Many questions remain for Stanford baseball (8-10, 1-2 Pac-12) entering its weekend series at home against No. 11 Oregon (18-6, 5-1), but the Cardinal at least began to answer one doubt in last week’s series against USC despite losing two out of three contests.
Starting a freshman pitcher every game? Not a problem for Mark Marquess’ squad against the Trojans, as first-year righties Brent Hanewich, Cal Quantrill and Chris Viall each allowed only one run in their respective outings. All three starters looked strong as they each pitched into at least the sixth inning. As the halfway point to the season approaches, Stanford’s young rotation has addressed the question of whether it would be able to hold up week after week.
However, only Quantrill picked up the win in last week’s series against the Trojans as the Cardinal’s shaky bullpen and inconsistent run support left Hanewich and Viall with nothing to show for their gems. As Stanford prepares for another tough test in the Ducks — its fourth three-game series against a ranked opponent — it will certainly look to shore up these areas in the hopes of earning a winning record overall (and in Pac-12 play).
If Stanford does jump out to a lead against the Quack Attack, look for the Cardinal to rely on senior A.J. Vanegas, who pitched 2.2 solid innings in closing out the middle game of the USC series. On the season, Vanegas has appeared in five games, giving up just five hits through 8.1 innings of work. Marquess will also look to get more consistency out of middle relievers Tyler Thorne, Marcus Brakeman and Logan James, who have each struggled at times.
At the plate, the Cardinal will likely continue to trust their experienced bats to get the job done. Junior center fielder Austin Slater, senior first baseman Danny Diekroeger and junior third baseman Alex Blandino will look to keep carrying the Cardinal offense. All three veterans boast batting averages above .330.
In addition, the Cardinal have received a pleasant offensive surprise this season with the emergence of freshman Alex Dunlap, who usually plays in the designated hitter role. Dunlap leads the team with a .350 average and his continued production will be a big boost for a Stanford lineup that has failed to score over three runs since a 5-4 victory over Kansas back on March 8.
As for pitching, expect Stanford to send out its talented freshman trio to take on the Ducks. Marquess has already tabbed Quantrill the starter for the first game and Hanewich and Viall will likely take games two and three, respectively.
Quantrill returns to the opener role where he started the season. After two rough outings against Rice and Texas — leaving him with a 13.50 ERA at the time — Quantrill was moved down to No. 2 in the rotation behind Hanewich. Now, the Port Hope, Ontario native will again get the nod for game one of the series after regaining his form during the tail end of the nonconference season, most notably by throwing a complete game shutout against the Jayhawks.
But the next test that awaits Stanford’s pitchers won’t be easy. The Ducks hold an 8-1 record on the road this season and boast one of the conference’s best hitters in senior outfielder Tyler Baumgartner, who leads the team with a .358 average and 18 RBI. Speedy second baseman Aaron Payne — the Ducks’ second leading hitter with a .314 average — will also present a challenge to Stanford’s pitchers both at the plate and on the base paths. Cardinal fans might remember Payne for his walk-off single in the first game of last year’s series in Eugene.
While the Ducks do feature a premier offense, their real strength is on the rubber. Expect junior lefty Tommy Thorpe — the reigning Pac-12 pitcher of the week — to take the mound for the first game followed by the undefeated senior righty Jeff Gold.
Though the highly ranked Ducks will present a significant challenge when they arrive at Sunken Diamond, the Cardinal have already received a heavy dose of top-flight competition and will look to use their experience to pick up some crucial wins against the top team in the conference.
Due to weather-related concerns, the teams will play a double header on Friday beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday’s game has been removed up to Saturday at 2 p.m., but it will likely be postponed due to rain in the forecast. If that is the case, it would be the second Cardinal baseball game this week postponed due to rain following the cancellation of Tuesday’s game at St. Mary’s.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.