Title on the line this weekend in Pac-12 baseball

 
All season long a showdown between OREGON STATE and WASHINGTON has been shaping up to be the series of the year in 2014 and the time has finally come for the top-5 ranked teams to face-off with Pac-12 title hopes on the line for both this weekend. The No. 5 Huskies head to Corvallis just one-game back from the Beavers while riding a seven-game winning streak. No. 1-ranked OSU, meanwhile, has an 11-game winning mark of their own--one that includes three-straight league series sweeps--and have a chance to claim their second-consecutive Pac-12 Championship if they take all three games from the Huskies. UW is the only team to go undefeated in Conference series through this point in the season and are looking to win their first title since 1998--the last year of the split divisions. The series kicks off on Friday at 4 p.m. PT, with all three games over the weekend being televised live on the Pac-12 Networks. ARIZONA STATE added considerable boost their postseason resume as they took two of three from then-No. 9 OREGON at home over the weekend to move into a tie with the Ducks for third-place. STANFORD continued its winning ways with a second-consecutive league series win at ARIZONA over the weekend, and seem to be making its’ case for a NCAA tournament bid. Red-hot OSU continues to sit at No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball’s Top-30 and NCBWA’s Top-30, garnering the top spot in both polls, and ranking no lower than second in the other polls. UW remained unanimously ranked in the four major polls, including a pair of No. 5 rankings and a pair of No. 11 rankings in the fours major polls. The Ducks, despite dropping the series at ASU, remained ranked in three of the four to round out the Pac-12 teams. The Conference currently has five teams in the top-50 in RPI, as STANFORD and ARIZONA STATE join OSU, Oregon and Washington in the rankings. Tuesday, May 13 is a busy night for non-conference play as eight teams will be in action, with some wrapping up their non-league slate. Conference play resumes this weekend with ARIZONA STATE (vs. UTAH), CALIFORNIA (vs. Arizona), STANFORD (vs. WASHINGTON STATE), and UCLA (vs. Oregon) all hosting league series along with OSU. USC has the weekend off before resuming play next Tuesday. In all, 13 games will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks this week, starting with one on Tuesday evening, and kicking off the weekend slate on Friday with two games at 4 p.m. PT.   
 
UPCOMING SCHEDULE
Tuesday, May 13
Seattle at #5/5 Washington (Live Stream) 5:30 p.m. PT
San Jose State at Stanford (Live Stream) 5:30 p.m. PT
#2/1 Oregon State at Portland 5:35 p.m. PT
Pacific at #18 Oregon (Live Stream) 6:00 p.m. PT
BYU at Utah 7:00 p.m. MT (P12N)
Arizona State at UNLV 6:00 p.m. PT
Washington State at Gonzaga 6:00 p.m. PT
UCLA at UC Irvine 6:30 p.m. PT
 
Friday, May 16
#5/5 Washington at #2/1 Oregon State* 4:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
Arizona at California* 4:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
Utah at Arizona State* (Live Stream) 6:30 p.m. PT
Washington State at Stanford* 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
#18 Oregon at UCLA* 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
 
Saturday, May 17
Washington State at Stanford* 1:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
#5/5 Washington at #2/1 Oregon State* 4:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
Arizona at California* 4:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
Utah at Arizona State* (Live Stream) 6:30 p.m. PT
#18 Oregon at UCLA* 7:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
 
Sunday, May 18
Washington State at Stanford* 12:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
#18 Oregon at UCLA* 12:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
Utah at Arizona State* (Live Stream) 12:30 p.m. PT 
#5/5 Washington at #2/1 Oregon State* 3:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
Arizona at California* 3:00 p.m. PT (P12N)
 
Monday, May 19
California at San Francisco 2:00 p.m. PT
Seattle at Washington State 4:00 p.m. PT
Games are local to site and subject to change. 
Rankings are from Baseball America/Collegiate Baseball. *Conference games
 
PAC-12 BASEBALL NOTES
Arizona (19-30, 8-19) 
The Wildcats’ struggles this season continued last weekend as they hosted Stanford for three games, dropping two of them. The weekend started well as they grinded out a 3-2 win in the series opener on Friday, but the pitching staff couldn’t find their rhythm, giving up 15 combined runs in the losses on Saturday and Sunday. After winning five of six, Arizona has hit a skid, losing 10 of their last 12. Despite the rough stretch, the offense has been solid in 2014, ranking in the middle or near the top in nearly every major offensive statistical category, including batting average (.279, 4th), on-base pct (.362, 5th), runs scored (247, 5th), hits (463, 1st) and runs batted in (218, 5th). Individually, Arizona has three hitters in the top-10 in batting average in the Pac-12, led by Scott Kingery’s .359 average, which is good for third. 
 
