Connor Pelton with the Arizona St. blog House of Sparky (and still sometimes contributor to Building The Dam) got together with us to take a look at the Sun Devils heading into this weekend's baseball series against the Beavers, who will be visiting the Valley of Sun. The results of our conversation is below.
You can see the preview of the Beavers here.
James Crabtree-Hannigan: Arizona State seems to be very upper-classmen heavy: How has that experience paid off for the Sun Devils early in the season?
Connor Pelton: The experience-laden roster has benefited the team mostly in close games. Arizona State is 6-3 in contests decided by two runs or less, and that is mostly because of the performance of junior closer Ryan Burr. The program leader in saves already has six of them thus far, and he has also posted a 2-0 record with a 0.00 ERA. If the Sun Devils do have a weakness, it is their group of middle relievers. The bullpen has given up three sixth inning leads in the past three weeks, and the older guys coming on in relief need to step up big time in that regard as we enter Pac-12 play.
JCH: Oregon State fans are quite familiar with Ryan Kellogg after his no-hitter against the Beavers a couple years ago. What other pitchers could OSU fans have nightmares about after this weekend?
CP: I really like Brett Lilek. He started the season as the team's Friday night starter but will throw on Sunday against Oregon State after some reshuffling by head coach Tracy Smith. His numbers do not exactly jump off the page at you, but his range of pitches is as deep as any player on the roster. Lilek is also a good situational pitcher, able to consistently get himself out of jams with one-out double play balls.
In addition, Beaver fans do not want to have their team trailing heading into the ninth inning. That means it is Ryan Burr time. I've already gone through his stats above, but you have to see him in person to fully appreciate the approach he brings to baseball. He is a flamethrower that can get a little wild at times, but no run has come across the plate on his watch. He'll remind Oregon State fans of former closer Kevin Rhoderick.
JCH: The Sun Devils have steadily climbed the polls so far this year; who or what have been the reasons for their rise?
CP: For starters, a decent schedule. Arizona State started the year with seven games against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and TCU, then faced a solid Long Beach State club in a three game series last season. Their ability to beat quality teams, and keep the losses at a respectable margin, has earned the respect of pollsters. As far as individual performances go, the play of R.J. Ybarra so far has been insane. The designated hitter is batting at a .390 clip with 12 RBIs and three home runs. His offensive outburst has been the key for the Sun Devils at the plate.
JCH: What's been the Sun Devils' biggest surprise of 2015?
CP: Everyone has been pretty shocked by the play of sophomore shortstop Colby Woodmansee. He has been an everyday starter on this year's team after starting less than half of last season. He's hitting at a .362 average and already has two walkoffs on 11 RBIs. Beaver pitchers will want to be very careful with him in late game scenarios.
JCH: Arizona State won this series on the road last year, against an Oregon State team that was much more established than this one. Do you see a repeat performance, or will the Beavers return the favor with an upset of their own?
CP: It is tough to say. Oregon State's play the last few weeks has been nothing short of phenomenal, but I wonder how much of that is because of the easy schedule. So, when in doubt, go with the home team. I think Arizona State bounces back to win the final two games after Andrew Moore wins a pitcher's duel on Friday.