It’s been almost a month since the No. 6 Stanford baseball team hosted a weekend series, but with No. 16 Oregon coming to town for a three-game set at Sunken Diamond, the squad is playing some of its best baseball at just the right time, riding a three-game win streak into tonight’s opener.
That said, the Ducks have won six of their last seven and are fresh off an impressive series win against No. 17 UCLA.
Having played just two of its last nine contests on the Farm, the Cardinal (21-7, 4-5 Pac-12) will finally have a chance to improve on its 14-2 home record with seven straight matchups at Sunken Diamond against Oregon (21-9, 8-4), San Jose State and No. 21 Arizona State. Those previous home wins were fueled by Stanford’s high-powered offense, which cooled off somewhat during spring break but has come back with three big games in a row: an 8-6 win over Washington, a 19-6 victory over Cal and an 8-3 win over Pacific.
Leading the charge has been sophomore first baseman Brian Ragira, who is currently riding a 13-game hit streak and is one of two Stanford starters hitting above .300.
“I think I’ve been a little more consistent early on this year than I was last year,” said Ragira, who was named the 2011 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year with his .329, 46-RBI performance a year ago. “I feel pretty good about it.”
Ragira’s not the only Cardinal infielder with a hot bat, with junior catcher Eric Smith hitting .366 and third baseman Stephen Piscotty totaling 34 RBI so far this season. That type of hitting has been coming early in games, as Stanford has jumped out to at least a three-run lead through three innings in its three consecutive wins.
According to Ragira, getting on the board right away is going to be important this weekend, as the Cardinal by and large failed to do so in its series loss to the Ducks in Eugene a year ago.
“I think just scoring early and playing good defense [are going to be key],” he said. “Our pitching is going to be good with Mark and Mooney.”
Oregon is going to be hard-pressed to score runs against Stanford’s two stellar junior starters, righthander Mark Appel and lefthander Brett Mooneyham. By no means one of the best-hitting teams in the conference, the Ducks had a team batting average of just .261 as of Monday, a mark that doesn’t even crack the top 200 nationally.
But questions have emerged surrounding the Cardinal’s Sunday starter, a position that could be earned by either freshman John Hochstatter or sophomore A.J. Vanegas. Hochstatter impressed with an early-season 3-0 record, but has dropped three straight decisions and yielded the starting spot to his fellow righty last weekend against Washington.
Vanegas pitched well for his first win of the season against the Huskies, giving up just one earned run in his six innings of work and giving Stanford head coach Mark Marquess all the more reason to give him another look.
The Ducks will send out a pair of righties to open the series in senior Alex Keudel and freshman Jake Reed. The duo has combined for a 2.26 ERA and a 7-5 record, and Oregon has won the first two games in all of their last three series with Keudel and Reed on the mound.
To counter those hurlers the Cardinal will need the same top-to-bottom offensive production that it has been getting recently, even with Marquess making minor shifts to the batting order and at designated hitter over the last few weeks.
“It’s good that we’ve got all this momentum going into that series,” said junior shortstop Kenny Diekroeger, who had two doubles and a solo homer in the squad’s 8-3 win over Pacific on Wednesday. “Hopefully we can keep it.”
Tonight’s opener is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. but with rain a possibility nothing is for certain, as the Pacific game was postponed a day to account for the weather.
Saturday’s game begins at 1 p.m., with the Sunday finale set for noon.