After a disappointing 2013 campaign in which Stanford’s baseball team fell short of the postseason for just the fifth time in head coach Mark Marquess’s 34 seasons at the helm, the Cardinal are back in the NCAA tournament, as they enter the Bloomington, Indiana regional this weekend on a hot streak, looking to make a deep run. Here’s a look at key numbers that tell the story of how the team got to this point.
19-7: The Cardinal’s record since April 12, after they went 11-16 to begin the season.
Coming out of the gate, Stanford started its season off slowly against one of the toughest non-conference slates in the country. The team began with three weekend series against teams in the top 12 in RPI — home against Rice (7 in RPI), at Texas (12), at Vanderbilt (8) — and followed that up with a home series against Kansas (47). Marquess sent out a freshman to start Opening Day for the first time since Mike Mussina got the nod in 1988, and would go on to send out freshmen to start the team’s first 27 games.
But while the freshmen pitchers surprisingly held their own in their first two and a half months playing collegiate baseball, the Cardinal offense struggled early. Runners would reach base and move into scoring position early in innings, but they were often stranded by a lack of timely hitting. Before April 12, Stanford hit just .246 and owned a .330 on-base percentage. But the team turned it around after that, as it closed out the season hitting .292 with a .364 on-base percentage in its final 26 games. That offensive surge was a major force behind the Cardinal’s postseason push.
.455: Junior Austin Slater’s batting average over his career-long 17-game hitting streak, the ninth-longest Stanford streak since 1988.
Slater has been one of the major reasons behind the Cardinal’s offensive turnaround in the second half of the season. Though his batting average did hover around .300 for the majority of the season, the center fielder from Jacksonville, Florida has reached a new level over his last 17 games. Slater has scored 14 runs over that span and has also become one of the Cardinal’s most efficient and reliable run producers. During the hitting streak, he has driven in 15 runs, taking advantage of being regularly slotted in the cleanup spot since the Arizona series at the beginning of May. With runners in scoring position, he’s been incredibly effective since the beginning of the season, tallying 16 RBIs in 17 opportunities with a runner at third and less than two outs.
Protected by sophomore right fielder Zach Hoffpauir in the five hole, who himself is hitting .520 with three homers and 13 RBIs over his last 13 games, Slater is sure to do some damage in the heart of Stanford’s lineup this weekend.
66: The number of sacrifice bunts executed by the offense this season, ranked 20th nationally.
Despite the Cardinal’s increased offensive production of late, a constant in Marquess’s strategy has been using small ball to push across runs, something fans are sure to see against tougher competition in the regional. While at times this approach has led to precious outs being wasted, Stanford often takes advantage of sacrifices to get out to early leads. The strategy has proven to be an effective one, as the team owns a 21-5 record when scoring first this season.
Senior Brett Michael Doran has accounted for a third of the team’s sacrifice bunts, as his 22 set a Stanford single-season record and rank second in the nation this season behind Washington’s Andrew Ely. No other player on the Cardinal roster has more than 10 sacrifice bunts.
2.88: The combined ERA of the Cardinal’s starting rotation of freshman Cal Quantrill, junior John Hochstatter and sophomore Logan James over the last four weekend series.
Stanford’s current starting rotation was really only set a month ago, before the team’s series against UCLA in Westwood. When Hochstatter took over freshman Chris Viall’s spot in the weekend rotation on April 13 in Washington, and James took over freshman Brett Hanewich’s weekend spot after a strong first mid-week start against Pacific on April 29, there weren’t many expectations for the pitchers who had up until that point in the season been coming out of the bullpen. Hochstatter had experience starting behind Mark Appel ‘13 in his freshman and sophomore years, but James had only made three career starts prior to this season.
But the rotation came together and became the glue that held the team together during the stretch run. Over those last four weekend series, the trio went a combined 8-2 with a 2.88 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and a 6.3 K/9 rate over 12 starts. More importantly, heading into a marathon tournament where the Cardinal may play five games in four days this weekend, the starters averaged seven innings per start over that span. Going deep into ballgames will be crucial in the postseason in order to save the bullpen for key situations.
.9763: Stanford’s regular season fielding percentage, which ranked 14th nationally and just .001 behind the school record of .9773 set in 2005.
The Cardinal’s defensive prowess has slipped under the radar this season, but their performance was undoubtedly historic. While the Stanford pitching staff certainly pitched to contact this season, as their 314 regular season strikeouts are the team’s fewest dating back to at least the 2000 season, the defense proved ready to handle the increased workload. The Cardinal committed just 50 errors over their 53 regular season games, and tallied 24 errorless ballgames in which they owned a 15-9 record.
Stanford, seeded third in its regional, will begin the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 11 a.m. at Bart Kaufman Field against Indiana State. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.