With No. 2 Stanford University baseball playing No. 3 Oregon State University, Jose Saldaña, sports editor for The Stanford Daily, takes the time to predict the upcoming outcomes for this weekend’s three-game series.
The Daily Barometer (Baro): Take me through Stanford’s season so far. Stanford and Oregon State University both started out strong at the beginning of the season and suffered a few losses throughout. What stood in the way of Stanford winning the series against UCLA and the individual games against various other universities? Who is Stanford worried about going into the playoffs?
Jose Saldaña: Stanford has won mostly on an elite pitching staff, good defense and a very balanced offense. Against UCLA, the team was due for a bad series, and looking at the scores of those games, you can see that the pitching was off. The staff gave up 26 runs against the Bruins, which I am sure is more of an anomaly than anything. UCLA has a good offense, but Cal and Arizona State are better and the Cardinal shut down those offenses. In the individual losses such as the one to Cal or Oregon, the Becks (brothers Tristan and Brendan Beck) had uncharacteristic starts, and the offense wasn’t there to bail them out. The offense sometimes doesn’t perform its best in the first game of the series for whatever reason, but that is small nitpick when the team is 38-6. I don’t know if the Cardinal are worried about any team in particular because they are a confident bunch. They enjoy the competition, so they look forward to playing the best.
Baro: OSU currently leads the Pac-12 and rests at fourth in the nation in batting average with a .321, while Stanford leads the Pac-12 in ERA with a 2.54. How will the OSU offense hold up to the Stanford defense and vice versa? Who are the players to watch?
Jose Saldaña: The Stanford defense is very solid, starting with a strong middle infield with shortstop Nico Hoerner and second baseman Beau Branton. Duke Kinamon was the named starter at second before suffering an injury right before the season opener and that could have spelled doom from the defense in the middle, but Branton, who is 5-foot-7, has exceeded expectations on the field and with his bat. He has developed a chemistry with Hoerner to turn double-plays, which wasn’t there earlier in the season. However, the real gem of the infield defense has been catcher Maverick Handley. Teams just can’t steal on Stanford because Handley will throw them out. He leads the Pac-12 in throwing out steal attempts with 17 with his ability to transition to the throw to second, and he puts the throw right where it needs to be. The defense at the other positions is a bit more of a mystery because head coach David Esquer has to move people around due to injuries to Kinamon and right fielder Brandon Wulff. However, regardless of the personnel, the outfield has fielded well. This defense won’t make many mistakes, but I expect maybe a couple due to the hitting prowess of Oregon State. It’s up to the pitching staff to induce weak groundouts.
Baro: Switching gears from Stanford’s pitching and moving to offense. Who are the offensive threats on the team? What is Stanford’s biggest weakness as a team?
Jose Saldaña: This Stanford team prides itself on being a balanced squad from 1 through 9. Honestly, any hitter 1-5 could take over a game. Leadoff hitter Branton is hitting .360 and has tremendous speed. Center fielder/third baseman and Oregon-native Tim Tawa is slugging .515 as a freshman. Shortstop Nico Hoerner is batting .335 and is fifth in the conference in triples. First baseman Andrew Daschbach is tied for third in the Pac-12 with 14 home runs and leads the conference in RBI with 54. Finally, left fielder Kyle Stowers has eight home runs and is slugging .548. Any pitcher will have to be disciplined against against these batters.
The biggest weakness has to be the back half of the batting order. Due to injuries to Kinamon and Wulff, there is less depth to the offensive lineup then there should be. However, Esquer has done a great job to incorporate the other less-used players into the lineup. Reliever Will Matthiessen was just named Pac-12 Player of the Week for hitting his first four home runs of his career last week (He has five now). Alec Wilson and Christian Robinson have contributed wins to Stanford. Although it’s the team’s biggest weakness, it’s mitigated by many players stepping up.
Baro: Head Coach Pat Casey has been with the Beavers since 1995. He has led OSU to five CWS appearances and brought back two national championships back to back 2006-2007. As the Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2005, 2006, 2011, 2013 and 2017, Casey knows what it takes to win. How do you predict Casey will strategize for this upcoming game against Stanford?
Jose Saldaña: I don’t think Casey will be scared to tell his pitchers to attack the Cardinal bats. Stanford has a tendency to only score lots of runs in an inning or two. Watching the Cardinal bats go quiet during RISP and then go off in the 7th inning seemed to be a weekly tradition before the recent hot streak. Additionally, Stanford doesn’t struck a ton, but there are games in which the players press and end up with 14-17 strikeouts in a game. I’m sure Casey will try to exploit this by telling his pitchers (particularly Heimlich) to go hard for a Cardinal batter’s weakness and avoid a huge inning.
Baro: Four of Stanford’s six losses are the first games of three-game series, most recently seen with University of California, Berkeley. How has Stanford been able to come back and win the series in three of these instances? Do you predict that will happen in this upcoming matchup?
Jose Saldaña: The main mantra this team preaches from the coaching staff to the players is resilience. This team plays harder after a loss and the Stanford players have a lot of confidence in themselves to beat any team at any moment. Additionally, with the pitching staff that the Cardinal have, it’s hard to lose two games in a row. The Saturday starter Kris Bubic could be the ace for most of the teams in the country. Moreover, the offense steps it up, averaging 9.2 runs after losing the first game in the series. Esquer does a great job of keeping the team focused and prepared for the bounce back games. After losses, he keeps the team in a post game huddle much longer than usual. If the Cardinal lose the first game in this series, I am sure that they would come out the gates with more intensity in the second game.
Baro: Who do you foresee as the overall players to watch for Stanford in the game against OSU? Which OSU player will cause Stanford the most trouble?
Jose Saldaña: If Stanford wants to win this series, I imagine that the games will be very competitive, so sophomore closer Jack Little is someone to look out for. He is tied for the most saves in the Pac-12 with 13 and sports a healthy 0.83 ERA in 32.2 innings. Little allowed zero runs in his first 21.0 innings pitch and he does it with a nasty fastball that can hit the mid-90s. He has pitched nine-out saves before and he might be called upon to do that series to ensure a victory. On offense, it could be a bunch of players, but I wonder if reigning Perfect Game National Player of the Week reliever Will Matthiessen will continue his strong play this weekend. In the past nine days, Matthiessen has hit his first five career home runs, but what makes it remarkable that he has been primarily used as a pitcher, but he now takes on a dual-roles as a smasher and a bullpen arm. He was injured to start the year and so he has finally been coming back into rhythm. However, it’s difficult to actually choose a player since this is a team where any player can step up any given night. On some nights, the veterans like Hoerner and Andrew Dascbach take over, but on other nights, the freshman and the utility guys led the team to victory like Tawa, Christian Robinson, Bryce Carter or Alec Wilson. That’s kind of the beauty of watching this team.
On the other side, I’m sure shortstop Nick Madrigal will give the Cardinal issues. He is an amazing player and he killed them last year (he killed a lot of teams), so Stanford will have a gameplan dedicated to Madrigal. However, he has only played nine games, and other Beavers have stepped up like Trevor Larnach. He is tied with Daschbach for third in home runs (14), and his power can change a game. Stanford’s pitching doesn’t give up a ton of homers (23 allowed, third in the Pac-12), so it needs to stick to its identity and refuse anything easy for Larnach to hit. Pitching-wise, Luke Heimlich dominated the Cardinal last year, and given the troubles the offense sometimes has in the first game, especially in an environment like Goss Stadium, he could do it again this season.