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.
There are few positives to be drawn from No. 17 Stanford baseball’s untimely series loss to No. 23 Oregon State this past weekend in Corvallis. However, what the weekend did highlight is just how important it is that the Cardinal closes its season with a resounding bang in the remaining three weeks, in hopes of ensuring as many games at Sunken Diamond as possible.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of last weekend’s series against the Beavers. In the previous two weeks, Stanford had bullied its way back into the Pac-12 chase, taking a pair of crucial series from fellow contenders No. 19 Arizona State and No. 11 UCLA. But after this weekend, that momentum is gone. With the series loss, Stanford has dropped into a three-way tie for fifth place in a league that it was unanimously picked to win before the season started.
Perhaps the worst part about this weekend’s loss is that Stanford did not play particularly badly. After taking the opener from the Beavers, the Cardinal dropped Saturday’s game after pitcher Brett Mooneyham was scratched from his start with the flu. Then, the Cardinal fell in an extra-inning affair on Sunday to lose the series. Given the circumstances, it’s hard to be too harsh on our guys or pinpoint one specific area of weakness. This weekend, they just got beat.
If the team can take away one lesson from the weekend, it should be that it’s incredibly hard to walk into Corvallis and take a series against Oregon State. The environment is foreign and hostile, the weather is normally terrible and head coach Pat Casey’s teams play a tough, gritty brand of baseball. By my estimate, Stanford would win a neutral-site series with Oregon State eight out of ten times. But playing on the road distorts the odds in a big and noticeable way.
Of course, the “on the road” phenomenon is not limited to playing in Corvallis. Winning baseball games is a hard-enough task on its own, but as anyone who has played sports at any level knows, playing in enemy territory makes the task even harder.
In previous articles, I have stressed the importance of being one of the top-eight “national seeds” in the college baseball playoffs, with those teams winning the right to host the Regional and Super-Regional contests on their home turfs. This weekend again indicated just how crucial it is that Stanford claws its way into one of those seeds. Even if Stanford makes it through its Regional but doesn’t get to host the Super, it can expect that its road to Omaha will run through somewhere tougher than Corvallis.
Luckily for the Cardinal and its fans, the dream of hosting isn’t dead yet.
Although this weekend’s losses were huge setbacks, Stanford’s easy schedule in the last three weeks of the season and the sheer talent on its team make them impossible to write off. If Stanford can make a strong run and collect at least two series sweeps in its remaining three series, a coveted top-eight national seeding might be in reach.
Currently, Stanford is ranked No. 13 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), the equation that most accurately predicts the relative strength of performance and the college baseball playoff picture. If Stanford can get two sweeps against three conference bottom feeders–eighth-place Washington State, last-place Utah or ninth-place Cal–it could very well climb back to the top of the Pac-12.
Of course, Stanford does not control its own destiny, and many of the Cardinal’s hopes rely on the performances of the teams that it is chasing, but there is an urgent need for Stanford to come together and focus in these last three weeks.
I still stand by what I said before the season began: Stanford is the most talented team in the country. Now that I watch these games from the stands, I get to talk with professional scouts, all of whom marvel at the power and speed of the players who trot out in cardinal and white uniforms every game.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that this team doesn’t necessarily need to host in order to make it to the College World Series come June, and I’m not suggesting that there is only one palm-tree lined path to Omaha for the Cardinal. Speaking from experience, however, I know that Stanford’s chances of making it to the National Championship series are greatly increased by winning the right to host the playoffs at Sunken Diamond.
As the Cardinal prepares for the final stretch of this up-and-down season, I hope that the right leaders step up and remind the whole team–particularly the younger guys, who have been relied on more heavily as the season progresses–that playing in Omaha would be the thrill of a lifetime. Furthermore, I hope that Stanford remembers that its days on the field are numbered, and that the most likely avenue to extending its run will be winning the chance to play a few more games in Palo Alto.