(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Two words can describe the No. 24 Arizona State Sun Devils (7-6) up to this point on the young 2014 season: consistently inconsistent.
The Sun Devils hosted the No. 19 Tennessee Volunteers this weekend, and after extending its winning streak to five games with a series-opening win, the squad dropped the final two games of the series in a disappointing fashion.
On Friday, ASU handed Tennessee its first loss of the season with a 3-1 win, behind yet another masterful pitching performance from Brett Lilek. Cherishing the Friday night lights that come with being the Friday starter, Lilek threw seven shutout innings and only allowed four base runners. After early season doubts regarding his arm strength and durability, Lilek has steadily increased his innings in each of his starts and has not allowed a run in 14 straight innings. Dalton Dinatale supplied the offense for ASU, as he went 2-for-3 with a double and a moonshot home run.
On Saturday, Ryan Kellogg was not able to build on his ten-strikeout performance against Oklahoma State, as he took the loss after allowing three runs on eight hits in seven innings of work. Down by two runs in the ninth inning, the Sun Devils managed to cut the deficit to 6-5; however that was all they could manage.
Tennessee advanced to 14-1 on Sunday, as they took the rubber game of the three game set, 6-4. RJ Ybarra blasted a two-run homerun and had four RBIs, and speedster Johnny Sewald reached base in all four plate appearances. However, the Sun Devils bullpen would falter and waste a respectable outing by starter Darin Gillies who took the no-decision.
That was the gist; here are the details.
Player of the Series:
RJ Ybarra takes home this week’s Player of the Series. Ybarra went 5-for-13 to add to his team-leading 17 hits and bolster his .378 batting average. Ybarra was accountable for all four Sun Devil runs on Sunday, and blasted his first home run of the season (sixth of his career). If there were any doubt as to whether or not the weekly recognition would go to Ybarra, Johnny Sewald, or Dalton Dinatale, Ybarra’s ten-game hitting streak pushes him over the top.
Aside from the obvious theme of inconsistent and streaky play, the Sun Devils have a far greater concern on their hands—the wrist of shortstop Drew Stankiewicz. The junior captain of the infield has now been sidelined for five games in a row. Not much has been released about the status of Stankiewicz; however, sources have said that he has suffered a broken wrist and is seeking a second opinion on whether or not he can play. Jordan Aboites has proven to be a viable replacement, as coaches have raved about his leather-flashing abilities at shortstop. Yet, losing a switch-hitting veteran with tremendous clubhouse presence is something the Sun Devils would rather avoid.
Ryan Burr’s name will rarely be associated with the word “unsung” throughout the rest of his baseball career. This week will be the scarce exception. Earlier this week, Burr opted to return back to the bullpen, a place where he enjoyed tons of success last year. In his first action this season as a closer, Burr flashed his electric fastball and retired four Tennessee batters for the first of many saves. The move will certainly remove Ryan Burr from the spotlight; however, the Sun Devils will now possess a loaded bullpen that features Burr, Eric Melbostad, Eder Erives and Nick Diamond.
Stat of the Series:
Over the three games this weekend, the lower half of the Sun Devils batting order (hitters 6-9) hit a lowly .189 (7-for-37). Jordan Aboites, Tucker Esmay and whomever occupies left field (Jake Peevyhouse, Kyle Bilbrey or Christopher Beall) have all struggled as of late. Dominant Tennessee pitching may have been the main culprit. But the ability of the bottom half of the order to reach base for the top half is imperative to a team’s success.
The Sun Devils will host New Mexico (9-6) in its second midweek matchup of the year. The Lobos have been just as sporadic as ASU, as they had won five in a row before losing three of its last four. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
You can reach Jacob Garcia on Twitter @jake3garcia or via email at Jacob.M.Garcia@asu.edu