Ranked as a national seed for the first time since 2004, No. 8 Stanford baseball (40-14, 21-9 Pac-12) will serve as a regional host for the NCAA championships from June 1-5. Coming off of an impressive 40-win season with wins in 21 of their last 23 games, the Cardinal are hoping to make a statement against Sacramento State (32-27, 12-12 WAC), their first round matchup. Senior staff writer Olivia Hummer, contributing writer Ariana Rollins and editors Lorenzo Rosas and Laura Anderson discuss Stanford’s postseason hopes.
Both Stanford and Sacramento State are coming into the regional matchup on hot streaks. The Cardinal most recently swept Washington State in dominant fashion, and the Hornets are coming off an underdog Western Athletic Conference championship win over the weekend. What does Stanford need to focus on in regional play to be successful against a team that it has not seen since 2009?
Olivia Hummer (OH): Above all, Stanford will need to rely on what got it to this point: exceptional pitching and a never-say-die attitude. One mark of a good team is the ability of any player to provide a late-game spark, and the Cardinal have that in spades. If the rotation remains as locked-in as it has looked in the last few starts, I can’t see Stanford dropping this one. The bats are hot, and with strong play on the mound, the Cardinal should be more than able to provide run support.
Ariana Rollins (AR): The thing that really stands out to me for the Hornets in the Western Athletic Conference Championship is that they held their opponents to eight runs over four games while Sacramento State themselves scored 36. This speaks to a team with great work in the outfield, something Stanford has sometimes struggled against this season. The Cardinal need to focus on their offense – in particular on trying to get some hits in early – in order to be successful against a team coming off of such a strong streak.
Lorenzo Rosas (LR): Ultimately, as Ariana mentioned, Sacramento State finished the season on fire while marching to the WAC championship largely due to exceptional pitching from the Hornet pitching staff, highlighted by tournament MVP senior Justin Dillon. Dillon returned to the mound in the tournament final on short rest and continued to flaunt his abilities, delivering a one-hit, five-inning outing that effectively shut out the opposing offense for the entirety of the match.
Therefore, the Cardinal’s prolific top four batters in the lineup – junior Matt Winaker, sophomore Nico Hoerner, senior Quinn Brodey and freshman Daniel Bakst – are absolutely critical for Stanford’s success, and they will need to prevent the high-flying, streaking Hornet pitchers from attaining rhythm on the mound. All four are currently batting over .300 for the season and hold the majority of Cardinal runs and RBIs, and as playoff season begins, each batter will need to continue to produce as both the each at bat holds significantly more importance and opposing teams stop making regular season mistakes.
Laura Anderson (LA): I think what has made the Cardinal so successful this year has been their ability to deliver long rallies, with a variety of players chipping in. Creating four- or five-run innings really puts a damper on an opponent’s offense and gives the pitchers some room to breathe. If Stanford can continue to put up those long innings and score in bunches, it will be a serious contender throughout the postseason, especially against teams like lower-seeded Sacramento State.
An impressive aspect of the Cardinal season has been the pitching staff, who have combined for a 3.44 ERA over the course of the season and have racked up a total 390 strikeouts. As strategic planning is crucial in the postseason, who is likely to start on the mound for the Cardinal on Thursday against Sacramento State? What should the rotation look like during Regional play?
OH: Given the double-elimination format of the regional round, there is a bit of a question mark on the mound, but I don’t think it’s worth overthinking. With Andrew Summerville’s status questionable after being preemptively pulled for a blister in his last start, the ball should be placed in the hands of sophomore ace Kris Bubic, unless Marquess is looking to save Bubic for the second game, in which case he could start senior Chris Castellanos. That being said, I’d be surprised to see anyone but Bubic on the mound against Sac State. Nine has a lot of faith in each of his starters, and messing with the rotation seems like a no-go at this point, especially after Castellanos tossed 8.0 innings on Saturday. Stanford should open emphatically to build momentum going forward, and Bubic has earned his place at the top of the rotation.
AR: This is a tricky question, in part because we have so many great pitchers! Kris Bubic has started most of the last series, but would the team want to save him for later and maybe put senior Chris Castellanos up? Junior southpaw Andrew Summerville left early as a precaution due to an injury last week, so he’ll be well-rested, though Marquess could still be cautious about using him too early. My vote is to stick with what works and start with Kris Bubic again, knowing that we have great options for relief pitchers should the team want to allow him to rest.
LR: Similar to the reasons mentioned above and below, I strongly believe that Marquess will hand the ball to the team’s strikeout leader sophomore Kris Bubic over the likes of senior Chris Castellanos and junior Andrew Summerville. While Summerville’s injury may have cleared up after the week rest, I can’t imagine a scenario where the Cardinal gain an advantage from taking a chance by starting the junior over strong, healthier starters in Castellanos and Bubic. In addition, Castellanos may own the team lead in wins, but Bubic’s strong season saw the sophomore rank 7th in conference individual ERA, a sincere accomplishment when considering the deeply talented Pac-12. Furthermore, unlike Bubic, Summerville does have experience working in relief, appearing twice this season while also coming off the bench in seasons past.
LA: I could see Bubic getting the start on Thursday. He’s coming off nearly a week of rest after a stellar performance on Friday against Washington State, so he should be gearing to go for the Cardinal. And while Castellanos has more wins (eight on the season), he recently pitched eight innings on Sunday and could be in for a longer period of rest. In a double-elimination regional, Marquess might decide to save his senior star for a potential final game on Saturday/Sunday and give Summerville (if he’s healthy) or freshman Erik Miller the start on Friday.
Contact Olivia Hummer at ohummer ‘at’ stanford.edu, Ariana Rollins at arianar ‘at’ stanford.edu, Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Laura Anderson at lauraand ‘at’ stanford.edu.