The Big Transformation

Lonnie Kauppila had the Sunday walk-off

Stanford baseball's bread and butter has transformed over the course of just one season. Last year's offense-first squad is winning in 2013 thanks to its pitching. It's early, but the Cardinal are now 10-2 with nine straight wins, in the top ten in the polls, and No. 17 nationally in the all-important RPI.

Pitching Prowess
Not even the Candlestick Park-like winds at Santa Clara Tuesday could derail Stanford's winning streak. The tear reached nine in a row amidst gusty conditions that shook not only the ballpark's stars and stripes, but also the flagpole holding them afloat. Ensuing craziness only served to further harden a Farm Boys' relief corps that has already gutted its way to several victories in the young season.

In a tied game Sunday versus Texas, Garrett Hughes overcame strep throat to deliver a perfect ninth inning that set up Lonnie Kauppila's walk-off double in the bottom half. The 2-1 win segued beautifully into Tuesday night, when Stanford overcame the absurd wind that pushed Austin Slater's sixth-inning deep fly to right back into the hands of the Broncos' shortstop. Sam Lindquist slammed the door on Santa Clara with the tying run on second base in a 6-4 final. The Cardinal got out of Dodge before rain started falling with nine consecutive wins in hand.

"[The wind] made for an interesting night," third baseman Alex Blandino said. "That was the coldest I've played in for a long time."

Still, Cardinal pitching prevailed, providing a little something to chew on: Stanford is undefeated when scoring more than one run this season and -- up to this point -- has not lost a game in which it has led, both remarkable statistics in spite of the small sample size. Pitching staff depth, an ominous question mark entering the season, has proven excellent even without A.J. Vanegas and Freddy Avis thus far. A mixture of young and veteran arms have powered the team to its early 10-2 record on the strength of their 1.77 ERA and .203 opposing batting average.

Future prospects are excellent even if Stanford's opposition scouts their way to increased success against the Farm Boys' arms. Mark Marquess affirms that Avis is expected to make his Stanford debut any game now, while the closer Vanegas is throwing again following offseason back surgery and appears to be on target for his desired late-March return. Pitching coach Rusty Filter may not be far from having two fresh weapons in his back pocket to help Stanford's staff through a potential counter-adjustment period.

More Runs Wanted
Despite the mound riches, though, continued offensive improvement should be on the Cardinal's priority list at this point. Stanford's new reliance on pitching has led to high drama, as the Cardinal have won half their games in the final at bat. Without Stephen Piscotty, Jake Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Kenny Diekroeger, and Austin Wilson (injured), the attack isn't nearly the juggernaut it was through 12 games last season, when it had already churned out 116 runs.

The bats, though, are showing signs of life. Brian Ragira and Danny Diekroeger have been stalwarts in the order, as expected. Justin Ringo and Austin Slater have provided pleasant offensive surprises that have numbed Wilson's injury; their production has bought time for Kauppila, Blandino, Wayne Taylor, and Dominic Jose to find their respective grooves. That entire quartet has shown signs of life: Kauppila's winning rocket complemented his Pac-12-high 12 walks, Blandino's clutch base hit set it up, Taylor's average has climbed from triple donut land to .250, and Jose took his season's best swings Tuesday at Santa Clara.

So, since Candlestick Park opened this analysis, it's only right to finish with another San Francisco analogy: 2012 Stanford baseball, with its awesome offensive arsenal, played a whole lot like the 2002 Giants. That team's big bats won plenty of games, but they didn't enjoy the pitching consistency to win a championship. Early on, the 2013 Cardinal team has transformed into quite the opposite: This is a ballclub reminiscent of the 2010 or 2012 Giants. They play close games, they enjoy superb mound work, and they now pull out clutch wins -- not 16-0 blowouts and 15-run innings -- to win the day.

Still, more runs will widen the currently razor-thin margin for error. If the Farm Boys can squeeze out some additional offense -- and there have been hints of that happening -- this 2013 campaign has the promise of becoming a very fun ride.



David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.

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