Stanford baseball desperately needed a series win this weekend to snap a streak of seven losses in nine games and get back into the thick of the Pac-12 race.
Backed by solid outings from their starting rotation and a combined 25 hits over the weekend against a scuffling Cal starting pitching staff, the Cardinal (23-19, 10-11 Pac-12) lost on Thursday but won the last two games of the series to claim the series win over the Golden Bears (25-18, 11-13) and climb into a tie for seventh place in the conference.
In doing so, Stanford picked up its first series win since the second week of April, when the Cardinal took two of three from UCLA before going 2-7 over their next nine conference games. Stanford also handed archrival Cal its fifth consecutive series loss in conference play, dropping the Golden Bears to ninth in the Pac-12.
Stanford also picked up the win in the season series over Cal, 3-2, beating the Bears in the season series for the eighth straight season.
With the postseason fast approaching, it’s looking increasingly likely that a weak Pac-12 might only see three or four teams clinch berths to the national tournament. The postseason is still very much in play for most of the Pac-12 (conference leader Washington is only three games ahead of 10th-place Oregon), meaning that it has become increasingly important for Stanford to get hot at the right time in the middle of a muddled conference battle.
Luckily for the Cardinal, everything clicked over the weekend.
Friday starter Tristan Beck was masterful as usual, going seven scoreless innings to push Stanford to a 5-1 victory in Game 2, while lefty Chris Castellanos turned in a second straight stellar start by allowing just 2 earned runs in seven-plus innings of work on Saturday to clinch the series finale.
Most importantly, Stanford’s pitchers kept Cal in the ballpark and didn’t allow a single home run over the course of the three-game series. Given the Golden Bears’ propensity to hit mistake pitches a long way and get multiple runs on one swing of the bat, keeping Cal’s prodigious power in check went a long way in keeping the potent Bears offense at bay.
Meanwhile, Cal’s own pitching staff (once second-best in the conference) struggled as three Stanford hitters knocked base hits in all three games (Tommy Edman, Quinn Brodey, Alex Dunlap) and Dunlap extended his reached-base streak to a team-high 17 games.
With the series being moved up to Thursday-Saturday due to TV scheduling, freshman Kris Bubic got the start for the opener to keep Beck in his natural slot on Fridays.
Bubic got hit hard out of the gate, allowing hits to his first three batters as part of a two-run first inning for Cal, which also tacked on another run in the second on a two-out single from Mitchell Kranson to take a 3-0 lead.
That’s all the Golden Bears needed to back Thursday starter Ryan Mason, who allowed just a two-out RBI single to Quinn Brodey in the third inning as he worked six solid innings before the Cal bullpen shut the door on a 4-1 victory. Stanford had its best scoring chance with runners on first and second and nobody out in the sixth, but Mason worked out of the jam with three straight outs to limit any damage.
Friday’s game was all about Beck, who struck out nine Bears and didn’t walk anybody while allowing just three hits in his best outing of the season. Fueled by tremendous control of his fastball and a curveball whose bottom was dropping out all night, Beck struck out eight of his first nine hitters and only allowed one runner past second base in the seventh.
Meanwhile, the Stanford offense was on point from the first inning, putting up a three-spot in the opening frame thanks to three straight singles, a Cal error that scored two and a sacrifice fly by freshman Duke Kinamon that spotted Beck a 3-0 lead.
Normally, that wouldn’t be a comfortable cushion against Cal, but with Beck on the mound, that was plenty. Stanford would tack on two more insurance runs anyway in the fourth on a two-run shot from Jack Klein, his third of the season, that gave Beck a 5-0 cushion. Though Colton Hock allowed a run in his two innings of relief, Stanford cruised to a comfortable 5-1 win in the second game.
Finally, a week after delivering six-plus shutout innings at No. 10 Oregon State, Castellanos was again on his game in the series finale. Though he only struck out one Golden Bear, his trademark pinpoint control was on full display in a lengthy outing.
He only allowed one run through his first six innings of work before yielding two unearned runs in the seventh after an error by Mikey Diekroeger at third base. Though Castellanos was pulled in the eighth after allowing an RBI double to Nick Halamandaris, Tyler Thorne was able to mop up the 6-4 victory for the Cardinal, picking up the final out of the series on a three-pitch strikeout.
Stanford will now wrap up its season series with Santa Clara at home on Tuesday before traveling to Pac-12 co-leader Utah for another pivotal conference series from Friday to Sunday.
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.