Looking to bounce back
After a 4-1 loss that could have been a lot worse at cross-town rival GCU, Arizona State baseball (20-12, 8-7 Pac-12) will travel a little further to Salt Lake City for their next road series against the Utah Utes (9-21, 4-11)
This will be the first conference series between these two teams, although both have met before this season due to mish mash 2021 non-conference scheduling. From March 5-7, the Sun Devils hosted the Utes at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. It was a dominant series win for the home team, as the Sun Devils swept the Utes and outscored them 13-4 across the three games.
The Utes were able to secure a potentially confidence building victory against Utah Valley on Tuesday, but that may just helped to serve as a reminder for the Utah players that they are actually a Division I caliber baseball team after last weekend’s beatdown at the hands of UCLA.
In three games in Westwood, the Bruins looked every bit the part of the preseason No. 3 team in the nation against their opponents. UCLA swept easily, and sent a parade of players across the plate each day. The end totals of each are not pretty and can best be summed up with this number: 42-5, the total the Bruins outscored the Utes in their series.
The Sun Devils have had great success historically against the Utes, boasting boast a 22-7 record in the 29 times the teams have met. Here are the storylines to watch as Arizona State looks to extend its series lead.
Looking for Bright Spots in a Dreary Year for Utah
This has been a difficult year for the Utes. There is not much the team does exceptionally well, which typically comes with the territory of a 9-21 record.
They are 11th in the conference standings, only ahead of Washington. Unlike the Sun Devils’ previous conference opponent, Stanford, which struggled in 2020, Utah is a common dweller in the basement of Pac-12 baseball in recent years.
Outside of a very strong 2016 campaign where the team scored a conference-best 19 wins, and a fourth-place run in 2017, the Utes have finished in the bottom half of the conference every year since 2013.
The team is 204th nationally in batting average, 231st in ERA, and tied for 255th in home runs with 10.
It’s worth ringing up the age-old question of whether it is better to be the worst player on the best team or the best player on the worst team, and because of the Utes’ collective struggles, their best players stand out even more.
Redshirt sophomore Jayden Kiernan is the team’s best hitter. He holds the 19th best batting average in the Pac-12 at .325. He is coming off his best performance of the season, a three-hit game against Utah Valley on Tuesday.
Third baseman Kai Roberts can handle the BBCOR barrel as well, as he comes into this series with a .283 batting average.
The Utes pitching staff has not been good this season. Byrson Hurdsman has been good out of the bullpen with a 2.63 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched, but this team is getting very little help from their starters. Justin Kelly, David Watson and Kyle Robenoil all post ERAs of over 5.59, with Watson holding that number after 37 innings pitched.
As a staff, the team is allowing their opponents to bat over .300.
Is the Roller Coaster Going Up or Down this Week?
It’s hard to make out exactly what this Sun Devil team is. Some days, they are threatening to take the series against Stanford. Other days, their pitching collapses against Washington and GCU.
This season was made much more difficult when Boyd Vander Kooi and Cooper Benson were lost to Tommy John Surgery, but several players have stepped up to the plate to carry the burden. Many of them are youngsters, providing a positive look at the future of the program if it can be healthy next season.
This team doesn’t have the same pop as in years past. Normally up near the NCAA leaders in home runs, the Sun Devils are tied for 129th this season with 24.
They have won ballgames with a different formula, and when the line gets moving, this team can put runs on the board with lightning fast base running and quality contact hitting.
After a solid series against GCU, freshman Ethan Long became the sixth Sun Devil to be batting over .300 this season.
Hunter Haas is now the team’s hottest hitter, and is sporting a 12-game hit streak.
Where/When to Watch
Friday: 5 pm MST, Utah Live Steam
Saturday: 3 pm MST, Utah Live Steam
Sunday: 12 pm MST, Utah Live Steam