Arizona State (26-21, 14-10)  
The Sun Devils picked up arguably the biggest series win for their postseason resume as they took two of three at home over No. 9 Oregon. After dropping the first game by a slim 5-4 margin, the ASU offense came alive, scoring 17 runs while giving up just 10 in two wins on Saturday and Sunday to earn the series victory. In the series finale on Sunday, junior right-hander Darin Gillies turned in quality start, giving up one unearned run on just two hits in six innings of work to secure the series. The performance garndered Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honors. With the wins, the Sun Devils move into a tie for third-place and will look to continue the momentum into the final two weekends of league play. It was a good boost of confidence as the Sun Devils headed into the series having lost four of five and five of eight. Offense has been the catalyst in 2014 as they rank No. 3 in the Pac-12 in batting average (.280), on-base percentage (.368) and total hits (454). 
 
California (21-25, 9-15)
The Bears rebounded nicely, taking two of three from USC on the road a week after being swept by No. 2 Oregon State at home. Despite giving up a lead and losing the series opener in a close 2-1 contest on Friday, the offense exploded on Saturday, putting up 11 runs to take game two. The pitching staff had a stellar weekend, giving up just seven runs over three games, including just one in a 4-1 victory on Sunday to secure the series. Freshman Ryan Mason turned in a stellar performance, allowing just one run on six hits in nine innings of work to pick up his fifth victory of the season. Overall, the struggles this season and below .500 record is in part to facing a tough schedule with half their games thus far against ranked teams, including a stretch of three of four series against ranked Conference opponents. The offense has been led by Devon Rodriguez and Derek Campbell, who are hitting at a .272 and .267 clip, respectively. 
 
Oregon (36-11, 14-10) 
A week removed from earning a sweep over Arizona, it was a bit of a shaky week for the Ducks as they went 2-3, including dropping a road league series at Arizona State over the weekend. Facing the Beavers for a non-league contest on Tuesday, the Ducks took their in-state rivals to 12 innings at home, but couldn’t come up with the win. After wins over Portland on Wednesday and in the series opener against the Sun Devils on Friday, the Ducks struggled from the mound and the plate, giving up 17 runs while only producing 10 in the two losses on Saturday and Sunday. Despite a rough week, the Ducks are still tied for third in the Conference and remain in the national rankings in three of the four polls. While their postseason spot is surely secure, there is still a lot on the line in terms of regional seedings with two league series left to play. As they head into the final stretch of the regular season, they will look to their pitching staff to return to form, as they have been the headliners this season, recording a 3.01 ERA--good for second in the Pac-12--and a .230 opposing batting average, also good for second. Additionally, their 413 batters struck out is a Conference-best. 
 
Oregon State (38-8, 20-4) 
The Beavers head into this weekend as one of the hottest teams in the country with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 title for the second-consecutive year. It won’t be an easy task as OSU--ranked one or two in every major national poll--welcomes the second-place Huskies to Corvallis, who are also ranked in the top-5 and top-11 in the country.  Winners of 11 in a row, including three-consecutive league sweeps over then-top-10 ranked Oregon, California and defending NCAA champions UCLA this past weekend, they hold a slim one-game lead over UW heading into the weekend. In order to clinch the league championships, the Beavers must take all three games from the Huskies. After a stretch where the team lost three of four, they have responded by winning 18 of their last 20. Numbers-wise, OSU has an impressive combination of offense, defense and pitching firepower. The offense is ranked in the top-5 of the Conference in every major category, including first in on-base percentage (.392), runs batted in (273) and runs scored (296). The excellent pitching staff ranks first in the Pac-12 and fourth in the country as a team in ERA (2.17) and owns three of the top four and four of the top-11 individual spots atop the Conference in the same category, led by Ben Wetzler. The senior is first in the Pac-12 and leads the country in ERA at 0.94 while leading the Conference in opposing batting average (.154). 
 
Stanford (24-21, 11-13) 
The Cardinal are playing some of their best baseball of the season, and the winning ways continued over the weekend as they took two of three from Arizona while going 3-1 over the week overall. After losing six of seven in late March/early April, Stanford has won 13 of its last 18, including back-to-back series Conference series wins for the first time this season. The Cardinal have also faced one of the toughest schedules in the nation and have recorded 18 wins over ranked opponents, resutling in a RPI that ranks 32nd in the country. Right-fielder Zach Hoffpauir had an outstanding week for Stanford, going 9-of-16 (.562) in four games with two RBI, two runs scored, and a stolen base. The sophmore is riding a seven-game hitting streak, recording multiple hits in five-straight while hitting .422 (19-of-45) in the last 12 games. The pitching staff has been solid in 2014,  with a 3.39 ERA that is sixth in the Conference with opponents hitting just .231 against them--good for third in the league. In its 24 wins this season, Stanford has outscored opponents 150-71.
 
