It’s amazing what difference a week can make. In recent days, Stanford baseball (17-17, 6-9 Pac-12) has gone from scrounging for wins to avoid hitting the Pac-12 cellar to winning six out of its last seven games — its best stretch of the season — and now sits at eighth in the conference standings, four games behind Oregon for third place.
All of a sudden, the Cardinal have been infused with a new optimism as they begin the second half of the conference schedule, which will be considerably easier than the first part. After opening conference play with weekend series against nearly every team in the top half of the conference (Washington, Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State and USC), the Card will now face every team in the bottom half of the standings, beginning with a three-game tilt with Cal (16-19, 5-10) at Sunken Diamond this weekend.
The Cardinal got the better of their rivals across the Bay with an 11-1 victory in the teams’ only meeting this season on March 4 in Berkeley, a Tuesday afternoon game that saw Stanford head coach Mark Marquess pick up his 1,500th career win. The two teams were also set to square off in another Tuesday game on April 1, but that game was canceled due to rain.
After freshman starter Brett Hanewich got the nod for the start in Wednesday’s game at St. Mary’s, the Cardinal will bump up freshman Cal Quantrill (3-4) in the rotation to start the first game on Saturday.
Junior lefty John Hochstatter (5-1), who will start Sunday’s game, has come on strong since taking over the third slot in the weekend rotation from freshman Chris Viall (2-3), throwing a shutout through 7.2 innings in last Saturday’s win against Arizona State while flirting with a no-hitter.
The starter for Monday’s game is still unclear. Marquess and pitching coach Rusty Filter will likely give the ball back to Hanewich on four days’ rest, but there is a possibility that either Viall or fellow freshman Tyler Thorne (2-0) gets the start.
At the plate, look for junior third baseman Alex Blandino to try to continue his recent offensive outburst. Blandino leads the team in almost every major statistical category — at-bats, runs, batting average and home runs — and lifted the Cardinal over the Gaels on Wednesday with a pair of homers.
The Golden Bears, who will try to improve on the 11 runs they surrendered to Stanford in March, will send out freshman righty Daulton Jefferies (2-4) for the first game of the series, and senior lefty Kyle Porter (4-4) will start game two. Both Jefferies and Porter went seven innings deep in Cal’s last series against Washington, and both have the potential to keep Stanford off the scoreboard for long stretches.
Offensively, the Bears will look for strong performances from junior infielder Derek Campbell, who holds a .265 average with 15 RBIs, and from senior first baseman Devon Rodriguez, who leads the team with 18 RBIs.
The upcoming series is an important one for both teams as Cal looks to make a move out of the 11-hole in the conference standings while Stanford, with a sweep, can return to .500 in conference play.
The outcome of the series will help determine if Stanford can truly fight its way back up into contention in the Pac-12, or if its recent string of victories was nothing more than a fluke in a season marred by inconsistency.
Many questions hang in the balance as the series begins at Sunken Diamond on Saturday at 2 p.m., followed by games on Sunday at 2 p.m. and Monday at 6 p.m.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.