Seven games remain, representing just seven more chances for Stanford baseball to leave its mark and make a last-ditch effort at qualifying for the postseason.
The Cardinal (24-22, 11-13 Pac-12) sit firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble, with some projecting the Card as one of the first four teams left out of the tournament. While Stanford’s loss to San Jose State on Tuesday dealt a severe blow to the team’s postseason aspirations, the Card are not necessarily out of the picture just yet.
By winning its final seven games – two three-game series against Washington State and Utah, respectively, with a non-conference showdown against Pacific in between – Stanford could make a strong case to the NCAA selection committee. The Card’s chances would also increase if a team like Arizona State (27-21, 14-10) faltered down the stretch.
However, at this point, the performance of the Card’s fellow bubble teams is a secondary concern, as Stanford must get hot in these final seven games to have any real shot at playing for a trip to Omaha.
The potential for an abrupt ending to a long campaign has not gone unnoticed in the Cardinal dugout. As senior Brett Michael Doran stated in an interview with The Daily, “it’s definitely a weird thing, and it’s hard to get a grasp of that.” Stanford enters this crucial stretch on the outside looking in, but it nevertheless has an opportunity to make a run.
First things first, however – Stanford must take care of business against a streaky Washington State squad at Sunken Diamond this weekend. The Cougars (22-25, 12-12) currently sit one game ahead of the Cardinal in the conference standings, but have had a wildly inconsistent season, most recently dropping a matchup with Gonzaga on Tuesday.
Friday’s probable starter for Washington State is junior lefty Joe Pistorese (4-2), who has started in 11 of the Cougars’ contests this season. Stanford will likely counter with freshman righty Cal Quantrill (3-5). After starting the season as the team’s Friday night pitcher, Quantrill moved down one spot in the rotation before returning to the top spot three weeks ago against Cal.
In the second leg of the series, Washington State head coach Donnie Marbut will likely hand the ball to senior left-hander Jason Monda (2-5). Monda will almost certainly have his work cut out for him on Saturday, as he will go up against the freight train that is junior lefty John Hochstatter (8-1).
One of the biggest storylines of Stanford’s season, Hochstatter was used sparingly in the first half of the season, coming on in relief on a handful of occasions. However, he has played a vital role in keeping Stanford’s postseason hopes alive after getting his first start of the season on April 13 against Washington. Since then, Hochstatter has not looked back, winning that start in Seattle, as well as all four of his subsequent appearances. Hochstatter’s scorching 1.96 ERA is fifth among pitchers in the Pac-12.
Stanford will likely keep the same rotation from last week by sending out sophomore lefty Logan James (2-2) on Sunday. Although he has pitched predominantly out of the bullpen this season, James looked very strong in his third start of the season last week against Arizona, giving up two runs over seven innings of work. James will probably go up against Washington State junior righty Tanner Chleborad (3-6).
At the plate, Stanford will look to rely on its most consistent hitters to keep the offense going during a crucial stretch of the season. Junior third baseman Alex Blandino has been the Card’s main source of power, leading the team with nine homers and a .517 slugging percentage. Sophomore outfielder Zach Hoffpauir has also delivered several big hits in the last couple weeks, and is tied with Blandino for the second most hits on the team behind junior center fielder Austin Slater – Slater’s .345 batting average ranks sixth in the Pac-12.
For Washington State, junior third baseman Nick Tanielu and junior outfielder Yale Rosen, who typically hit back-to-back in the WSU lineup, figure to present the largest threat to Stanford’s defense. Rosen was named Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week for March 31-April 6 after batting .700 in a three-game series against Cal, while Tanielu leads the Cougars with 27 RBIs and a .322 batting average.
The series between Stanford and Washington State begins Friday evening at 7 p.m., with a fireworks show immediately following the action. The two teams will return on Saturday and Sunday to face off at 1 p.m. and noon, respectively. Following the series, Stanford will play for a fourth consecutive day and take on Pacific at home on Monday at 5:30 p.m. The regular season will conclude the following weekend with a three-game tilt in Salt Lake City against Utah.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at [email protected].