(Photo: Blaine McCormick/WCSN)
Two teams with similar records, but heading in different directions face-off in Berkeley this weekend.
The Sun Devils will travel up north and will take on the California Golden Bears (12-14, 4-6 Pac-12) in a three-game series.
Arizona State (12-15, 2-7 Pac-12) is riding a four-game losing streak and has faltered as of late in Pac-12 play.
Cal on the other hand has won three of its last four games, sweeping the Washington State Cougars this past weekend before losing against Pac-12 north rival, Stanford.
Meanwhile, ASU has won just one of its past four games after losing a home series to UCLA and getting a beating from in-state rival Arizona.
Cal is currently seventh in the Pac-12 standings, while ASU stands at 10th. Both teams haven’t performed up to their expectations in the 2017 season and this series will be telling of which team will fall further in the Pac-12 standings and which team will look to create some momentum going into the bulk of conference play.
The Sun Devils have lost eight out of their last 11 games and appear to be on free fall.
ASU head coach Tracy Smith has talked repeatedly about consistency and the team needing to execute day in, day-out to compete against Pac-12 teams, arguably one of the best conferences in college baseball.
For the Sun Devils, the pitching staff has been a big challenge as the team posts a 5.55 ERA. Junior left-hander Eli Lingos (3-2) will take the hill for ASU in game one, followed by freshman southpaw Chaz Montoya (2-1) who has recorded wins his previous two starts.
Through 44 consistent innings pitched, Montoya has been a pleasant surprise as of late. Him and Lingos have been the clear standouts of the pitching staff thus far. The next closest starter has just 24 and 2/3 innings and is freshman Spencer Van Scoyoc (0-1) who boasts a 2.92 ERA. Van Scoyoc is dealing with a back injury and his status for this weekend is not determined at this point.
If Van Scoyoc is healthy enough though, he would be expected to get the Sunday start for ASU.
For the Golden Bears, right-hander Jared Horn (2-2) will start for Cal to open up the series, followed by fellow righty Joey Matulovich (3-0) on Saturday afternoon and then a left-handed pitcher in Matt Ladrech (1-0) will wrap up the series on Sunday.
Two California natives in ASU’s Gage Canning and Carter Aldrete have started all 27 games the team has played in 2017 and will return to the Golden State for this weekend’s three-game series in Berkeley.
Aldrete, ASU’s utility infielder has truly impressed with his glove but his batting average is just .231. Smith has said he knows he can rely on Aldrete’s defense but would like to see the freshman’s batting average increase.
Meanwhile, Canning is coming off a three-hit night against the Arizona Wildcats and his ability to get hits against Cal and force the Golden Bear pitchers into the stretch will certainly be an X-factor for the Sun Devil offense.
First baseman Andrew Vaughn and right fielder Jeffrey Mitchell Jr. have been two of Cal’s best hitters in 2017. Both have started in all 26 games the team has played.
Vaughn, a freshman from Santa Rosa, California is batting .366 with 23 RBI’s and a Pac-12 leading seven home runs. Mitchell Jr. is batting .330 with 33 hits and has been the most steady offensive outfielder for the Golden Bears.
Cal is on the up-swing winning three out of four, with a tough loss to No. 20 ranked Stanford in a midweek rivalry matchup. The Golden Bears will attempt to drive the Sun Devils further into the funk that has surrounded their team as of late.
For Arizona State, it’s a dangerous time. Every game is what Tracy Smith says is ASU’s “National tournament game.” They have lost four in a row and will look to step up and defeat the Golden Bears in a three-game set beginning on Friday at Evan Diamond in Berkeley, California at 4 p.m.
Rob Werner is an ASU Baseball Beat Writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on twitter @robwerner28.