(Photo: ASU Athletics)
The Arizona State Sun Devil baseball team (21-16, 10-8) entered Palo Alto this weekend fresh off a dominant win over a talented UNLV team. ASU was looking for its fifth consecutive Pac-12 series win, and the opportunity certainly presented itself as the Sun Devils were taking on a Stanford team that had lost five of its last eight games. The Cardinal, however, had different ideas.
On Thursday, the Sun Devils suffered a devastating loss, as Stanford plated four unanswered runs in the final two innings for a 4-3 win. Going into the eighth inning, ASU held a 3-0 lead thanks to a first inning two-run home run from first baseman Nate Causey and an RBI single from second baseman Drew Stankiewicz in the fourth. But as the research crew for Cronkite Sports Live (the staple sports show of the Walter Cronkite Sports Network) acknowledged on Friday, ASU’s problems surface as soon as the bullpen falters. That was on display again on Thursday, as the bullpen squandered a three-run lead in the eighth and then allowed another run in the ninth, allowing Stanford to stage a walk-off win. The loss spoiled a solid outing from starter Brett Lilek, who went 6.1 scoreless innings, striking out six and allowing four hits. Lilek now has three consecutive no-decisions.
The Sun Devils evened the series on Friday with a 3-2 win, allowing the team an opportunity to extend its conference series winning streak. Ryan Kellogg was masterful once again, as he allowed two unearned runs in seven solid innings to earn his team-leading fifth win of the year. All of ASU’s offense came in the fourth inning. Freshman catcher Brian Serven gave the Sun Devils the lead with a two-run home run, his second of his collegiate career. Tucker Esmay earned the start at second base, rewarded his 2-for-2, two-RBI showing against UNLV on Tuesday. Esmay added another hit on Friday and plated the Sun Devils third run with a sacrifice fly. Ryan Burr caused coach Tim Esmay’s heart to skip a beat, as he conceded a leadoff double in the ninth inning with the Sun Devils clinging to a one-run lead. However, the sophomore closer retired the next three batters with ease to earn his eighth save of the year.
In the series finale on Saturday, however, the Sun Devil offense was limited to just three hits, as Stanford starter John Hochstatter outdueled ASU starter Darin Gillies to give Stanford a 1-0 win. Hochstatter advanced to 5-1 on the season and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning until first baseman Nate Causey singled to break it up. Gillies continued his recent success, as he fired eight innings of four-hit baseball to top his career-long outing that he set last weekend against Cal. The one-run loss makes it seven of ASU’s last 11 games that have been decided by one run.
That was the gist; here are the details:
Player of the Series:
Whenever a series is lost, such as the one the Sun Devils lost to Stanford this weekend, it is imperative to select a “Player of the Series” to strengthen the morale of the team. It is also necessary to select a player who delivered a noteworthy performance in the one game that was won, as it is a bit anti-climactic to shower such positivity on a player that did not even contribute to a winning effort. Thus, Ryan Kellogg earns this week’s honor.
Ever since conceding eight hits and four runs to a mediocre USC offense two weeks ago, Ryan Kellogg has been unhittable. Kellogg has now earned back-to-back wins to push his season total to five. Kellogg has not allowed an earned run in his last 10 innings and has also not allowed a walk in his last 13.1 innings. The southpaw has shown glimpses of dominance all season long, however, he has faltered shortly thereafter. With two consecutive dominant outings under his belt, it appears as if Kellogg is finding his groove.
After going 0-for-3 on Thursday, freshman shortstop Colby Woodmansee was benched for the remainder of the series. Drew Stankiewicz shifted from second base back to his true position at shortstop and Tucker Esmay received two straight starts at second base.
Coach Tim Esmay has emphasized that Woodmansee has received ample playing time because of his defensive prowess. A 6-foot-3-inch true freshman, Woodmansee has more range than any other Sun Devil infielder. With that being said, the Sun Devils cannot afford to continue to plug in Woodmansee’s questionable and unproven bat into the lineup, especially with a proven shortstop in Stankiewicz and a better-hitting Tucker Esmay who can play second base. Defense wins championships, but Woodmansee’s .210 season batting average and .175 conference average has to improve if he wishes to remain ASU’s starting shortstop.
Perhaps it was because Darin Gillies found himself pitching on a Saturday, a day that normally is reserved for Ryan Kellogg—Easter Sunday means that all collegiate baseball ended on a Saturday this week. But a look at his last two outings, and one will see that Gillies has nearly shed the stereotype of a Sunday starter.
Gillies’s implosion against USC appears to simply have been an outlier, as he now has topped his career-bests in each of his last two outings. On Saturday, Gillies struck out four and only allowed four hits and one run in his eight innings pitched. Only a small amount of run support separated Gillies and a well-deserved win. Gillies has now lowered his season ERA to under four. And despite being 0-2 in Pac-12 play, Gillies’s 2.60 conference ERA tops both that of Kellogg and Lilek.
Stat of the Series:
Ryan Burr’s confidence as college baseball’s elite closer was teetering for a heart-pounding six-game stretch. More importantly, his lack of command was putting any ninth inning Sun Devil lead in jeopardy. But with two saves this past week, Burr is making his presence felt in the Sun Devils record book. His 20 career saves in an ASU uniform are tied with Kevin Dukes for second place on the all-time saves list, only five saves behind Doug Nurnberg for first place. With 18 games remaining on the schedule and with the Sun Devils knack for playing in close games, it is within reason that Burr could place himself atop the list by the season’s end.
ASU will continue its six-game road stretch this weekend in Tucson. The Arizona Wildcats (17-23, 6-12) have lost three in a row after being swept by USC this past weekend. The matchup between ASU and UA begins on Friday at 7:00 p.m. and will be the final three baseball games of the 2014 Territorial Cup Series.
You can reach Jacob Garcia on Twitter @Jake_M_Garcia or via email at Jacob.M.Garcia@asu.edu