By Nate Hanson
WSU (16-10, 3-3) went 1-2 this weekend in its three game series with #23 Stanford (11-9, 3-3). Stanford won game one 3-0, beat the Cougs again in game two 9-3 before WSU salvaged the final game with an 8-5 win.
In my preview of this weekend’s series I posed the following 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.”
We got an answer to three of these questions. First off, Stanford proved that good pitching beats good hitting. The Cougs amassed 13 hits and 3 runs against the Cardinal’s top two arms, Mark Appel and Bobby Zarubin. Thursday night’s 3-0 Stanford win was a classic pitcher’s duel we could possibly see in the big leagues five years from now. Appel, the eighth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, silenced the Cougs’ bats with a four-hit shutout. He also had 10 k’s. For the Cougs, lefty Joe Pistorese also went the length of the game. However, a shaky second inning, in which Brian Ragira’s two-RBI single cost Pistorese. All three of the Cardinal’s runs came in the second inning and it was all they would need. WSU had their chances, especially in the fourth inning when they had the bases loaded with one out, but Appel struck out the next two Coug hitters to get out of the jam. In Game 2, the combination of Zarubin, McArdle, Hughes, and Vanegas combined for seven strikeouts and only gave up three runs to a Coug lineup that came into the series averaging more than seven runs per game.
We also learned that Stanford’s lack of run production over the previous seven games was a phase. The Cardinal put up 17 runs this weekend, which is just two shy of their total production during their 1-6 struggle. The aforementioned Ragira went 6 for 13. Austin Slater and Wayne Taylor each had 3 RBI to lead the Cardinal. It was a balanced attack all weekend that really tested the WSU pitchers.
After being swept at home by UNLV and losing two of three to Utah in their first Pac-12 series, Stanford had to prove they were still worthy of a national ranking. They did that by taking two of three from the feisty Cougs. WSU has proven itself in the early part of the season a legitimate threat in the Pac-12, especially after taking two of three from then-ranked #14 Arizona State in Tempe. It’s not easy to win at Bailey-Brayton Field, where the Cougs were 10-2 before the series began. Stanford rose to the occasion and if this weekend’s pitching is a sample of what’s to come, the Cardinal are still a legitimate contender to win the Pac-12 title.
The one question that still hasn’t been answered: Are the young Cougs for real? Inconsistency continues to plague the Cougs. Manager Donnie Marbut mentioned that even in their win, his team was flat for the middle three innings. Marbut also said after the win that he doesn’t think his team is playing their best baseball. There is potential for this Coug team to make the NCAA Tournament. They have an explosive lineup and one of the best pitchers in the conference. However, their weakness is the starting rotation after Pistorese. Tanner Chleborad had a solid outing Friday by giving up only four runs in 6 2/3 innings. Still, the sophomore has an ERA over five. Scott Simon has shown signs of greatness, but he only lasted 4 2/3 innings in the win on Sunday. If Chleborad and Simon can solidify the rotation, the Cougs may get back to the tournament after misses in their last two seasons. If not, the Cougs are bound for more ups and downs as they head into the meat of their Pac-12 schedule.