No, Rich Rodriguez has not officially coached any games in Tucson yet and, no, they weren't playing football at Hi Corbett Field. Arizona just scored over 50 runs on the weekend against an overmatched opponent.

3) Stanford (10-8; previous rank: 4)
A sweep over Arizona State followed by a series win at UCLA has thrust the Cardinal back into contention. Stanford has a chance to make up more ground yet in the race this weekend with Oregon and Arizona beating each other up, but they'll have to find a way to win in hostile Corvallis.

4) UCLA (12-9; previous rank: 3)
You've got to take care of business at home, and the Bruins couldn't do it against Stanford. However, UCLA is still far from eliminated: following a non-conference tilt against Purdue, the Baby Blue will be favored in all of its final nine games at Washington and Cal, and versus USC.

5) Oregon State (9-9; previous rank: 5)
Perhaps the Beavers were caught looking ahead to their home showdown with Stanford? Oregon State dropped two of three to soft-hitting USC this past weekend.

6) Arizona State (11-10; previous rank: 6)
It's never easy to win out in the middle of nowhere (Pullman) - especially when not chartering a flight. The Sun Devils accomplished the task by taking two of three from Washington State. Arizona State slugger Abe Ruiz pounded his league-leading 10th jack in front of Cougar slugger Derek Jones, who remains stuck at nine...

7) Washington State (8-9; previous rank: 7)
…Even if Jones no longer has the Pac-12 lead in home runs, he can take solace in the fact that he is dominating the slugging percentage category with his .649 clip. Ruiz checks in at second at. 599.

8) USC (7-10; previous rank: 10)
The good news for the mediocre Trojans is that they found a way to win their series against Oregon State in Los Angeles. The bad news is that Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA still remain on USC's schedule. Those are tough assignments, considering the fact that Ruiz has singlehandedly hit more homers than the Trojans (nine) on the season.

9) Washington (8-10; previous rank: 9)
The Huskies won the series at Utah, but more notable is the fact that they were shut out 6-0 by the Utes in the Saturday contest. How embarrassing is that? Utah pitching has a collective 5.15 ERA.

10) Cal (7-11 previous rank: 8)
The Bears' atrocious fielding percentage (.955) tells you almost everything you need to need about their inability to pick it. Almost more alarming is the number of sacrifices Cal has allowed. Teams have laid bunts down successfully 64 times on the year, 20 times more than next-worst Oregon (44) and a whopping 44 more times than league-best Arizona (20). That statistic illustrates the Pac-12's disrespect for David Esquer's 2012 defense.

11) Utah (6-15; previous rank: 11)
In addition to their staff's hideous 5.15 ERA, opponents are batting .315 against Utes pitching. Meanwhile, Utah bats are only mustering a .247 average. Simply put, these guys are getting worked by the Pac-12. Wait, how the heck did they shut out Washington on Saturday?


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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