(Photo: ASU Athletics)
After being dealt an old-fashion three-game beatdown from No. 7 Oklahoma State last weekend, the Arizona State Sun Devil baseball team (26-21, 14-10) was greeted in Tempe with the arrival of No. 9 Oregon (36-16, 14-10). Despite dropping the series opener for a season-high fourth straight loss, ASU rebounded in the final two games for its third series win over a top-15 team—the first time in school history such a feat was accomplished.
On Friday, the Sun Devils dropped the series opener 5-4, despite Brett Lilek’s seventh quality start of the season. Lilek bounced back after his lackluster two-inning outing against Oklahoma State last week, and struck out a career-high nine batters in his seven innings of four-hit work. However, the effort was spoiled, as three errors (two from shortstop Drew Stankiewicz) led to two unearned runs and proved to be the difference in Oregon’s win.
The Ducks broke open a 2-2 tie with a three-run fifth inning. The Sun Devils countered with a run in the sixth and in the eighth, but were unable to do further damage. Freshman catcher Brian Serven led the way offensively for ASU, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs. Stankiewicz and right fielder Trever Allen also added two hits apiece.
The Sun Devils snapped their four-game losing streak on Saturday with a 9-4 win over Oregon, as Ryan Kellogg delivered yet another masterful performance to earn his seventh win of the year. Kellogg surrendered four runs in the first inning, but then quickly settled down to strike out a career-high 12 Ducks hitters over his eight innings of work.
The Sun Devils responded with a three spot of their own in their half of the first and then followed with a four-run second inning (all of which were unearned). ASU totaled 16 hits, including a 4-for-4, three-run performance from centerfielder Johnny Sewald. First baseman Nate Causey also broke out of his recent 3-for-21 slide with two hits and his 14th multi-RBI game of the season.
In the series finale on Sunday, ASU earned its 12th win over a ranked opponent of the year with an 8-6 win and a series victory over Oregon. Starting pitcher Darin Gillies tossed six scoreless innings, and the Sun Devils rode the momentum of a five-run first inning to earn the win.
The Sun Devils were dominant at the plate for the second straight day, as the team notched 15 hits. Causey went 3-for-5 (his team-leading 15th multi-hit game this season), and right fielder Jake Peevyhouse was moved up to the three-hole, where he extended his on-base streak to 13 games, and added two RBIs. Closer Ryan Burr nearly blew a six run lead in the ninth inning, as he surrendered four runs on three hits and three walks. Coach Tim Esmay had seen enough and went to Eder Erives, who recorded the final two outs for his first save of the year.
The series win over No. 9 Oregon vaults ASU up to a tie for third in Pac-12 play with the Ducks. Both teams are five games behind second place Washington and six games behind first place Oregon State.
That was the gist; here are the details.
Player of the Series:
Just call him Ryan “Big Game” Kellogg. Ryan Kellogg takes home the prestigious honor of this week’s “Player of the Series” because, frankly, he pitches his best against the stiffest of competition. Kellogg’s outing against No. 9 Oregon on Saturday was truly spectacular, as his performance from innings two through eight were a complete 180 from his first inning of work.
Kellogg was torched for four runs in the first inning, including a three-run home run, but he was a different pitcher for the rest of his outing. Kellogg final line was eight innings pitched, only the four earned runs in the first inning, two walks and a remarkable 12 strikeouts. Kellogg retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, and his double digit strikeouts were reminiscent of his domination of Oregon State and Oklahoma State earlier in the season.
Living up to his name of “Big Game” Kellogg, the left-handed sophomore sensation now has four wins over top-15 teams this year.
Ryan Burr has been sporadic all season long. The star sophomore closer has gone through stretches in which he has been unhittable and stretches in which he cannot throw a strike. He is currently in of those phases in which he is struggling immensely; however I challenge that it is due to a lack of usage.
Burr’s last save (his tenth) came two weeks ago against New Mexico, and since then, he has been used a total of two times. Granted, save opportunities have been scarce for the Sun Devils, but Coach Tim Esmay needs to use Burr in as many situations as possible to ensure that he is at top form come Regionals. Burr’s past two outings have not been pretty: three innings pitched, four hits, five earned runs, and four walks.
He is college baseball’s elite closer and I claim that the biggest concern for the Sun Devils is his lack of workload.
Despite being the main culprit for the Sun Devils’ defensive woes (four errors in his past six games), Stankiewicz has been quietly demolishing the baseball at the plate. The senior shortstop collected three two-hit games this weekend, going 6-for-12, and adding three runs and two RBIs. Stankiewicz is also 9-for-his-last-19, raising his team-leading slugging percentage to .448 and his batting average to .313, which is second on the team.
Atop the Sun Devil lineup, Stankiewicz continues to pair with Sewald (the leadoff hitter and team leader in on base percentage) to set the table nicely for the power bats of Causey and RJ Ybarra.
Stat of the Series:
The concept is simple. The fewer errors the Sun Devils make, the more likely they are to win games. After all, the Sun Devils are an untouchable 12-2 when they do not commit an error, compared to an 8-15 record when the team makes two or more errors.
Even ignoring the record, the fact that ASU has committed two or more errors in 23 out of 47 games (49 percent) is unacceptable. Such correlation was on perfect display this weekend, as the Sun Devils rolled in the final two games and did not make any errors.
In the series opener, ASU plagued themselves with three costly errors that proved to be the difference in the one-run win for Oregon. Extending the concept even further, the Sun Devils made eight errors in their three-game series against Oklahoma State, and, of course, they lost all three games. Making routine plays at the collegiate baseball is not too much to demand and it is increasingly critical as the Sun Devils approach Regionals where their schedule will be filled with high caliber teams like Oklahoma State and Oregon.
The Sun Devils will begin the first of back-to-back weeks in which the team has four games. This week, the Sun Devils will make the short trip to Las Vegas to take on UNLV (30-20) for the second time this season. A month ago, ASU earned a 5-2 over UNLV in Tempe thanks to a career-long six-inning outing
from freshman Seth Martinez. It should be noted, however, that the Rebels are a completely different team at home, as they boast an 18-2 home record compared to a mediocre 11-17 record away from Earl E. Wilson Stadium. The Sun Devils then return home for their penultimate Pac-12 series, as they will host the last place Utah Utes (15-30, 4-20) for the three-game weekend series.
You can reach Jacob Garcia on Twitter @Jake_M_Garcia or via email at Jacob.M.Garcia@asu.edu