No. 2 baseball looks the part, sweeps Vandy

P Brett Mooneyham

Stanford's 2012 baseball season is only four games old, but the Cardinal have already flashed College World Series-caliber potential in their opening sweep of No. 10 Vanderbilt and dramatic midweek win at the University of the Pacific. Here are some early observations as the Cardinal take inventory after the season's opening salvo and prepare to host No. 12 Texas this weekend:

  • Stanford absolutely bludgeoned Vanderbilt, a team almost everyone expected to be very good, by a 35-13 tally over the three-game sweep. There's a catch, though: the Commodores committed 11 errors on the weekend, including four during Stanford's eight-run Sunday second inning outburst. That sloppy Vandy squad didn't look anything like one of the better teams in the country. 

  • There is a lot to be said, though, about an offense that punishes its opponents' mistakes, and the Stanford lineup feasted on the Commodores' comedy of errors like a vulture devours a dead animal. Vanderbilt's defense was donating bases all weekend long, but Stanford's .352 batting average during the series would have been good enough to sweep regardless of those gifts. Most impressive was the Cardinal'S Friday victimization of Vanderbilt's quality ace Kevin Ziomek, who had to be yanked in the fourth inning after surrendering five earned runs. 

  • So far, this Stanford lineup has gotten annoyed – in a very productive way – when their team has been trailing. Twice in the team's first four games, the Cardinal faced four-run deficits. Both times, the Stanford bats erupted in response. Sunday, the Cardinal countered Vandy's 4-0 lead with 18 unanswered runs; Wednesday, they pounded Pacific with seven straight to take a 7-4 lead. 

  • Leading up to the opening series, Stanford players and coaches raved about how well their intrasquad scrimmages had prepared them for the season, since the club is strong in all facets of the game. Well, it turns out there was a lot of substance behind that talk. Friday ace and projected No. 1 draft pick Mark Appel, who was frequently roughed up by the Cardinal offensive juggernaut in practice, looked like he was in midseason form (7 IP, 1 ER, 2 H) against Vanderbilt. Although his four errors at third base are a definite point of defensive concern, slugger Stephen Piscotty has already pumped three balls out of the park, putting him on a very early pace to crank out over 40 bombs.

  • Mark Marquess talked about lefty Brett Mooneyham's play as a pivotal determinant in the success of this Stanford campaign. After missing most of last season because of a thumb injury, Mooneyham's first 2012 start was overwhelmingly positive. It's all about locating pitches for the tall lefty, as he has nasty stuff with cut action. He missed the strike zone occasionally (four walks), but his eight strikeouts locked down that magical 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and led Stanford to the series-clinching victory Saturday.

  • Stanford's other major pitching question wasn't as neatly resolved, though there were several rosy developments in the bullpen, especially amongst the team's heralded young arms. The biggest issue, of course, is who will fill Chris Reed's shoes in the team's closer position. It was impossible for the Cardinal to hold an audition for the job over the weekend because of the way that they blew Vanderbilt out in each game, but Tuesday's midweek test at Pacific set up the first experiment. Freshman David Schmidt blew his first career save opportunity in Stockton, but he remains a logical choice for the closer role because of his go-to pitch: a hard sinker that pounds the glove with low-90's velocity.

    "We had a couple outings in the fall where our guys hadn't seen [Schmidt] yet, and they just got four or five balls crushed into their shins," Mooneyham told the Stanford Daily about the right-hander.

  • Fellow freshman John Hochstatter, meanwhile, made a debut for the ages, pitching 6.1 innings of hitless ball to earn the win Sunday after A.J. Vanegas struggled. Hochstatter is crafty - he pounds all parts of the strike zone with deceptive off-speed pitches. He knows how to get guys out, and his 6-foot-4 frame suggests that he'll be throwing much harder by the time that his college strength and conditioning program kicks in (see Mark Appel). It's a complete wild card at this point since he is an untested freshman, but if Hochstatter can maintain the control he displayed Sunday, this has a chance to be one of the greatest Stanford teams ever. 

  • No action yet for hot freshman catching prospect Wayne Taylor, but it hasn't been necessary since Christian Griffiths has been tearing the cover off the ball early. Marquess has hinted that he may platoon the catching position indefinitely, but with seven hits in his first 15 at-bats, Griffiths definitely has the hot hand early.

Stanford will continue to work to find answers to its questions when Texas visits Sunken Diamond at 5:30 on Friday. The team already made a heck of a lot of progress in its first four cracks at it, though. 


About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link.


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