This Week on TV: Pac-12 Baseball
Only one Pac-12 series will be televised this weekend, but don't worry -- it's a marquee match-up. We've reached and passed the halfway point of the conference slate, so expect every game to take on added intensity from here on out.
Stanford at Oregon (Saturday 2 p.m. Pac-12 Networks, Sunday 12:30 p.m. ESPNU)
Just about a month ago, Stanford was in the Pac-12's offensive cellar. The Cardinal were floundering behind their league-worst .244 batting average and threatening to even fall below Washington in run production. Cardinal pitching had been solid, and for that reason the team had not fallen completely on its face. But qualifying for the postseason seemed like a longshot given the early season offensive ineptitude.
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Fast forward about four weeks to behold Stanford in an utterly different light. The Cardinal are now the Pac-12's most productive offensive team. Over the course of conference play, they're hitting a collective .305 and averaging 6.5 runs per game, over a run more than second place Arizona State. Slugger Austin Wilson's return from an elbow injury has certainly buoyed the attack; he launched a pair of mammoth homers (the Cardinal hit five bombs total) in Tuesday's 17-2 bludgeoning of San Jose State to push his OPS to a silly 1.248 clip.
So, the question is simple: can Oregon contain Stanford's red-hot offensive attack? The Ducks are amongst the league leaders in pitching (2.86 ERA), but their offense was shut out twice by UCLA this past weekend. Beyond Mark Appel on Friday, the Cardinal's pitching staff enters this series short-handed (closer AJ Vanegas has mono, starter John Hochstatter is suspended after hitting a batter last Sunday), so perhaps the Oregon offense will be able to grind out ample runs with its small ball approach. Since they lead lead the league in fielding percentage (.983) and in sacrifices (56), it's safe to say that the Ducks have the advantage at home if they can maintain low-scoring games.
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But if Stanford blows the lid off of Oregon's pitching staff, the Quack Attack will struggle to muster the firepower to keep up. Yes, Ryon Healy has been a force offensively in Eugene (7 HR, .955 OPS), but the Ducks would much rather entrust this series to their legitimate pitching staff, particularly closer Jimmy Sherfy. He's been absolutely spectacular, surrendering only three earned runs in 28 innings of work (0.96 ERA) on the way to 13 saves. Oh, and 1.39 strikeouts per inning isn't a bad figure, either.
The Saturday (Pac-12 Networks) and Sunday (ESPNU) games are televised, and they'll be vital for positioning in the conference race. Oregon (13-5) is currently in second place, while Stanford (9-6) is right behind the Ducks in third. Both of these clubs host league-leading Oregon State later in the season, so the winner of this series should have a very real shot at the conference crown.
David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He’s a play-by-play voice and on-air reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.