By Jose Saldana
This is part one of The Daily’s season preview of Stanford baseball. This part gives a recap of last season to understand the current state of the team.
Last season marked the end of one of the most incredibly successful tenures in college baseball. After 41 years as head coach on the Farm, Mark Marquess went out in the setting sun back in June, retiring from coaching.
Although the team couldn’t propel Marquess to one final College World Series run, the spirit that was constant in every Marquess-led team remained true and maybe was even truer last year.
The year ended in little more than a footnote — a loss to No. 2 seeded Cal State Fullerton in the NCAA Regional — but the whole season was driven by Marquess’ retirement, and it spurred an incredible season for Stanford.
The Cardinal won 21 games in a tough Pac-12, which included the No. 1 team in the nation in Oregon State. Before 2017, the last time Stanford had won 21 games or more in the conference was back in 1998, and the last time the Cardinal had come in second was 2008.
The success at the end of the season largely contrasted the mediocre start the Cardinal began it with. Going 19-12, Stanford seemed to be headed to on the same trend as the years before: A solid if unspectacular team that would rank closer to the middle of the Pac-12 than the top.
From 2013 through 2016, Stanford averaged 30.5 wins.
It was a period of poor Stanford baseball that was unprecedented. In order to find a stretch where the Cardinal averaged that few amount of wins, you would have to go back to the 1960s. when teams played fewer games overall.
Now, in 2017, the season was threatening to go in a similar fashion. A whimper of a denouement for a titan of college baseball.
However, that’s what made the 2017 season so special. Not just Marquess’ final year, but the turnaround the team experienced to end the season. The Cardinal would go to win 21 of 23 games to finish the year second in the Pac-12 and with the chance to host an NCAA Regional.
What sparked this midseason push?
There are several reasons but none more essential than pitching. Stanford finished second in the Pac-12 in ERA at 3.35. A starting rotation of lefties led by Chris Castellanos held down opponents. Although Castellanos didn’t lead the team in ERA or strikeouts, the veteran of the group showed composure as the team’s go-to ace. His consistency allowed him to win a team-high nine games.
Although it was Castellanos as the pitcher to hold the fort down at the front of the rotation, Kris Bubic’s rise as a top starter gave Stanford a feared rotation.
Bubic led the starting rotation in ERA (2.79), in hits allowed (79) and in strikeouts (96) as a sophomore. He didn’t allow a single earned run in his 16 innings.
Bubic’s performance was particularly pivotal because of Tristan Beck’s season-ending back injury before the year began. Beck’s injury was a blow to the team’s pitching, but Bubic more than made up for it.
The rotation was rounded out by lefty Andrew Summerville who averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Not only did the Cardinal have a solid starting rotation, but they might have had the best closer in the country. Closer Colton Hock led the nation with a Stanford-record 16 saves in 2017. He led the entire team with a 2.08 ERA and pitched 47.2 innings. He only blew two saves, gave up runs in only five appearances and was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week (March 7).
Hock was a luxury for Stanford pitching, as the starting and relief pitchers just needed to give the Cardinal a lead in the 9th inning, and Hock would almost guarantee a win.
The pitching helped ease the job of the offense, but the Stanford bats were no slouches. The Cardinal were fifth in the Pac-12 in batting average (.281) but third in home runs. The power shown by the Cardinal was based on the efforts of Stanford’s own smash brothers, Quinn Brodey and Matt Winaker.
Brodey led the team in batting average (.314), home runs (11), RBI, slugging percentage … You get the idea.
Winaker had nine home runs himself and was third on the team in batting average (.308).
A freshman designated hitter also came out of the blue to elevate the Cardinal offense. Freshman Daniel Bakst hit .311, had an 11-game winning streak and landed himself on the Collegiate Baseball News Freshman All-America team.
His offense almost single handedly won games for Stanford, especially during his two 9-plus game hitting streaks.
With the efforts of the pitching staff and offense, Stanford headed to the NCAA Regional, for the first time since 2012, on a seven-game winning streak.
Hosting the Regional, the Cardinal defeated Sacramento State 10-0 in the first round on a 8-inning shutout gem by Bubic. Stanford floundered in the next game against Cal State Fullerton, but a third round victory over BYU gave the Cardinal one last grasp to extend Marquess’ dynasty.
It would only last one more game.
In the rematch, Stanford was down 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Brodey stepped up to plate and delivered a huge triple. He would score when Bakst reached on a throwing error.
With the tying score at the plate, Christian Molfetta was tagged out, and just like that, 41 years were over.
Coach Marquess leaves behind an impression that could never be filled. Two national championships in back-to-back years (‘87 and ‘88) are hard to replicate, but nonetheless, Stanford Athletics needed to find a replacement.
They didn’t have to look far.
The head coach of Cal baseball, David Esquer, was a part of one of those national title runs as a shortstop. After a run in the minor leagues, he ventured into the world of coaching as an assistant to Marquess. Then, in 2000, he became the head coach of Cal.
Last season was magical and Esquer will have the unenviable task of doing even better this season.
In the top 15 of most rankings, Stanford is expected to have a big season. Luckily for Esquer, Marquess has left 41 years of foundation to work with.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.