(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Arizona State (9-7) is riding a three-game wining streak after sweeping the Long Beach State Dirtbags last weekend. That momentum will need to play a role when the No. 2 ranked Oregon State Beavers (14-1) make the trek down to Phoenix Municipal Stadium to begin Pac-12 play this weekend.
The Sun Devils haven’t had the easiest time with their non-conference schedule as their 9-7 record reflects. Prior to the sweep against Long Beach State, the team sat at 6-7 and was in the middle of a four-game losing streak.
One factor that may favor ASU in the long run though is that the Sun Devils have played some high-level teams in their non-conference slate.
The team has already faced the then-ranked No. 1 TCU Horned Frogs, 2016 College World Series participant Oklahoma State in a midweek contest, current No. 10 ranked-team Cal State Fullerton and a team that’s solid year-in-and-year-out in Long Beach State.
Their strength of schedule has helped the team get at-bats and innings pitched against some of the nation’s best teams and will have prepped ASU for what’s to come in Pac-12 play.
Sun Devils’ centerfielder and three-year veteran of Pac-12 competition Andrew Shaps said that he specifically believes the conference is “more of a pitching conference” and that the opportunities to face the pitchers of the Pac-12 is something special.
“I want to face good pitching, I want my teammates to face good pitching. I want to face the best bats in the country and everyone else on this team to face the best bats in the country,” Shaps said. “All of us want to play the best and beat the best and I think it’s fine if we take some losses on the way.”
Shaps’ sentiment is one that head coach Tracy Smith has talked about a lot this season — he feels this team will be ready for what’s to come in the Pac-12 because they have had to play tough teams early on.
Having played the level of teams that they have early on in the season, the Sun Devils should have a certain confidence going into Pac-12 play. This team has faced a high level of competition rather than schedule weaker opponents in an effort to accumulate wins to begin the season.
This weekend, the strength of schedule for ASU remains intense, as the Oregon State Beavers will be the first conference opponent the team will face.
OSU is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation and sits atop the Pac-12 standings. The team boasts five players with a batting average above .300 highlighted by second baseman Nick Madrigal and third baseman Michael Gretler.
Madrigal, a 5’7″ sophomore, is batting .411 with a .625 slugging percentage and will pose a tough test for the ASU pitchers.
“He’s a tremendous talent. He’s clearly playing at a high level now,” Smith said “He’s going to remind ASU fans of Dustin Pedrioa because he’s smaller in stature but he’s arguably the best college baseball player in the country.”
Madrigal comes into this series on a seven game hitting streak.
On the mound, Oregon State has only use four starters in all 15 games this season. Luke Heimlich, Sam Tweedt, Bryce Fehmel and Jake Thompson have a combined record of 12-1. Heimlich and Thompson have taken on the bulk of the innings amongst the group, having pitched 28.2 and 26 innings respectively.
Heimlich, Tweedt and Thompson appears to be the three pitchers who will face the Sun Devils, in that order.
One of the biggest storylines in this series is the high-powered ASU offense vs. the OSU pitching.
The Beavers have held opponents to two runs or less in 12 of 15 games this season. On the other hand, the ASU offense averages 5.6 runs scored per game and has scored seven or more in the past three games.
For ASU, junior left-handed pitcher Eli Lingos will start Thursday and freshman southpaw Spencer Van Scoyoc will likely get the nod on Friday evening, but Smith hasn’t yet named a Saturday starter.
It looks like ASU will have the best chance to steal a few games from the No. 2 ranked Beavers on the back of Lingos in the series opener and Spencer Van Scoyoc in game two.
Both Lingos and Van Scoyoc have been the two most consistent starters for the Sun Devils in the early part of the season. The duo has combined to post a .219 ERA — the rest of the pitching staff has posted a combined 5.35 ERA.
First pitch on Thursday is set for 6 pm MST at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.