(Photo: ASU Athletics)
Arizona State closed out the final Pac-12 conference series ever to be played at Packard Stadium Winkles Field at Brock Ballpark in only the most storybook of fashions: A series sweep over the Utah Utes, extending its winning streak to six games and clinching the team’s 52nd straight 30-win season.
On Friday, the Sun Devils (30-21, 17-10) won their fourth straight contest with a 9-3 win over Utah (16-33, 4-23). After ASU jumped out to an early lead with a run in the first, Utah responded with two runs in the second inning off of Sun Devil starter Brett Lilek. But Dalton Dinatale knotted the game immediately after, as he broke out of his recent slide with a solo home run in the second inning. ASU broke the game open in the seventh inning with six runs. A few errors and timely hitting with runners in scoring position, including a two-run double from left fielder Jake Peevyhouse (who had three RBIs on the night), allowed the Sun Devils to post a six run lead.
Though the consecutive games without an error streak came to a screeching halt on Saturday, as the Sun Devils committed two errors, ASU nevertheless extended its winning streak to five games. The 7-1 win over Utah sealed the series victory for the Sun Devils (ASU’s seventh conference series win) and ensured Utah’s ninth-straight Pac-12 series defeat. Ryan Kellogg was masterful once again, firing seven innings of one-run baseball.
On Sunday, the Sun Devils completed the final Pac-12 series at Packard Stadium with a resounding 14-6 win over the Utes. The win for ASU ensured a 30-win season for the 52nd consecutive year, the longest streak in Division 1 history. The Sun Devils benefitted from three unearned runs in the first inning, and a three-run bomb from designated hitter RJ Ybarra in the second inning. Utah knotted the game at six apiece, but eight unanswered runs, including home run from Drew Stankiewicz, put the game out of reach.
That was the gist; here are the details.
Player of the Series:
Dalton Dinatale was in a rut. His team had lost four straight games and his 0-for-5 showing in the first game of the Oklahoma State series landed him a spot on the bench for the next three games. The third baseman was given pinch-hit opportunities in all three games, but failed to register a hit in those three at-bats.
Dinatale was obviously relieved to escape the overwhelming arms of Oklahoma State, as he now has a modest six-game hitting streak, coinciding with the team’s six-game winning streak. Dinatale is 11-for-23 in those six games, including two three-hit games. He has three RBIs and has scored runs at a Brian Dozier-like pace with nine runs in six games, and two runs in each of his last four games. In the middle of an offense that is rolling once again, and protected by the lethal bats of RJ Ybarra and Nate Causey, Dinatale is primed for a huge postseason.
The decision to bench shortstop Colby Woodmansee, a defensive wizard, in favor of second baseman Tucker Esmay drew many sour responses. With only 3 career starts in his first two seasons under his belt, Esmay had not proven himself capable of handling collegiate pitching.
Though at one point this year Esmay’s average had sunk to .240, he is quietly having a stellar second half of the 2014 season, supplying timely hitting and serving as the team’s “second” lead-off hitter. In fact, Tucker Esmay has six consecutive games in which he has registered two hits. The redshirt junior is now 12-for-his-last-24 to raise his season average to .298. Esmay is also contributing in the RBI and run departments, as he had three RBIs and two runs in three games against Utah. With only two strikeouts in conference play, Esmay is proving to be a force at the bottom of the ASU order.
Stat of the Series:
The last time the Sun Devils lost to Utah a gallon of gas was priced at $0.31, a dozen eggs were $0.57 and the population was 180,671,158. The year was 1960. Thanks to a series sweep this weekend, the Sun Devils have now won the past 26 contests between the two schools (and Utah has now lost six of its last seven). ASU also tripled Utah’s scoring output this weekend.
For the first time all season, this category will be disregarded. There is no reason to knit-pick any concerns for a Sun Devil team that is riding a season-high six game winning streak, outscoring opponents 56-25 during that stretch, and outhitting opponents 74-46.
As a collective group, the Sun Devils hit five home runs this weekend, more than in any other series this year. Remarkably, the Sun Devils have been equally impressive on the mound. It has been a theme for the pitching to slack while the offense rolls and for the offense to stutter while the pitching is dominant. But not during this win-streak. Brett Lilek’s season ERA is 2.33; Ryan Kellogg is a steady 8-2; freshman Seth Martinez is 5-0; Eder Erives has 26 strikeouts and only six walks; and Ryan Burr, though walking way too many batters, has struck out 51 in 41.1 innings pitched.
ASU still remains in a deadlock with Oregon (the Ducks swept UCLA this weekend) for fourth place in the conference standings, but both teams have distanced themselves from fifth-place USC.
Concerns are scarce for Sun Devil baseball right now.
The Sun Devils went 4-0 in their four games last week, and will look to do the same this week in the final four games of the regular season. The doors of Packard Stadium will officially close on Tuesday when the Sun Devils complete a non-conference tilt with Abilene Christian (17-32). The Wildcats have lost four straight and are a measly 4-17 on the road. ASU will finish its season in Pullman to take on a Washington State team (23-27, 13-14) that was once in contention in the Pac-12, but has now fallen back to sixth place. The Cougars have lost three of four and are 10-18 on the road.
You can reach Jacob Garcia on Twitter @Jake_M_Garcia or via email at Jacob.M.Garcia@asu.edu