A nine-game winning streak is great, sure. But as No. 10 Stanford prepares to host unranked UNLV (10-3) at Sunken Diamond this weekend, the Cardinal (10-2) isn’t getting ahead of itself. Well, at least senior Dean McArdle isn’t.
“Nine wins in February and March don’t mean a whole lot,” the righthander said on Tuesday.
Even though the righty’s second victory of the season on Tuesday extended the Cardinal’s winning streak to nine games — the longest one for Stanford in 10 years — this team realizes that it can’t get caught up in its nonconference success.
Veterans like McArdle and junior Austin Wilson would know, having seen Stanford open 2012 with eight straight wins before dropping seven of nine conference games in late March and early April. Last year, the long finals break at the end of winter quarter doomed the streaking Cardinal.
“We had really a lot of momentum going into finals week, but it cut off because we had 10 days off and we didn’t play anyone,” Wilson admitted before this season. “So we kind of came out slow, and since then, we didn’t really get to pick it up. So hopefully this year, we can kind of change our mentality and stay fresh over finals break.”
It remains to be seen whether Stanford will stay hot all the way up to its March 22 conference opener, but the fact that the Cardinal has fared so well without the injured Wilson, the team’s top slugger and a likely first-round MLB Draft pick this June, is encouraging in and of itself.
It’s no coincidence that a nine-game hitting streak by one of Wilson’s classmates, first baseman Brian Ragira, has lined up exactly with the team’s perfect stretch. Fellow junior Danny Diekroeger is riding a six-game hitting streak of his own, and though Stanford hasn’t put up many crooked numbers — the team has yet to score eight runs in a game, which it did in six of its first 10 contests of 2012 — its timely hitting has been just enough. Stanford hasn’t lost when hitting a home run.
“I don’t know if we’re doing any one thing extraordinarily well,” McArdle said, “but it kind of just has come down to: we score three runs if we give up two.”
And on the mound, the Cardinal has performed better than head coach Mark Marquess could have asked at the start of the season after junior A.J. Vanegas went down with a back injury. Even without its projected Saturday starter, the Cardinal has compiled Division I’s sixth-best team ERA (1.74) and its ninth-best WHIP (0.98) through March 3.
In back-to-back Friday night complete games, senior ace Mark Appel (2-1) has made perhaps the two best starts of his career, allowing just five Fresno State runners to reach base (one on an error) on Feb. 22 before striking out 14 Texas batters and holding the Longhorns hitless through 5.2 innings on March 1.
Sophomore John Hochstatter has yet to display any of the durability issues that he struggled with last year, turning in three solid starts despite earning a trio of no decisions so far in three Cardinal victories.
And freshman Bobby Zarubin (1-0), who began the year thinking he would play in the infield, pitched eight two-hit innings in his first career start last Sunday.
There has even been some consistency in the bullpen, a real sore spot for the Cardinal down the stretch last season. In their 28.2 combined innings, primary relievers Sam Lindquist (three saves), David Schmidt (2-0) and Daniel Starwalt (2-0) have allowed just five earned runs; in fact, freshman Logan James is the only Stanford hurler with an ERA above 2.75.
“I think, over the past two weeks, we’ve pitched well, we’ve played defense, we’ve gotten some timely hits,” McArdle said. “Our weekend starters have been great, so it’s kind of been a combination of all the facets of this team coming together to win.”
Much of the same can be said for the Rebels, who take a six-game winning streak of their own into the weekend.
UNLV has six regular starters hitting above .300, led by a pair of seniors, centerfielder Mark Shannon (.382) and rightfielder Brandon Bayardi (.377). Freshman first baseman Justin Jones (.375) has driven in a team-high 12 runs.
Though the Rebels have yet to hit a home run this season, their 26 doubles were 18th-best in the country through March 3, paced by Shannon with five two-baggers. UNLV added five more doubles, with Shannon adding his team-high sixth, in Monday’s 14-1 rout of Hawaii.
UNLV has two weapons of its own on the hill, junior Buddy Borden (1-1) and sophomore Erick Fedde (2-0). Borden has yet to give up an earned run in 21.2 innings of work, while Fedde has struck out a team-high 21 batters in three starts while scattering just three extra-base hits. UNLV’s staff has been victimized by its defense at times; the Rebels have given up 19 unearned runs on the young season.
Tonight’s series opener at Sunken Diamond is slated for 5:30 p.m., with 1 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday.
Contact Joseph Beyda at jbeyda “at” stanford.edu.