The Nebraska baseball team (24-18, 13-8 Big Ten) takes a week off from conference play, welcoming the Arizona State Sun Devils to Lincoln. Arizona State (34-12, 14-10 Pac-12) is coming off a midweek win against Arizona after dropping a weekend series to UCLA.
The Sun Devils and the Huskers are both fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Coming into the weekend, the Huskers rank 43rd in RPI while Arizona State ranks 37th. The winner of this weekends series will earn two quadrant one victories at least and will have a marquee non-conference series win.
For Arizona State, it starts with a monster offense. The Sun Devils are led by a three headed monster. Hunter Bishop, Spencer Torkelson, and Trevor Hauver have each hit double digit home runs. The offense as a team bats .313 while slugging .525.
Bishop is widely considered to be a top ten MLB Draft prospect. According to MLB.com, Bishop has shown majestic pull power after changing his swing after two inconsistent seasons to start his career.
Torkelson and Hauver are just two of the four other Sun Devils who bat above .330. Torkelson was named an unanimous All-American last season and should pick up All-American honors again this year. Hauver is riding an 11 game hit streak into this weekends contest in Lincoln.
Arizona State has a staff ace in Alec Marsh. Marsh has thrown a complete game against Oregon State this season, while also being shelled by Washington and USC. He is 8-3 on the season with a 3.09 ERA.
Outside of Marsh, Arizona State has been a bit more shaky on the mound. Boyd Vander Kooi has been their Saturday starter. He has given up at least four runs in each of his last five starts. He sports a 6.15 ERA on the season.
For Sunday, Arizona State is likely to go with the bullpen approach. Last Sunday against UCLA, Head Coach Tracy Smith sent Sam Romero a reliever to the mound to start. The Sun Devils used five pitchers in a come from behind 8-7 win to avoid the sweep.
The Sun Devils do not have an assigned closer. Of their 34 wins, only 11 have been in save situations and no pitcher has more than three saves. Chaz Montoya is the stopper as he leads the relievers with a 2.25 ERA and is tied for a team high 23 appearances out of the bullpen.
Looking at the Sun Devils on paper, Nebraska will face their most challenging series in over a month. The best news for Nebraska is that Arizona State has seen their hot start come to a grind over the past few weeks.
Arizona State has dropped four of their past five series against Pac-12 opponents. While their is no shame in losing series to UCLA and Oregon State, it still hurts. The Sun Devils have also played a mediocre strength of schedule in their non-conference action, clocking in at the 198th most difficult.
The Huskers will meanwhile need to take advantage of home cooking. Nebraska has been able to make some magic happen, taking series from teams such as UC-Irvine, Texas, and Arkansas during the Darin Erstad era.
A series win against the Sun Devils would make the Huskers feel a lot more confident headed into their final Big Ten series against Michigan.