The ASU baseball team (13-8, 2-1) has excelled at Phoenix Municipal Stadium with a 10-3 home record; however, the Sun Devils have played poorly on the road against tough competition and posted a 3-5 away record.
Last season, head coach Willie Bloomquist’s tenure got off to a rough start as ASU posted a 6-17 road record. The Sun Devils’ road schedule included series losses against UA, No. 3 Oregon State and No. 14 Stanford . Bloomquist said his team saw flashes of success last season but recognized that his team struggled in nearly every aspect.
"At times, we played okay, and at times we played poorly," Bloomquist said. "So you know, I think as a whole, when you look at what we did last year, we were atrocious on the road."
Like last season, ASU has faced tough competition away from home through its first three away trips. After winning their first four games at home, the Sun Devils struggled to score runs and keep opponents' bats at bay in front of hostile crowds.
In its first road series, ASU stunned Mississippi State in the first game with a 13-4 rout on Feb. 24. Recording his only hits of the series, sophomore infielder Jacob Tobias led the Sun Devils' offense with two hits and four RBIs.
With a chance to win the series, ASU's offense fell flat in the second game as the Bulldogs handed the Sun Devils a 1-5 loss on Feb. 25. While Mississippi State only recorded six hits, junior pitcher Khristian Curtis walked three batters in the fourth inning. The next day, ASU lost the series as the Bulldogs routed the Sun Devils 16-3 on Feb. 26.
Junior infielder Luke Keaschall said playing at Mississippi State was challenging because its fans are rowdy during at-bats and give the Bulldogs a clear advantage. However, Keaschall said the team doesn't change its mentality and approaches each game similarly.
"We go on the road, and we go on there with the same attention every time, and it's to win and win every game," Keaschall said. "So I wouldn't say anything really changes."
Just over a week later, ASU hit the road for a two-game series against No. 13 Oklahoma State on March 7 and 8. Facing similar issues, the Sun Devils fell 8-4 in game one and 7-4 in game two. ASU recorded a .215 batting average in the short series and a 7.88 ERA.
After a rough start to its schedule, ASU traveled to face Utah for its first Pac-12 games of the season. Before leaving Tempe, Bloomquist’s players were confident after winning four-straight games at home. Junior pitcher Timmy Manning said he was excited about the matchup and wished Utah had harsher weather.
Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, ASU won two of three games in the series to rebound from its bleak stretch of road games. The Sun Devils' hitting drastically improved as they registered a .356 team batting average while knocking in 30 runs. Yet, ASU's pitching woes continued as the team gave 28 hits while recording a 7.96 combined ERA. Bloomquist said his team played well most of the weekend but acknowledged his pitching staff gave up easy runs.
"I think when you minimize the mistakes and minimize the free bases, you get a chance to be okay," Bloomquist said. "A lot of the runs that we gave up at Utah were gift-wrapped."
While their offense excels at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the Sun Devils' offensive production falls off when they hit the road. ASU has recorded a .328 team batting average through 13 home games this season while hitting .283 on the road. The Sun Devils have also struck out five more times in away games despite recording 150 fewer at-bats on the road than at home.
Several of ASU’s best hitters appear to buckle under the pressure of hitting on the road. Sophomore catcher Ryan Campos, who currently leads the Sun Devils with 30 hits this season, only hits .259 on the road despite excelling at home with a .468 batting average. Meanwhile, Tobias, who leads ASU with 23 RBIs, hits just above the Mendoza line with an abysmal .206 batting average in away games.
While receiving less run production from the offense, ASU's pitching staff struggles to get through innings in road games. The Sun Devils have recorded a serviceable 4.18 combined ERA at home but have posted an atrocious 8.33 ERA on the road.
With the remainder of Pac-12 play around the corner, the Sun Devils must address their inconsistent hitting and pitching before facing conference opponents. Despite his team's struggles on the road, Bloomquist remains confident that his team will turn the season around and win Pac-12 games.
"I think there's a different group (this season)," Bloomquist said. "There's a different mentality and different kids, so I expect us to play much better on the road this year."
The Sun Devils are set to face UA at home on March 24 to 26. ASU looks to bounce back from last season's matchups against the Wildcats in which the Sun Devils dropped three of five games.
Edited by Kathryn Field, Jasmine Kabiri and Caera Learmonth.