By Nate Hanson
Although WSU’s men’s basketball team has made the headlines today with the retaining of head coach Ken Bone, WSU’s baseball team kicks off their biggest series of the year tonight. The Cougs (15-8, 2-1) host the Stanford Cardinal (11-8, 1-2) for a three game series in what looks like will be a lovely spring weekend at Bailey-Brayton Field.
The Cougs come in on a four-game winning streak after a sweep of Brown University last weekend. WSU outscored the Bears 45-4 in the dominating sweep. The offensive onslaught was impressive, but while Brown and Stanford may be comparable academically, the two couldn’t be farther apart when it comes to the baseball diamond. WSU has to keep their foot on the pedal to come out with a series win this weekend. After a first month of inconsistent play, its crucial Donnie Marbut’s young team doesn’t get caught up in the hype, but remains sound and ready for the moment. A performance similar to the one in Tempe two weeks ago, when the Cougs took two of three from the then-ranked 14th Sun Devils, will get the job done.
While the Cougs have been a pleasant surprise this year, Stanford is looking to right the ship of a season that started with high expectations. The Cardinal were picked to finish tied for third in the Pac-12 in Baseball America’s preseason preview. Stanford came out of the gates hot, winning 10 of their first 12 games. However, the Cardinal have lost 6 of their last 7, which includes a 1-5 homestand, when they were swept by UNLV and dropped two of three to conference foe Utah. This is a big weekend for manager Mark Marquess’ team. They can’t afford to drop a series against the Cougs and fall to 2-4 or 1-5 in conference play without playing the Pac-12 powerhouses.
Tonight’s pitching matchup is the top storyline of the three game series. The Cougs will send out sophomore Joe Pistorese (3-1, 2.09 ERA), who after being the Cougs’ best starter last year as a freshman, has continued to show he is an all-league pitcher. Stanford will go to Mark Appel (3-2, 1.18 ERA) who has built upon his illustrious All-American career after shunning the Pittsburgh Pirates who picked him 8th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft.
Appel will have quite the task tonight as he tries to shut down a Coug offense that puts up more than seven runs per game and leads the Pac-12 with a team batting average of .333. WSU has two players hitting .400 or better on the season (Nick Tanielu & Trek Stemp), and eight everyday players hitting better than .300. On the other end Stanford only has three players hitting better than .300 (Brant Whiting, Justin Ringo, Austin Slater). The Cardinal’s team batting average and runs per game both rank 10th in the Pac-12 and has been their Achilles heel. Stanford has only scored 19 runs over their last seven games.
The three-game series this weekend will answer a lot of questions. Is the Cougs lineup powerful enough to scramble one of the best pitching staffs in the Pac-12? Is Stanford’s seven game hitting slump a phase or reflective of a poor hitting team? Are the young Cougs for real? Is Stanford overrated? By Saturday night we might know the answers to all of these questions.
Probable Starting Pitchers:
Game 1 (Thursday 6 PM): Joe Pistorese (3-1, 2.09 ERA) vs. Mark Appel (3-2, 1.18 ERA)
Game 2 (Friday 6 PM): Tanner Chleborad (3-3, 5.18 ERA) vs. Bobby Zarubin (1-1, 1.71 ERA)
Game 3 (Saturday 12 PM): Scott Simon (2-0, 3.90 ERA) vs. Marcus Brakeman (First start of season).
Unfortunately, KUGR won’t be able to bring you the action. Games can be heard in Pullman on 105.3 FM or 1150 AM. A live stream can be found on at http://www.pac12.com