The premier regular-season showdown of the college baseball season hits Corvallis this weekend. Stanford (37-6) visits for a three-game series to face Oregon State (35-7-1 heading into Tuesday's date with Oregon at Eugene). The series begins at 7 p.m. Friday at Goss Stadium.
Stanford, which leads the Pac-12 with a 17-4 record, is ranked No. 1 or 2 in the five national polls.
Oregon State, second in the conference at 14-6-1, is No. 3 or 4 in the polls.
Florida (38-11) is ranked No. 1 in the two polls in which Stanford is No. 2.
With nine conference games remaining, Oregon State needs to win at least two of the three games with Stanford to stay alive in its bid to defend its Pac-12 championship. A sweep would push the Beavers into the conference lead.
"Stanford is clearly one of the two best teams in the country," Oregon State coach Pat Casey says. "It's the best Stanford team I've seen since the early 2000s. I see no weaknesses. It's going to be a huge challenge for us."
Stanford, under coach Mark Marquess, finished second in the College World Series in 2000, 2001 and 2003.
It will be Stanford's pitching against Oregon State's formidable offensive attack as the feature components. The Cardinal, under first-year coach Dave Esquer, led the Pac-12 in ERA (2.60) and opponents' batting average (.215). Esquer was head coach at cross-city rival California for 18 years before succeeding Marquess, who retired after 41 years on the Farm.
Stanford's pitching staff is big and talented.
The ace is Kris Bubic, a 6-3, 220-pound junior left-hander who is 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA, third in the Pac-12. The other weekend starters are 6-4, 190 junior right-hander Tristan Beck (7-2, 2.66) and 6-5, 220 sophomore left-hander Erik Miller (4-2, 3.48). The closer is 6-4, 190 sophomore right-hander Jack Little (1-0, 0.83), who has 13 saves and a .152 opponents' batting average.
The Cardinal bullpen also features 6-2, 190-pound freshman right-hander Brendan Beck (5-0, 1.58), younger brother of Tristan, who leads the Pac-12 in ERA.
"They have three or four first-round draft picks on their pitching staff," Casey says.
The Beavers, meanwhile, lead the Pac-12 in batting average (.318), slugging percentage (.483), on-base percentage (.413) and runs scored (317).
Sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman is second in the league in batting (.395), third in on-base percentage (.484) and tied for fourth in RBIs (49).
Junior right fielder Trevor Larnach is third in home runs (14) and RBIs (50) and fifth in on-base percentage (.468).
Junior center fielder Steven Kwan is tied for the league lead in stolen bases (12) and fourth in on-base percentage (.470).
Oregon State beat Washington State 17-3 and 9-1 in the first two games of their series at Pullman last weekend. The Beavers and Cougars tied 7-7 on Sunday in a game in which Wazzu plated five runs in the first inning. The game was called due to lightning strikes along with a travel curfew for the Beavers.
"We swung the bat well and did a lot of good things, but we had one bad inning (on Sunday), and it cost us," Casey says. "We'll have to play a lot better to beat Stanford, no question about that."
Stanford had it easy in Salt Lake City last weekend, sweeping Utah by an aggregate score of 43-10, including 25-5 on Saturday. The Cardinal have won six straight games and 14 of their last 15.
"Mark had a great recruiting class, and Dave has done a fabulous job bringing the whole group together," Casey says. "They're dominating our conference. They're dominating baseball on the West Coast. They went into Austin and took three of four from Texas early in the year."
The Cardinal have some outstanding hitters, including a pair who hail from West Linn. Freshman third baseman Tim Tawa is batting .313 with seven homers and 37 RBIs. Sophomore designated hitter Will Matthiessen (.406 in 32 at-bats) is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week after belting four home runs in four games against Utah and San Francisco.
Stanford also has 6-3, 220-pound sophomore first basemen Andrew Daschbach (.293, 13 homers, 51 RBIs), senior second baseman Beau Branton (.355, .444 on-base percentage), junior shortstop Nico Hoerner (.337, 13 doubles, 12 stolen bases) and sophomore left fielder Kyle Stowers (.298, eight homers).
The Cardinal are No. 2 in the national RPI rankings. Oregon State is No. 9.
Both teams are gunning for one of the eight national seeds, which would guarantee home-field advantage for regionals and super regionals in the NCAA tournament.
Including a pair of nonleague home games against San Diego (21-27) on Monday and Tuesday at Goss Stadium, the Beavers are in the midst of a stretch in which they must play nine games in 12 days.
"Poor decision-making on scheduling," Casey says. "That's the way it goes. We just have to play through it."
After Stanford, Oregon State has Pac-12 series at Southern Cal (21-22, 9-15) and against 11th-ranked UCLA (30-13, 14-7) at home.
The Cardinal play host to Washington State (14-25-1, 6-14-1), then finish the regular season with a series at Washington (23-20, 13-8).
"Washington State coaches said if it comes down to the conference championship, they'd be willing to finish (last Sunday's) game," Casey says. "I doubt the conference would allow it, though."
Friday night's pitching matchup should be a dandy, with Bubic going against Oregon State's Luke Heimlich (11-1), who leads the nation in victories and the Pac-12 in strikeouts (101) and is eighth in opponents' batting average (.225).
Tristan Beck is expected to go Saturday against Oregon State junior right-hander Bryce Fehmel (6-1, 3.49).
Casey says sophomore right-hander Grant Gambrell, who had a poor outing last Sunday, will not be in the rotation.
Expect freshman right-hander Kevin Abel (3-0, 4.06), who has been outstanding in his past two performances out of the bullpen, to take the mound for the Beavers against Miller.