Jaffe: Early numbers offer hope for Omaha

Feb. 22, 2012, 1:30 a.m.

This year, the pressure is really on the Stanford baseball team. For the first time in 10 years, the Cardinal is in the top three of all the major polls, and this season will not be a success unless Stanford gets to Omaha. How do you play with those expectations weighing on you?


Quite well, thank you very much. Here’s a look at just how dominant Stanford was this weekend:


10: Let’s start off with a reminder that Vanderbilt came into the series as the No. 10 team in the country, which isn’t surprising considering that the Commodores were in the College World Series last season.


17: After just three games at Sunken Diamond, Vanderbilt dropped seven spots to No. 17. That tumble was the second-biggest in the country, behind only the eight-place drop by UCLA, who lost two of three home games to unranked Maryland.


8: On to the actual games. The Cardinal scored at least eight runs in each of the first three games of the season. Last year, Stanford only managed to score eight runs in two consecutive games twice.


18: In the first two games, Stanford’s offense was explosive, scoring 17 runs in its first 13 innings at the plate while running away from Vanderbilt in each game. Eight of the nine Cardinal regulars had at least one hit, run and RBI in the first two games, showing the incredible potential of this lineup. But that was just an appetizer for Sunday.


A team’s chances of winning a game that it trails 4-0 in the second aren’t great. Its chances of winning are even lower when its starter is already knocked out of the game, and when the opponent is a top-10 team…The chances of winning that same game by 13 runs? You might as well bet on the Generals to take down the Globetrotters.


Unless, of course, you have Stanford’s offense. The Cardinal reeled off 18 unanswered runs to blow the Commodores out of the water and end its opening weekend with a bang.


Consider this: last season (when, I should point out, Stanford did reach the Super Regionals) the Cardinal had 13 weekend series, each lasting three games. Only twice did Stanford score 18 runs in an entire series, and both came against the two worst teams in the Pac-10. Sunday, it took just seven innings against a top-10 opponent from the nation’s best conference for the Cardinal to put up 18 runs.


7: With all these runs on the board, it comes as no surprise that several players stood out for the Cardinal. In his first seven at-bats, first baseman Brian Ragira had six hits, and he finished the weekend with seven hits. Vanderbilt had only two players with more than two hits for the series.


Third baseman Stephen Piscotty was the slugger many people predicted he could be, as he knocked in seven runs on Sunday alone. He hit a home run in his first at-bat of the season and a grand slam on Sunday, putting him two-thirds of the way to his entire 2011 homer total of three. His three extra-base hits have helped him accrue an otherworldly .786 slugging percentage. Somehow, that isn’t even the best on the team though.


5: That distinction belongs to designated hitter Christian Griffiths, who missed all of 2011 with an injury. Despite hitting at the bottom of the lineup, he managed to slug .909 thanks to a home run and a pair of doubles. Griffiths had five RBI in his 11 at-bats this weekend, almost eclipsing his career total of six RBI in 65 at-bats coming in.


.500: Speaking of slugging percentage, five of the nine regulars are slugging at least .500. Last year, the Cardinal’s leader was left fielder Tyler Gaffney at .472. Likewise, Stanford has five regulars with an on-base percentage of at least .500, which is well above Piscotty’s team-leading .423 from 2011.


6.1: With all this hitting, you’d have to be crazy to say that the most impressive performance was on the mound. Luckily, I’m crazy. And more importantly, John Hochstatter was terrific.


Who, you ask? Hochstatter, a freshman lefty, came on in relief of A.J. Vanegas on Sunday with the Cardinal trailing 4-0. All he did was throw 6.1 scoreless innings to pick up the win. And oh by the way, he got those 19 outs without allowing a hit. So while the Cardinal batters were piling up all those runs, the Commodores were going quietly against Hochstatter.


Hochstatter wasn’t the only Stanford pitcher to have an impressive outing over the weekend. Friday starter Mark Appel looked every bit the No. 1 pick many expect him to be in the upcoming MLB Draft, throwing seven innings of two-hit ball to lead the Cardinal to the easy opening win. Saturday starter Brett Mooneyham, pitching for the first time since 2010, also looked to be on top of his game, allowing just three runs through six innings to help Stanford cruise on Saturday as well. If the pitching continues to be solid, it’ll continue to be tough to match the Cardinal’s hitting.


12: Stanford doesn’t have long to pat itself on the back, as No. 12 Texas comes to town this weekend, following a midweek game on Tuesday at Pacific. The Longhorns took two of three from the Cardinal last year in Austin and could pose a greater threat than Vanderbilt. Of course, Stanford poses quite a threat itself.


2: Somehow, despite winning in such convincing fashion (outscoring any team 35-13 is impressive, let alone the No. 10 team in the country) while No. 1 Florida lost one of its three games to then-No. 25 Cal State-Fullerton, Stanford did not move up in any poll, so it’ll have to settle for No. 2.


For now.


Jacob Jaffe thinks even he could pick up a win on the mound with Stanford’s offense backing him up. Talk about pitching mechanics with Jacob at jwjaffe”at” stanford.edu or on Twitter “at” Jacob_Jaffe.


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