UCLA (23-25-1, 10-14) 
After a stretch in which the team won nine of 10, UCLA has struggled in the second half of the season, going 7-17-1 since then--including six losses in a row while dropping two-straight conference series, the latest a sweep to No. 2 Oregon State. The road doesn’t get any easier as they face top-20 ranked Oregon and top-10 ranked Washington in the final two series of the regular season. It’s been an injury riddled season for the defending national champions, who have had five regular starters miss time due to injury in addition to All-American closer David Berg missing more than a month due to a bicep strain. The 
misfortune of injuries have forced a variety of lineups and pushed inexperienced players on to the field and into the batters box. While that bodes well for the future, the Bruins’ hopes of a chance to repeat look bleak with too little time remaining to recover before the posteason. Despite the rough luck, the Bruins’ pitching staff has held their own this season as they currently own the third-best ERA in the Pac-12 at 3.36.  
 
USC (26-22, 14-13) 
After posting a nine-game winning streak--their longest since 2001--just a couple weeks ago, the inconsistency the Trojans suffered through March and early April has crept back in with just two weeks left in the regular season. After dropping two of three at home to California over the weekend, USC has now lost two-consecutive league series and five of their last seven. The fifth-place Trojans dropped from 65th to 80th in the country in RPI following this weekend, and could be seeing their chance for NCAAs slip away. The last two weekends will be more than paramount for their postseason resume. A bright spot for the Trojans this year has been the offense, led by seniors Jake Hernandez and Kevin Swick, who are hitting at a .348 and .306 clip, respectively. Hernandez currently ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in batting average.
 
Utah (15-30, 4-20) 
The Utes went 2-2 over the week, winning two in a row--12-10 over BYU on Tuesday and 4-1 in the series opener at Washington State on Friday--for the first time since they won three from March 7-9. It also marked the third time this season they’ve strung together two or more consecutive wins. Utah will play its’ final non-conference contest tonight, May 13, at BYU before wrapping up the 2014 season at Arizona State this weekend and at home against Stanford on Memorial Day weekend. Sophomore outfielder Wyler Smith and senior infielder TJ Bennett have been regular contributors for the Utes’ offense, hitting .257 and .280, respectively. The pair have combined for 89 hits and 41 RBI on the year. 
 
Washington (36-11-1, 19-5) 
The Huskies had a week off from Conference-play, going 4-0 against non-conference competition--one against Grand Canyon and three vs. Bethune-Cookman--over the week to extend their winning streak to seven games heading into their biggest series of 2014 at Oregon State this weekend. UW has yet to lose a Conference series in 2014, but trail a Beavers team that has won 11 in a row and swept three-consecutive league opponents by one game in the standings. The Huskies are looking to win their first conference championship since 1998, and must avoid a sweep in Corvallis if they want any chance of doing so. Since consecutive losses on Feb. 21-22, the Huskies have gone 36-7, including a stretch of 10 wins in a row in addition to the latest streak. UW continues to sit in the top-11 in all four major polls, with the highest ranking of five coming in Baseball America’s Top-25 and Collegiate Baseball’s Top-30. Washington is having a stellar season on all sides of the ball as they own the Conference’s best batting average (.291) and slugging percentage mark (.399) and are second in on-base perecentage (.376). Senior Brian Wolfe--a two-time Pac-12 Player of the Week in 2014--leads the Conference with a (.393) batting average. As a pitching staff, they rank tied for fourth in the Pac-12 in ERA (3.38) and sixth in opposing batting average (.255), while the team’s fielding percentage of .981 leads the Conference and is fourth in the nation.
 
Washington State  (22-24, 12-12) 
After going through the gauntlet in Pac-12 play, facing three-consecutive league foes ranked in the top-20 in the country, the Cougars notched their second-consecutive league series win for the first time this season as they took two of three from Utah at home. After a stretch where the team lost four in a row, they have won five of their last nine and sit at .500 in Conference play and a little under that mark overall. In the series rubbermatch on Sunday versus the Utes, right-hander Tanner Chleborad pitched a stellar game in a 1-0 win for the Cougars. The junior gave up zero runs on just four hits in eight innings of work with a career-high 10 strikeouts to help WSU secure the series. A bright spot for the WSU relief staff has been closer Ian Hamilton, who closed out the game for Chleborad to pick up his Conference-leading 14th save, which is tied for sixth in the nation.
 
 
 
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