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Wednesday roundtable: Scouting the regional-bound Cardinal

In the final Wednesday roundtable of Vol. 246, we turn to playoff-bound Stanford baseball for a change of pace and a current topic. It was announced on Monday that Stanford would be heading to the Bloomington Regional with Indiana, Indiana State and Youngstown State a their competition, with the first game coming against Indiana State on Friday. We asked baseball writers Jordan Wallach, Michael Peterson and Vihan Lakshman: Whose contributions will be the most pivotal in getting the Cardinal past the Regional and into the Super Regional?

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Junior John Hochstatter (above) will hope to give his team innings this weekend in a packed regional schedule. He has excelled since taking over a spot in the starting rotation, going 7-0 with a 2.68 ERA in seven starts. (SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily)

Michael: The key to winning multiple games in a short period of time in the playoffs will almost certainly be the depth of the starting pitching rotation and its ability to pitch deep into games. The Cardinal could potentially play in as many as five games in four days, likely using five different starting pitchers to get that job done. Their two biggest adversaries in the regional, Indiana and Indiana State, have potent lineups, as the Hoosiers possess six batters who hit over .310 during the regular season and the Sycamores have a balanced lineup that boasts seven players hitting over .270.

In order to win games against these teams, the starting pitchers will need to eat up innings and keep the opponents off the board early to avoid depleting the bullpen during the packed stretch of games. Fortunately for Stanford, this situation seems perfect for the abundance of starting pitchers that the Card have used this season.

We know that freshman Cal Quantrill can go toe-to-toe with any other starting pitcher after finishing his first regular season 5-5 with a 2.92 ERA — and much of that coming as the Friday night starter. As of late, junior John Hochstatter and sophomore Logan James have excelled in the rotation as well, with their performances playing a large role in delivering Stanford to the postseason. Hochstatter has won all seven of his starts, compiling a 2.68 ERA over that span and throwing two complete games. His ability to go deep into games (averaging 7.2 innings per start) will prove vital to Stanford’s postseason chances. Similarly, James has thrown seven innings in back-to-back starts, and has not allowed more than two earned runs in all five starts.

If needed, freshmen Brett Hanewich and Chris Viall are each equally prepared to start as well. Hanewich started 13 games and Viall also started eight games this season, with both pitchers beginning the season in the starting rotation. In his last outing in the final home game of the season against Pacific, Hanewich threw a complete game and only allowed two runs.

The starting rotation proved to be the backbone of the Cardinal for much of the season, and it will need to continue that if Stanford is to advance to the Super Regional.

Jordan: While the Cardinal’s confident starting pitchers can propel the team through a marathon double-elimination tournament, Stanford’s offense has also been key down the stretch and can have a big impact this weekend. Since April 13, the team has gone 19-7 and a rejuvenated offense has hit for a .292 batting average. Leading the charge and poised to make key contributions will be junior center fielder Austin Slater. He has been one of the Cardinal’s key storylines of the season, as he has hit safely in 17 consecutive games, the ninth-longest Stanford streak since 1988. Over that span, he has hit .448 (30-for-67) with 15 RBIs, raising his season’s batting average to a team-leading .349.

Slater has consistently been able to drive in runs as well, as his 36 RBIs rank second behind senior third baseman Alex Blandino. In 18 opportunities this season with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, he has tallied 16 RBIs. Due to efficiency like this, Slater has gained a stranglehold on the cleanup spot in head coach Mark Marquess’s lineup since the team’s Arizona series.

Another Cardinal player who has excelled this season and has exploded of late is sophomore right fielder Zach Hoffpauir. The two-sport extraordinaire who also plays free safety for David Shaw’s football squad started 51 of the team’s 53 games in 2014 after starting just four games in the 2013 season. He has hit safely in 14 of his last 15 games, and over his last 13 games, Hoffpauir has hit .520 (26-for-50) with three homers and 13 RBIs. In that 13-game span, he has improved his batting average from .271 to .339 and finished with a team-leading .522 slugging percentage.

While the offense started the season slowly, it gathered momentum as hitters began to step up by driving more runners in instead of leaving them stranded — which was certainly a problem early on. The back-to-back combination of Slater at cleanup and Hoffpauir in the five-hole is sure to give opposing pitchers trouble as they navigate the Cardinal’s lineup.

Vihan: I’m going to go with the contributions of the bullpen. Michael’s assessment is absolutely-spot on: Stanford starting pitchers need to eat up innings to avoid depleting the bullpen, but the Cardinal relief pitchers will likely have to finish the job. The third game of Stanford’s penultimate conference series with Washington State immediately comes to my mind as a time when the bullpen failed to deliver in a crucial game — giving up eight runs over two innings and spoiling a solid outing by starter Logan James.

On the season, Stanford’s bullpen has been inconsistent at times, and the pressure only mounts in the postseason as the final outs become tougher to record. Senior A.J. Vanegas, who led the team with six saves, should provide valuable leadership with his postseason experience, earning a spot on the 2012 Regional All-Tournament Team. Aside from Vanegas, relievers Chris Castellanos, Marcus Brakeman, Sam Lindquist and Tyler Thorne, amongst others, will have to step up and deliver against some talented lineups in Indiana and Indiana State. If the Card can get solid relief pitching in the late innings, they could surprise some people and make a serious run in the regional.

Michael Peterson, Jordan Wallach and Vihan Lakshman are thinking about making the trip to Bloomington, just in case the Cardinal need some extra arms over the five-games-in-four-days stretch. Give them some pitching advice at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu, jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu, and vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About The Daily Sports Staff

The Daily Sports Staff is the collective moniker of an overworked, beleaguered, underpaid collection of sportswriters that feel comfortable enough with their own self-identities to give up any sense of individualism for the good of the sports section. To contact The Daily Sports Staff, send an email to dpark027 'at' stanford.edu to reach Do-Hyoung Park, keeper of the souls of those sportswriters.