After a tough nonconference stretch in which Stanford baseball failed to provide many answers to the questions that swirled entering this season, the Cardinal (7-8) look to make a statement tonight as they open their Pac-12 slate against USC (10-9, 1-2 Pac-12).
The going hasn’t been easy for inexperienced Stanford this season, as the squad enters conference play with a losing record for the first time since 2009. In fact, the Cardinal don’t rank in the top 50 in a single statistical category tracked by the NCAA, with their team batting average of .261 (163rd) representing a serious eyesore.
But Stanford did show some signs of life the last time it took the field, a series win against Kansas on Mar. 7-9 in which the team pulled out a pair of 1-run victories.
Most impressive was freshman righthander Cal Quantrill’s four-hit shutout in the series clincher, a performance that has bumped him up in the rotation from Sunday to Saturday. Of the Cardinal’s three freshman righties that will start this weekend, it’s tonight’s starter, Brett Hanewich, who’s probably itching to face the Trojans the most; his ERA of 1.93 is the best of the trio, but Hanewich (0-1) is the only one still seeking his first collegiate win.
Of the sluggers that have produced for the Cardinal, two were known commodities coming into the year: junior third baseman Alex Blandino (.365) and junior designated hitter Austin Slater (.340), who are tied for the team lead with 12 RBI apiece. However, it’s freshman Alex Dunlap (.367) who has posted Stanford’s best batting average, and the right fielder chipped in the only run in the Cardinal’s rubber game victory against the Jayhawks.
USC hopes this weekend’s trip to the Farm will snap its current 3-9 skid, which came on the tail of seven straight wins to start the season. Though the Trojans rank in the middle of the Pac-12 in both team batting average and ERA, they boast one of the nation’s best defenses, turning 23 double plays (fourth) on the season so far.
Stanford’s Pac-12 opener is tonight at Sunken Diamond at 7 p.m. The Saturday and Sunday matchups will both begin at 3 p.m.
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.