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