Looking for its first series win of the season, the Stanford baseball team (5-7) hosts the upstart Kansas Jayhawks (11-1) for a three-game set this weekend at Sunken Diamond. Stanford has dropped each of its three series this season in a brutal early-season non-conference schedule that has seen it face No. 19 Rice, No. 18 Texas and No. 4 Vanderbilt.
Despite not ranking among the top 25 teams, the Jayhawks received votes in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll this week after starting the season 9-0, only losing their first game this past weekend. In contrast to the Cardinal’s tough schedule, the Jayhawks have faced a relatively easy slate of opponents — including two four-game series against BYU and Houston Baptist — and will experience their first test of the season against a traditional power this weekend against Stanford.
Stanford enters the series after clinching head coach Mark Marquess’ 1,500th career victory in an 11-1 rout over Cal on Tuesday. The win improved Stanford to 3-0 in midweek contests, but its 2-7 record on the weekends has stained the start of the season for a Cardinal team that cracked the preseason top 25.
Freshmen Brett Hanewich, Chris Viall and Cal Quantrill will take the mound for Stanford this weekend as the Card continues their streak of 12 straight games with freshman starting pitchers. The trio has combined for a 2-4 record with a 4.79 ERA in 10 total starts on the season. The freshmen have experienced great success recently, though, as Hanewich, Viall and Quantrill have allowed only nine runs in their last six combined starts, good for a 3.04 ERA in those outings.
The Cardinal pitching staff will face one of its stiffest tests of the season at the plate, as the Jayhawks rank fifth in the nation with a .333 team batting average. Junior outfielder and cleanup hitter Connor McKay leads the Jayhawks with four home runs and ranks second nationally with 19 RBIs on the year. Junior shortstop Justin Protacio bats leadoff for the Jayhawks and is hitting .364 on the season. With an upperclassman-heavy lineup (five of the six players with at least 10 starts are upperclassmen), the Jayhawks return veterans who played major roles in propelling the team to a 34-25 record last year, their first winning season since 2010.
The Jayhawks, much like Stanford, have relied upon the same four pitchers to start every game this season. However, unlike Stanford, the Jayhawks’ four starters are all upperclassmen. Junior Drew Morovick leads the starting rotation with a 3-0 record and a 1.56 ERA and senior Frank Duncan is not far behind with a 2-0 record and a 2.31 ERA. The Jayhawks have performed well this season in spite of the struggles of their Opening Day starter, junior Wes Benjamin, who has allowed a .316 batting average against and a 6.52 ERA.
The Jayhawks’ pitching staff will be tasked with cooling down a surging Cardinal offense that posted 11 runs and 12 hits in its last game. The Cardinal bats awoke after only scoring four runs on 14 hits over the three-game weekend series at Vanderbilt. Junior third baseman Alex Blandino leads Stanford with a .429 batting average and 12 RBIs while senior first baseman Danny Diekroeger leads the team with 12 walks and is second on the team with a .490 on-base percentage, behind only Blandino.
The clash between Stanford and Kansas marks the first time the teams have met since 2007, when Stanford swept a three-game series at Sunken Diamond. This time around, the Cardinal’s young pitching staff must deal with an experienced Jayhawks lineup in an intriguing test for the freshmen hurlers.
First pitch today is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Sunken Diamond. The first pitches on Saturday and Sunday are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.