Jack Mosbacher was a member of the Stanford baseball team from 2008-2011. Each week, he’ll take a look at the Cardinal’s ups and downs on its road to the College World Series.
Suddenly, everything was going right for No. 10 Stanford again this weekend, as the Cardinal swept No. 23 Arizona State and clawed its way back into the race for the Pac-12 title. Most importantly, the Cardinal righted its previously sinking ship, breaking out of an ugly offensive slump to score 34 runs in three wins against the Sun Devils in a must-win series.
The Cardinal is peaking at the right time. Stanford probably can’t lose another series if they hope to get home-field advantage for the Regional and Super Regional tournaments.
Baseball can be a fickle game. Every season has its mountains and valleys, and Stanford has struggled mightily at times in the current campaign. However, this team has proven itself a fighter. The firepower displayed in this weekend’s return-to-form offensive explosion against one of the nation’s best pitching staffs showed once again just how potent this Cardinal offense can be when clicking on all nine cylinders.
Now that things are back to normal, it’s time for this Stanford team to revisit its goals and recommit to a plan for reaching them.
At the outset of every season, Stanford’s goals are the same: compete for a Pac-12 Championship and make it to the College World Series in Omaha. This past weekend’s series marked the halfway point in Pac-12 play. Though it feels like the season started only a few weeks ago, time is flying by. What does Stanford have to do to make its Omaha dreams a reality?
When it comes to predicting which teams will make it through the playoffs to Omaha in June, one variable consistently exerts an overriding influence: hosting a Regional. Hosting both Regional and Super Regional contests at home has far-reaching implications for a team trying to make it to the World Series. In last year’s tournament, seven of the eight teams that made it to Omaha played both their Regional and Super Regional on their home turf. Although correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, there’s something to be said for this apparent relationship.
Any team trying to reach the World Series while playing on the road is fighting an improbable, though not impossible, uphill battle. Take last year’s Stanford team, for instance. After finishing the season on a hot streak, the Cardinal upset host Cal State-Fullerton in the Regional and headed to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina in the Super Regional. This time, Stanford was playing in heat and humidity the likes of which most of the players had never experienced. Suddenly, the strike zone would grow eight inches for the Cardinal hitters and pull a magical shrinking act when the Tar Heels came to the plate. Two lightning-quick games later, Stanford’s season was over. Point being, Stanford needs to set its sights on becoming one of the top-eight national seeds in this year’s tournament, thus securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
By my count, Stanford will need to win a pair of hard-fought series against UCLA and Oregon State and hope for a sweep against Washington State, lowly Utah or Cal to end the year. Should the season end this way, I’d be shocked if Stanford didn’t lock up the seventh or eighth seed in the 64-team playoff and win the right to host the Regional and Super Regional at Sunken Diamond.
Is Stanford talented enough to pull this off? Without a doubt. Will they? That’s a whole other question. I guess that’s what will make these last five weeks of regular season baseball worth watching. For now, the Cardinal needs to come together around the shared and immediate goal of performing their best in the final five series of the season in order to set up an optimal scenario for getting to Omaha. After that, all bets are off.
This Stanford team has proven conclusively that it can play with anybody, so having to play a Regional or Super Regional on the road will not necessarily be a death knell for this gifted team. However, hosting should become this team’s primary goal as it heads down the home stretch of the 2012 season. If the Cardinal can pull it off, opponents will be hard-pressed to keep this team out of Omaha in June.