A marathon regular season for Stanford baseball suddenly comes down to a final sprint with three all-important games in Salt Lake City this weekend. Fittingly, “The Crossroads of the West” will provide the backdrop for a Cardinal squad entering the most crucial moment of its season — the Card are likely sitting on the outside looking in for a spot in the NCAA Regionals, but they still have a fighting chance of making a move into the field of 64.
To avoid postseason doom, Stanford (27-23, 13-14 Pac-12) will almost certainly have to bring out the brooms and sweep the University of Utah (16-33, 4-23), the last-place team in the conference; at this point, taking two of three games will likely not cut it. Though the odds are stacked against the Card, there is still a good deal of confidence in the Stanford dugout.
“If we can take care of business and win the remaining games in Utah, I think we give ourselves a chance, “ said senior Brett Michael Doran. “I don’t really know how the numbers work, but I know we’re a good enough team to make a run in the playoffs and I sure hope we get there.”
In the latter part of the season, Stanford has gained a lot of ground, thanks to a considerably easier second-half schedule. After opening the season with tough non-conference matchups — including No. 17 Rice and No. 10 Vanderbilt — and jumping into conference play with series against Oregon State and Washington, Stanford initially plummeted in the standings.
While the rough start to the season has led to a pressure-packed final month of the season, Stanford coach Mark Marquess noted that the difficult schedule could give his squad a boost over other teams on the bubble.
“All I do know is that our RPI is a lot better than it was last year, even though our record isn’t because of the people we have played,” Marquess said. “We can speculate and whatever. We’re in better shape than we were last year, I know that.”
Last weekend, the Cardinal managed to keep their postseason dreams — however unlikely — alive after taking two out of three games against Washington State. In turn, the Card followed up the series win with a victory over Pacific on Monday. Nevertheless, time has nearly run out for Stanford to rack up more wins. Fortunately for the Card, they will have an excellent opportunity to pick up victories against the struggling Utes, who have been swept by five Pac-12 opponents this season.
The Utes lack firepower in their lineup — slugging only .305 as a team—but they have struggled even more with their pitching. The Utes’ projected starters for Friday, Saturday and Sunday — junior Mitch Watrous (3-6), senior Zach Adams (0-6) and sophomore Dalton Carroll (1-4), respectively—have a combined record of 4-16, with ERAs all above 3.50.
The game plan for Stanford should be simple, namely to jump on Utah’s pitchers early while neutralizing the Utes’ bats — particularly those of seniors T.J. Bennett and Konnor Armijo. In a high-stakes series, the Card will look to start strong in each game in order to reduce some of the postseason pressure hanging over them.
For Stanford, expect to see the same starting rotation as last week, with freshman right-hander Cal Quantrill (4-5), junior lefty John Hochstatter (9-1) and sophomore lefty Logan James (2-3) all set to close out the Card’s regular season. Stanford’s pitching — which has seen numerous ups and downs over the course of the season — has really hit its stride in the final month of the regular season, as Quantrill and Hochstatter have both served as stabilizing forces for the rotation.
On offense, junior center fielder Austin Slater will look to lead the way by putting runs on the board for Stanford. Slater is in the midst of his best stretch of the season, taking a 14-game hit streak into Salt Lake City and a .481 batting average over the course of those 14 games.
Stanford’s final regular season series begins Friday at 11 a.m. at Smith’s Ballpark. Saturday and Sunday’s games will also begin at 11 a.m.
After Sunday’s game, Stanford will not have to wait long to learn its postseason fate. The field of 64, and the NCAA Regional hosts, will be announced at 9 a.m. on Monday.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.