A Chance to Set the Rotation
Fittingly then, it is the weak-hitting Huskies, last in virtually every Pac-12 offensive category, who visit Sunken Diamond this weekend. Stanford's pitching staff, loaded with Saturday and Sunday questions despite its pretty 2.80 ERA, may finally have its chance to establish a firm rotation against inferior competition. Mark Appel has been nothing short of fantastic, but inconsistency from talented freshmen Marcus Brakeman and Bobby Zarubin may well push Garrett Hughes and Logan James to start this weekend. Washington's .244 team average, .301 slugging percentage and .319 on-base percentage should provide fertile grounds for such an experiment.
Meanwhile, the recent offensive breakout came in no small part thanks to USC (12-20, 5-7) and San Jose State's struggles. The Trojans' 4.98 ERA is by far Pac-12's worst, while the Spartans chime in at a truly atrocious 5.67 ERA. For Stanford's offense, then, the past two opponents were exactly what the doctor ordered. Immediately after recording three errors to only two hits in a midweek win over Cal (16-16, 5-7), the Cardinal pounded out 51 hits while committing only two errors over this past four-game stretch.
Some unexpected sources of production have kept Stanford afloat. First and foremost, Brant Whiting has smashed his way into consistent starts at the catcher's spot. His .412 average and spectacular .995 OPS have forced Mark Marquess' hand, and Whiting rewarded his skipper by delivering Stanford's biggest hit of the season this past Friday, a three-run homer that proved the difference in a 4-2 win. Wayne Taylor's positional flexibility (you don't see a catcher line up in center field every day, but Taylor was a star running quarterback in high school) has allowed Stanford to accommodate Whiting behind the dish.
While stalwart Brian Ragira still searches for a hot streak to push his average up from its current .261 clip, Justin Ringo and Austin Slater are both putting together career years. Ringo's .319 clip leads the team, while "the other Austin" should soon team with Wilson to create a potent combination in the middle of the Stanford lineup. Don't forget about shortstop Lonnie Kauppila's notable patience at the plate: his .416 on-base percentage has gone a long way toward infusing the lineup with energy and keeping innings alive.
Perhaps most importantly, third baseman Alex Blandino is rediscovering his stroke. A year after bursting on to the scene by hitting eight home runs as a freshman, the St. Francis (Mountain View) product has been needed to offset the major impact of Stanford's MLB Draft losses. For over a month, Blandino was floundering at around .200 (unsurprisingly, greater lineup struggles coincided with this slump), but Blandino is now 11 for his past 33 (.333) after blasting a home run Tuesday. His average has climbed to .241, he's leading the team with 17 runs scored, and he's provided hope that a corresponding boost in confidence will translate into further success against better pitching.
Stanford's conference schedule is undoubtedly backloaded, as the stretch after this weekend's Washington's visit highlights. Defending national champion Arizona is on deck, with the smoldering Oregon schools (a combined 49-14 overall and 16-5 in league, good for first and second in the Pac-12 standings), Arizona State (19-9, 6-6), Cal, and UCLA (20-9, 7-5) to follow.
and closer AJ Vanegas both back, the Cardinal are finally close to
full health again. Now, they have an excellent opportunity to iron
out pitching kinks and polish off their offense before the heart of the Pac-12 order comes to bat.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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