Baseball faces tough test in weekend series against Arizona State

Sophomore pitcher Isaac Esqueda has a team-best 2.59 ERA among starters. (Michelle Mankoff/Daily Trojan)

The USC baseball team will begin a three-game series against Arizona State at Dedeaux Field Friday night.

The Trojans will enter the matchup with a 10-17 record on the season. Having lost six of their last eight games, they will be hard pressed to get back on track against a Sun Devil squad which ranks seventh in the nation and boasts an outstanding 25-2 record on the season.

ASU currently sits at second place in the Pac-12 with an 8-1 record in the conference, compared to USC’s 3-6 conference record that has it in seventh place.

If the Trojans want a chance at taking the series from ASU, they will need to pitch effectively throughout. Head coach Dan Hubbs said the team struggles when its starting pitchers don’t perform to their full potential on the mound.

“When we’ve gotten good starts we’ve had good games,” Hubbs said. “When we haven’t, we haven’t.”

Slowing down Sun Devils junior outfielder Hunter Bishop will be crucial to the Trojans’ pitching performance. Bishop will enter play on Friday having amassed an on-base plus slugging mark of 1.562 on the season, with 16 home runs already through just 27 games.

Arizona State currently has four players with an OPS of 1.000 or above compared to USC’s zero. The Sun Devils have a significant edge in their team power numbers, combining for 45 home runs on the season compared to 11 for USC.

The Trojans have usually been able to score runs this season, but their occasional inability to do so has cost them.  

After their most recent series against UCLA in which the Trojans scored 7 runs in the first game and a total of 3 in the final two, Hubbs said he would like to see more consistency from the team.

“I’m disappointed with our consistency in general,” Hubbs said.

If USC isn’t able to swing the bats effectively against ASU, it will have a tough time stealing a win — let alone the series — from the Sun Devils. However, with the promising starting pitching the Trojans have received at times this season, they are capable of winning low-scoring games.

Sophomore pitcher Issac Esqueda and junior pitcher Connor Lunn both bring earned run averages below three into the weekend set with ASU. Sophomore pitcher Kyle Hurt leads the team in innings this season and has shown flashes of dominance. Meanwhile, freshman pitcher Chandler Champlain is fresh off a performance in which he threw five innings of 1-run ball against top-ranked UCLA.

But the Sun Devils have strong pitching of their own. Junior pitcher Alec Marsh has an earned run average of 0.94 while leading the team in innings with 48 — 12.1 more than any other pitcher on the team.

Arizona State also has a strong bullpen, with two relievers compiling an ERA below 2.00 on the season and one more at 2.03.

The Trojans have proven that they can compete with the nation’s top teams; they have wins against Arkansas and UCLA this year. If they can slow down ASU’s heavy hitters and string together quality at bats against the strong Sun Devil pitching staff, the Trojans have a chance to make a statement against Arizona State.

The Trojans will look to do just that this weekend, starting with Friday’s first pitch at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game begins at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s finale is at 1 p.m.