Cardinal Back On Track…
By CB360 Contributor Jack Blanchat
Stanford getting a big series win over UCLA was important for several reasons, but the most important reason is that it kept the Cardinal from going into a full tailspin. Stanford had lost five straight Pac-10 games before the Bruins came to town, so getting the win was very important to improve the mood of a team that had been dropping in the rankings.
Even though Saturday’s 5-4 walkoff victory was ugly – Stanford won because the Bruins’ bullpen self-destructed to allow four runs in the bottom of the ninth – it definitely was a huge confidence booster for the Cardinal to beat such a solid pitching staff.
The Stanford offense had an unmemorable weekend overall, but knocking around Gerrit Cole on Thursday night was certainly impressive. The Cardinal hit three home runs, including Zach Jones‘ third three-run homer of the year, and sophomore Tyler Gaffney knocked Cole out of the game after just 6 and 1/3 innings with a two-run shot.
But even though the Cardinal bats woke up against UCLA’s “Ace 1A,” they went silent just a day later against “Ace 1B.”
Trevor Bauer struck out 17 Cardinal hitters in a complete game 4-1 win on Friday night, and his stuff was unbelievable. The junior had 10 strikeouts through just four innings, using a fastball that touched 97 miles an hour, and a dominant curveball that never seemed to miss the strike zone.
After watching his performance on Friday, if someone were to tell me that Bauer is not the best pitcher in college baseball this year, I’d just assume they were crazy. Bauer leads the nation with 127 strikeouts, has an ERA of 1.42 and a WHIP of .802 in just ten starts this season (oh, and four of those starts were complete game wins). Simply put, I don’t think it’s possible for any team to hit Bauer when he’s pitching like this.
And, to make matters worse for other teams, freshman Sunday starter Adam Plutko is also very good – a 1.69 ERA this year – but the UCLA bullpen is a bit of a cause for concern because UCLA will most likely be in a lot of low-scoring games this year.
This is because UCLA’s bats are not special, but they hit just well enough behind their three-headed monster of a pitching staff to beat anyone on any given day. The Bruins only have three batters that hit over .300, but they did have eight extra-base hits in three games off the Stanford pitching staff, so every batter can make you pay, particularly against righthanded pitchers because UCLA starts five lefties in their lineup.
Looking ahead, both of these teams are going to be threats in the postseason, but both teams do have things to fix. UCLA’s starters give them a chance to go back to Omaha – and maybe to win it all – but their offense and bullpen are concerns. Like I said, I don’t foresee UCLA scoring a ton of runs, so if any team can find a way to get past their starters and dig into the bullpen, the Bruins are vulnerable. However, I’m not sure how a team can get past all three Bruin starters in a double-elimination format, so expect to see UCLA in June.
If Stanford wants to make it deep into the postseason, it needs two players to regain their early-season form – Kenny Diekroeger and Jordan Pries.
Diekroeger has been struggling at the plate lately – his batting average has dropped from .422 to .336 over the last month – but he did have a three-run homer in Stanford’s midweek game against Santa Clara, as well as the walkoff single in Saturday’s game.
Pries has now lost his last three decisions (one against Trevor Bauer and his 17 strikeouts), but his stuff has not looked spectacular lately. After watching Pries dominate Cal and Vanderbilt in his first two starts of the season, I expected him to have a monster year, but he has not been able to dominate the mound like he did early in the year in his last two starts. However, he has not gotten any help from his offense – Stanford has scored only three runs in his last three starts.
Do I expect those two to get right over the last two months of the season? Absolutely. Both are veterans who know what it is like to go through the ups and downs of a long season, and I think the big series win over UCLA will help them regain their form. If that does happen, the Cardinal could be poised for a major late-season surge deep into the postseason.