By Jacob Jaffe
Well, I guess it’s about time we all admit that football season really is over. It was another incredible year, both in the NFL and in college. But as sad as it makes me, we’re now over a week into our post-football lives and over a month into the post-Stanford football doldrums.
This means it’s time for basketball season, right? Well, yes, but with both Stanford teams doing what they always do, it’s hard to find much to analyze. The men’s team is in the midst of its usual conference nose-dive, losing five of its last six to drop to the middle of the Pac-12 before an unimpressive win over dreadful USC yesterday. The once-high hopes from a 10-1 start have vanished thanks to a 7-7 stretch that saw the Cardinal win just three games by more than eight points while losing six by double digits. Instead of looking for Stanford in the latest Bracketology, Cardinal fans are back to looking up CBI dates.
Despite being incredibly successful, the women’s team is equally as predictable. Just like seemingly every year, Stanford is running over its competition in the regular season with just a lone loss to perennial nemesis Connecticut besmirching the team’s record. The Cardinal has allowed some teams to hang around, leading to a staggering three games decided by single digits. Stanford is great, and fans of the team are incredibly spoiled, but the fact remains that everyone knows the Cardinal will be one of the top seeds in the Big Dance. You can pretty much script Stanford’s way into at least the Elite Eight, so until then, the wins are just par for the course.
So what is there for a Cardinal fan to do? Well, it’s Stanford, so there are always other sports for the Cardinal to dominate. And one of those, baseball, starts this week. So why not check out a few numbers, Stat on the Back-style, to prepare you for baseball season.
13: In 2011, head coach Mark Marquess’ squad reached the Super Regionals before falling to North Carolina. Stanford ended the year ranked No. 13 in the Baseball America poll.
2: This year, Stanford is expected to surpass last season’s output, as the Cardinal is ranked in the top four in every poll and No. 2 in the Baseball America poll.
7: A big reason for the high expectations is the amount of talent returning to the Farm. Seven of the team’s eight starting position players from last year returned, with just catcher Zach Jones graduating.
79: In total, the Cardinal returns 79 percent of its at-bats, 76 percent of its runs scored and 82 percent of its hits from the 2011 team that hit .299. In other words, the lineup is stacked.
8: How stacked is the lineup? Take Saturday’s Cardinal and White scrimmage for example. In that game, the Cardinal team was comprised of the starters while the White team was mostly backups. Right fielder Austin Wilson, who hit .311 and led the team with five home runs, was batting eighth in the Cardinal lineup. Yes, eighth. That’s what happens when you have speedsters Jake Stewart and Tyler Gaffney at the top of the lineup, followed by RBI machines Stephen Piscotty, Brian Ragira and Kenny Diekroeger and solid contact-hitter Lonnie Kauppila. Let me say it again: the lineup is stacked.
140: As mentioned before, the main departure from the lineup is Jones, and the hole he leaves could be a big one. Jones has started 140 of the last 145 Stanford games behind the plate, so the Cardinal has not developed a clear backup for him. This year, utility infielder Eric Smith has been moved to catcher to compete with Christian Griffiths — who missed last year with an injury — Trevor Penny and Wayne Taylor, a promising freshman who may need some more seasoning in the field. As of now, there has not been a clear choice for the starting catcher job, so it will be an area to watch throughout the season.
48: While the starting lineup is almost all the same as in 2011, the 2012 pitching staff has had to undergo some changes. With the departures of Chris Reed, Jordan Pries, Danny Sandbrink and Scott Snodgress, the Cardinal lost 48 percent of its innings pitched from last year’s squad, not to mention 53 percent of its strikeouts. Pries and Sandbrink were two of the team’s top starting pitchers from last year’s squad, Snodgress was a key reliever, and Reed was a shutdown closer. How well Stanford can replace them will likely determine how far it can go in the postseason.
99: One aid to the pitching staff is the return of left-hander Brett Mooneyham, who missed all of last season with a hand injury. In 2010, Mooneyham racked up 99 strikeouts, the most of any Stanford pitcher over the last three seasons. If he can regain his past form, he will form a dynamic 1-2 punch with right-hander Mark Appel, the Friday starter who is projected by many to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft.
30: The final piece of the puzzle for any team is its schedule, because who you play and where you play can make all the difference. After a brutal 2011 schedule, the Cardinal can at least make fewer travel arrangements this year. Of the team’s 54 games, 30 are at Sunken Diamond (last year the Cardinal had 25), and only three are outside the Pacific Time Zone (the three-game set with new conference member Utah). The only non-conference road series is just down the highway against Fresno State, whereas last year Stanford traveled to Rice, Texas and Vanderbilt.
Still, the Cardinal has to play that same trio of highly ranked non-conference foes this year, but all will have to travel to the Farm. The Commodores, No. 10 in the Baseball America poll, will have first crack at Stanford this weekend in the season-opening series for both teams.
6/15: The College World Series begins on June 15 in Omaha. You might want to start looking up flights.
Jacob Jaffe won’t admit it, but he’s still in the running for the open catcher spot after showing off his hands in a stunning 2011 Ink Bowl performance. Send him some non-suggestive hand signals for the last week of the preseason at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.