Beginning on Friday, the Cardinal swings down south to Nashville, Tenn. to take on the No. 4 Vanderbilt Commodores (8-2) in a three-game series. The task ahead for a young Stanford team still finding its footing certainly seems daunting, but the Cardinal remains excited about the opportunity to prove itself on a national stage.
“They’re a very good team…Obviously playing them there will be really tough,” said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess. “It’ll be good for us. That’s why we schedule them, so we put a good gauge on us of where we need to be.”
Marquess also mentioned that freshman pitcher Cal Quantrill, who has started in both of the Card’s previous Friday night contests, will move back in the rotation to Sunday after getting the nod for Tuesday’s game against the University of San Francisco.
Freshman righties Brett Hanewich and Chris Viall will most likely take the mound on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Hanewich leads all Cardinal starters with a 1.08 ERA, but he has yet to record a win this season after his two previous outings resulted in no-decisions. Viall, with a 3.46 ERA, has not pitched in a Stanford loss this season, as his two previous starts ended in blowout wins for the Card.
Meanwhile, in the other dugout, Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin has many pitching weapons to choose from in his arsenal, but righty Tyler Beede has stood out with a strong start to the 2014 season. The junior from Auburn, Mass. boasts a 2-0 record and an 0.82 ERA. Starting pitchers Jared Miller and Tyler Ferguson, who also hold undefeated records and ERAs under 1.00, will likely start on Saturday and Sunday.
Despite opening the season on a tear with a 7-0 record and asserting their presence as one of the top teams in college baseball, the Commodores have shown some vulnerability ahead of their showdown with Stanford. On Tuesday, the Commodores fell 3-2 to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and lost again on Wednesday to the Evansville Aces 8-3. Both losses came at home on Hawkins Field. While Vanderbilt did not send out its formidable weekend starting pitchers, the offense sputtered at times on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
To combat the recent offensive struggles, Vanderbilt will look towards its leading batters to get runs on the board. Junior first baseman Zander Weil leads Vanderbilt with twelve hits and a 3.64 batting average. Freshman left fielder Bryan Reynolds has also burst on the scene with a .344 average and a team-leading 8 RBIs. Vandy will also look for key contributions from sophomore second baseman Dansby Swanson, who holds a .306 batting average after rebounding from a season-ending shoulder injury last season.
The Cardinal, similarly, will look for strong run support from its veteran leaders. Junior third baseman Alex Blandino knocked in a two-run double against San Francisco on Tuesday and continues to look sharp behind the plate as the season continues. Blandino is hitting .429 on the season, trailing only senior Brett Michael Doran, who holds a .522 average. Doran’s strong start to the season has been a huge boost for the Cardinal thus far. Finally, look for junior center fielder Austin Slater, who leads the Card with 10 RBIs, to help set the tone for Stanford behind the plate as it will look to jump out to early leads in a hostile environment.
While a point of concern earlier in the season, Stanford’s fielding looked very strong against both Texas and San Francisco. Although he has struggled behind the plate thus far, sophomore shortstop Drew Jackson has routinely displayed his incredible range and arm strength and Stanford will surely rely on him to continue making plays in Nashville. Senior Danny Diekroeger has also done a solid job since moving to first base at the start of the season.
If the Cardinal can continue its recent streak of timely hitting and solid defense, it should give a struggling Vandy ball club a lot of problems and will have a good chance to earn its first marquee series win of the season.
The matchup in the Music City begins Friday at 4 p.m. with games on Saturday at noon and Sunday at 10 a.m. as well.
Contact Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.