Following their series against Rice, the Cardinal's weeklong finals break stalled a previously prolific offensive attack. In fact, in weekend sets leading up the hiatus, Mark Marquess' bats were churning out 8.8 runs per game. But in Pac-12 action after the break, that production plummeted almost five runs to just 3.9 per game.
The primary factor behind the outage was the sudden cold spell of Stanford's 1-2 punch atop the order, which had previously been setting the table for the big bats in the middle. Jake Stewart's team-leading average was no more, and Tyler Gaffney's absurd .500 on-base percentage disappeared in the midst of a 1 for 24 slide.
On Monday afternoon in the East Bay, though, the juggernaut returned with a vengeance. It was only a matter of time before the Cardinal's bats pulverized another opponent. After all, a team doesn't bat around twice and score 13 runs in a single inning against the winningest program in college baseball history (Texas) by getting lucky.
How the lineup changes worked
Marquess' changes to the lineup prior to the rubber match of Stanford's three-game series at Washington proved to be the accelerating spark of this reheating process. Before that game, the Cardinal skipper moved Stewart from the leadoff spot to the No. 9 hole, expressed confidence in the slumping Gaffney by inserting him into the top spot, and shifted Austin Wilson into the No. 2 hole to take over bat-control hit-and-run opportunities. The club was putting the wheels in motion often to kick its attack back in gear, so Wilson's bat was needed earlier in the order.
The changes immediately paid off, as Gaffney contributed from the leadoff spot with scrappy baserunning to score the winning run in the Stanford's 8-6 Saturday victory.
Then, on Monday, the floodgates burst open. Gaffney fully emerged from his slump, collecting two hits and scoring three runs. Wilson was spectacular again at the plate in hit-and-run situations, finishing 3 for 5 with five runs scored.
The Cardinal didn't just set the table for Stephen Piscotty and Brian Ragira; they prepared a white tablecloth Thanksgiving feast for their No. 3 and 4 hitters. Piscotty's three-run home run landed in San Jose, Ragira's only reached Fremont, and the two big boys in the middle combined for 12 RBI in one game. That was Piscotty's second time driving in seven runs this season.
"Sometimes when things aren't going your way in this game you need to shake things up," said Kenny Diekroeger, who finished Monday's game 3 for 6 with another four RBI. "Everyone definitely felt different hitting in a new spot and fortunately it worked out for us."
The monster has reawakened and is a major factor in the Pac-12 race (4-5) with 21 games remaining. Weather permitting, Stanford will face Pacific at some point this week before welcoming a mildly surprising Oregon squad to Sunken Diamond over the weekend. With suddenly hot Arizona State following the Ducks into town, it's the Cardinal's chance to make a move and a statement in the conference race.
They're hot again at just the right time.
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. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.
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