Utah Baseball On Two Game Win Streak Starting Conference Play at Stanford

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University of Utah redshirt junior Vinny Zavolta(6) in a NCAA Baseball game vs. BYU at Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, Mar. 11, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Cody | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By J. Prather

 

The University of Utah baseball team is due up to face a tough Stanford Cardinal squad on the road in their opening conference matchup this coming weekend. Stanford is 10-2 so far and has not left the Bay Area to face an opponent this season. They are the heavy favorite to win the three-game series. 

The Utes should not be counted out though, coming off two wins against BYU in which the stat lines indicate an invigorated offense and bullpen. Starting pitchers Justin Kelly and Kyle Robeniol crushed their season stats on the mound against BYU, posting 2.90 and 0.00 ERAs for their respective starts. 

Kelly, with a 4.24 season ERA, began to settle in during his March 5 loss against Arizona State after a couple of rough starts at the beginning of the season. Against BYU he dialed in even more, eating away at the edge of the strike zone, retiring six batters to add to his team, leading 19 season strikeouts. Robeniol retired eight Cougar batters in his start, a team-high for 2021. 

Utah absolutely needs both pitchers to repeat, and if possible, improve their performance against Stanford. Stanford has only lost two games this season, one against Santa Clara University and the other against UC Irvine. In those games, Stanford lost primarily from the batter’s box hitting for .036 against Santa Clara and .156 against UC Irvine. Against Santa Clara pitchers also gave up 13 earned runs off of 13 hits, signaling that if Utah can shake the starting pitcher early they can own the field.

At the plate, Utah has a .224 season batting average but showed up big against BYU with a .351 BA in game one and .300 in the two-game series. Similarly, Utah’s on-base percentage for the season is .329 but in the two games against BYU, the Utes OB% hit .419. In these two most recent wins Utah showed that they do have bats and can bring runners across the plate when it counts, a stark difference from the beginning of the season. 

That being said, Stanford is far more consistent in their stats than Utah with a team batting average of .278 and .311 from their top eight batters. Utah has a team BA of .224, and .214 from their top eight. Stanford finds their way to the bags in 36.9% of plate appearances compared to Utah’s 32.9%. Accounting for slugging Stanford outranks Utah by 20%, meaning they are more likely to reach beyond first base in a batter’s plate appearance, with an on-base percentage plus slugging of .834.

Utah must find a way to stay consistent at the plate, get runners on early and don’t leave them stranded. If Stanford begins to feel the pressure on the mound, Utah can capitalize like Santa Clara did back in February. Also, Kelly and Robeniol must maintain composure when facing Stanford’s deep-hitting lineup. The Cards are going to get hits, no questions asked, but pitchers have to remember they have eight teammates that can back them up when it happens. Utah showed they can get it done against BYU and they can do the same against Stanford and keep the train moving.

The first pitch of the three-game series is scheduled for this Friday, March 19 at 7:05 MST in Stanford, CA and can be watched on Pac-12+.

 

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@JP_at_TheChrony