This weekend represents one of the biggest battles of the season for Arizona State baseball.
Not only are the Sun Devils (29-12-1, 11-7) taking on the ever-dangerous Stanford Cardinal (24-15, 9-9), but they are also trying to make a push for the Pac-12 regular season championship and improve their chances of being a national seed for the NCAA Division 1 Baseball Championship tournament.
Arizona State is ranked as high as eighth in the nation and the team is currently on a five game winning streak. That will be put to the test this weekend against Stanford and if Arizona State can clinch another series victory, it will inch closer to Oregon. The Ducks are ruling the conference and are leading the maroon and gold in the overall standings by three and a half games.
This series is even more important because of the nationally televised duel between Trevor Williams and Mark Appel. ASU has won 11 out of its last 12 home games against Stanford dating back to the 2005 season and this year, all eyes will be on the mound.
Last season, Williams got shellacked for seven runs and 11 hits in his six innings of work against the Cardinal and he'll hope to have a better outing on Friday. Meanwhile freshman sensation Ryan Kellogg will look to add to his 10-0 season this Saturday. Kellogg is one of only three pitchers in the nation to have perfect record with at least ten wins. The Sun Devils' Achilles' Heel is that they are only 2-4 on Sunday games in the Pac-12.
It has yet to be determined who will pitch on the Sunday finale, but the Sun Devils will not have to worry about producing runs. Seven of the nine starters still have batting averages over .300 and all of them have at least 18 runs batted in on the season
There is no doubting ASU's ability, so can Stanford keep up in Tempe?
In short, yes. This is very much a rebuilding year for Mark Marquess and the Cardinal, but that does not mean they can't win big games. Stanford beat Rice University in the second game of the year, they took two of three against Arizona, and swept Texas to open the month of March. Even though the Cardinal dropped all three games to Pac-12-leading Oregon, they kept every game within two runs.
Stanford has some pop in its lineup with 28 team home runs and four starters have a slugging percentage upwards of .500. There is no question that the offense on both teams has been fairly consistent, but the Cardinal have shuffled around its Saturday and Sunday starts quite a bit as of late.
Senior Dean McArdie started the last two weekends on Saturdays, giving up ten earned runs in six and two thirds innings. Underclassmen John Hochstatter and Bobby Zarubin have both started in at least seven games this season and have maintained a sub-three ERA thus far. Hochstatter's main flaw is that he has allowed six long balls this season.
With both teams still struggling to find solutions on the mound, this could come down to the teams' bullpens. This is something Sun Devil fans are used to hearing, but if they can maintain the lead heading into the ninth inning, freshman Ryan Burr has been nothing short of sensational.
He is one save away from setting the ASU freshman record with 11 saves. Everyone in the ASU bullpen has appeared in at least five games and Burr is second on the team with a 1.74 ERA and leads the team with an 11.9 strikeout per nine-innings.
If Arizona State can pick up two of three this weekend, they should keep pace with the Ducks and help their chances of hosting a regional or even super regional in about a month.