The postseason is fast approaching! For many D-I teams, this week marks the final of the regular season, with conference tournaments kicking off in earnest next week. On top of that, we’re less than a month from draft day. Things are coming to a head. Unsurprisingly, there’s a ton to recap from the diamond last weekend.
Cardinal Claim Rivalry Win
We know Stanford’s a talented team. Alongside UCLA and Oregon State, they’re clearly in the top tier of the Pac-12, with a 17-4 conference record entering last weekend’s series against Cal. Still, Stanford’s schedule had left them with a curious lack of marquee wins, contributing to an RPI on the fringe of hosting range, to say nothing of national seed consideration. Their final three Pac-12 series gave the Cardinal a chance to remedy that, beginning with a trip to Berkeley to take on one of the nation’s better offenses. In yet another series, Stanford prevailed, sandwiching a Saturday blowout loss with wins on Friday and Sunday to claim a key road win.
Erik Miller’s stellar season continued, as he struck out eight over 5.2 scoreless innings in the rubber match, lowering his ERA to 2.40 en route to a likely Day One selection come June. Meanwhile, Kyle Stowers combined for six hits in the Cardinal’s two wins, while junior infielder Duke Kinamon slugged three home runs on the weekend. That continues a bounceback season for Kinamon, who’s up to a career-best .314/.349/.518 line after missing all of 2018 with an oblique injury.
This isn’t the small ball Stanford team of old; this lineup has real thump. Only UCLA has a higher slugging percentage in conference, and Kinamon’s power outburst last weekend put him alongside Stowers, Andrew Daschbach and Brandon Wulff as Cardinal players slugging above .500 since Pac-12 play kicked off.
This also proved to be the resume-boosting series Stanford had been lacking. They’ve climbed five RPI spots over the past week, into the top 15 where they sit comfortably as a projected host. With Oregon State coming to town next week before a trip to Tempe to close out the season (the Pac-12 doesn’t have a conference tournament), Stanford’s got a good chance to vault themselves into top eight contention.
Cal, meanwhile, is just fine. Losing two of three to the Cardinal isn’t shameful, and they still have a top 40 RPI with a 14-10 record in Pac-12 play. They close out their season with Arizona State and a trip to Seattle to take on the Huskies. It’s not an easy road, but if Cal claims one of those final two sets, they’ll be in good shape as a 2 or 3 seed, sporting a lineup that no opposing pitching staff will be looking forward to navigating.
Bats go Wild in Durham
With Georgia Tech’s powerful offense headed to the hitter-friendly confines of Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham looked in line for some fireworks last weekend. That’s exactly what it got. In three games between the Yellow Jackets and Blue Devils, fans were treated to 57 runs, including 13 dingers. The juice came from up and down both lineups, with 10 different players getting in on the action. Only Georgia Tech’s Tristin English and Baron Radcliff and Duke’s Joey Loperfido slugged multiple homers on the weekend.
With the ball flying all over the yard, the winning team in each game plated double-digit runs. The Yellow Jackets claimed the series’ first two games, while Duke came back from an early 4-3 deficit on Sunday to avoid the sweep. The set had huge implications for each team, albeit to different degrees. Georgia Tech, sitting on a top ten RPI with an 11-7 record against the top 25, is comfortably a host but hopes to play its way into national seed contention. While a sweep would’ve been really loud, taking two of three on the road from a quality Duke team certainly doesn’t hurt the resume. The Jackets will host ACC cupcake Pittsburgh this weekend, giving them a good chance to get to 20 ACC wins (although, as we’ll see, Pitt’s been playing spoiler lately). Sweep the Panthers and win two games in the ACC tournament the following weekend, and Georgia Tech has a good chance to host a super regional.
Duke’s tournament position is much more precarious. It was critical they salvage something on Sunday, which they did, so they remain on the right side of the bubble for now. The Blue Devils are above .500 in league play at 14-13 with a top 50 RPI, but they’re just 29-21 overall and face a grueling final stretch. They take on A-Sun favorite Liberty in a road midweek before finishing their regular season with a trip to Miami. Split their final four games, and they’ll find themselves in strong position entering the ACC tournament. Anything less, and they’ll have some work to do.
Panthers Shocking Win
Pittsburgh’s not having a good year. They entered last weekend 18-30, just 5-19 in ACC play with an RPI outside the top 200, a tough feat in such a strong conference. They did manage a road win over Florida State two weeks ago, dealing the Seminoles’ RPI rebound a slight setback, but they still lost two of three in Tallahassee. With Pitt’s final two series against North Carolina and at Georgia Tech, it looked as if they’d go the whole year without a conference series win.
The Panthers stunned the Tar Heels last weekend, taking two of three (by rather convincing margins, no less). North Carolina’s rotation has been up and down all season, and that continued last weekend. Austin Bergner dominated on Saturday, but Tyler Baum coughed up four runs in 5.1 innings, while Will Sandy continued to scuffle on Sundays, having replaced the injured Gianluca Dalatri in the Tar Heel rotation.
Baum and Bergner are talented, the Tar Heel bullpen is loaded with power arms and pitching coach Robert Woodard is among the most well-regarded in the country. Despite all that, UNC ranks just seventh in the league with a 4.43 ERA in ACC play. It’s a talented staff, but one that hasn’t entirely clicked all season.
The Tar Heels are still 34-15 overall, so it’s not as if the sky’s falling, but they’re just 8-8 against the top 50 on the year, and their RPI has fallen to 20. A season-concluding rivalry series against NCST gives the Tar Heels a chance to reemerge in the hosting picture, but what once seemed sewed up is now very much in jeopardy. They’ll need to right the ship fast.
Iowa At-Large Hopes Dashed
I’ve covered Iowa a few times in recent weeks. I really like the Hawkeyes’ talent, and their huge series win over UC Irvine last weekend had me optimistic they’d tightened the resume enough to get into the tournament.
Then they go out and lose the final two games of a home series against Michigan State. To the Spartans’ credit, they are playing better than they have all year, having now won three straight series. Still, they’re 19-31 with an RPI barely inside the top 200. Bubble teams can’t lose home series like this.
Iowa’s down to #79 in the RPI now, the biggest loser of the weekend. They’re too far gone for an at-large bid. It’s Big Ten championship or bust now, a shocking and disappointing development for a team who had been trending up until three days ago.
Top Prospect Performers
Hoese’s as close to a pop-up college hitter as you’ll find. A draft-eligible sophomore in 2018, he flew under teams’ radars and passed on the Royals, who popped him in the 35th round. He returned to Tulane, then almost doubled his slugging percentage. He’s up to .406/.498/.831 in a quality conference, a slam dunk Day One pick at this point. Last weekend, Hoese slugged a pair of homers with five hits in a Saturday doubleheader against Houston. The Green Wave lost the series, ending any hope they had of an at-large bid, but their superstar third baseman continues to bolster his draft stock in the season’s final weeks.
Georgia’s two-way superstar had five hits, including a pair of home runs, as the Bulldogs’ starting third baseman in their series win over Auburn. He didn’t pitch, but it was encouraging to see him back on the field after missing a few weeks with an Achilles injury. Schunk is a better prospect as a power and defense third baseman than as a reliever, but he figures to be instrumental to the Bulldogs in both roles during the stretch. With Georgia tracking as a likely national seed for the second consecutive season, they’re legitimate national title contenders with Schunk back in the middle of the order.