Last season, Stanford baseball's torrid start, fueled by awe-inspiring early offensive explosions, positioned the team at 10-1 through 11 games.
Fast forward one year. Perhaps the Cardinal's sluggish season opening start at Rice allowed the club to duck under the radar. Maybe the marked early decrease in offensive production lulled some onlookers to sleep. After all, 2012 Stanford baseball had scored 109 runs by this point in the season, while this year's installment has plated only 44. But don't look now: Stanford baseball is 9-2 through 11 games, barely off last year's torrid initial pace.
"It's unreal because we're missing guys like AJ [Vanegas] and Austin Wilson [due to injury], so it hurts us," said shortstop Lonnie Kauppila, Sunday's walk-off hero. "We may not be getting all the hits, but we're making all the plays and making all the pitches."
Because of that fact, 2013's hot streak looks to be more sustainable than 2012's, simply because it's rooted in pitching and defense. Last year, the Cardinal buzzed off an early offensive sugar high. But baseball bats are fickle creatures, so they also experienced a violent roller coaster ride when the attack stalled following the March Winter finals break. Consistency may come as we enter a brave new world of Stanford pitching dominance: Beyond the finest two-week stretch of Mark Appel's spectacular Cardinal career, Mark Marquess' bullpen has surrendered only five earned runs in 40.2 innings of work -- good for a 1.12 ERA. Even more significantly, the Division 1 spotlight hasn't fazed Stanford freshmen, a fact illustrated by consecutive maestro performances from Bobby Zarubin.
"These freshmen and sophomore pitchers are gamers," Kauppila said. "I'm really happy to be out in the field and playing behind them because they are straight dealing right now. And Mark [Appel] is an absolute perfectionist out there."
Zarubin ensured that Stanford's series sweep of Texas would end the way it began: with a stellar starting pitching outing. He retired the final 12 Longhorns he faced over eight one-run innings.
"He's got an unbelievable split-change that no one could hit during intrasquads in the winter," Kauppila said. "He's only going to get better."
Defense helps, too -- and whether it be via Kauppila's return to shortstop wizardry, Saturday's 4-6-3 triple play, or Zarubin's infield instincts on the pitcher's mound -- it has teamed with the arms to churn out eight straight wins. Five of Stanford's nine victories have been earned in the last at-bat, so some clutch mojo has also come along for the ride.
The page turns to Tuesday's midweek tilt at Santa Clara and two home series versus UNLV and Utah, all contests in which Stanford will own a marked talent advantage. The opportunity to surpass 2012's blistering early season pace is certainly present.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
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