Four keys to Stanford's hopes of winning three straight games:
1. The Setup: The Big Six
Jason Castro leads the way at a Ruthian .444 postseason, but five of his teammates are north of .340: Randy Molina (.371), Toby Gerhart (.364), Joey August (.355), Cord Phelps (.353) and Sean Ratliff (.344). Castro, Molina and Phelps are no surprise, but Ratliff is still sub-.300 on the season and Gerhart has struggled hitting for contact this season even more.
The Key: Castro and Molina should continue to hit well, so the key for Stanford is for the rest of the sextet to avoid overthinking and just keep producing. The lefty combo of Gerhart and Brendan Domaracki was platooned with the righties August and Jeff Whitlow through much of the season, but with Domer at .222 and Whitlow .125, the load will likely fall on Gerhart and August no matter the pitcher, making Stanford less adaptable to pitching matchups. Miami, by the way, may well pitch righty Enrique Garcia (4.56 ERA, 7-2) Wednesday.
Speaking of Gerhart, maybe it's a coincidence that he hit around .200 during the regular season and now, with a few months of practice behind him, is closer to .400, but he thinks it's the months of baseball-only practice time that's boosted his average. His performance spike begs the question: how good could he be if he were to concentrate on baseball full-time? Alas, for football fans, if this hitting disparity continues, Gerhart may need to concentrate his efforts in one sport soon.
2. The Setup: The Little Three
On the other end of the spectrum, it's been Jake Schlander at .250 (actually above his season average), Zach Jones at .194, and most unforgivably, Brent Milleville's .158 tearing a hole through the middle of the order. The three have just 20 of Stanford's 96 postseason hits. However, Milleville's hits, infrequent as they may be, have come in timely situations: fans will long remember the two-run go-ahead homer late against UC-Davis.
The Key: Milleville, Milleville, Milleville. He must step up. Jones and Schlander are the respective eight and nine hitters for a reason: they're freshmen better known for their defense on the left side of the infield. Millevillle, on the other hand, is hardly in the lineup for his defensive range. Given that his numbers are what they are, you can call me crazy, but I still wouldn't bet against him in a key situation. Cutting down on strikeouts (seven postseason) is a critical first step.
3. The setup: Starting Pitching
Jeremy Bleich (0.6 ERA, 15 IP postseason) started Saturday, and Erik Davis chipped in an inning.
Jeffrey Inman (4.3 ERA, 14.2 IP) started Monday, with Austin Yount (2.4 ERA, 15.0 IP) adding 2.1 innings in the 4-3 loss to Georgia. Davis, meanwhile, has not covered himself in glory in his four postseason appearances (7.71 ERA, 10 IP), in marked contrast to Stanford's other top three pitchers, Bleich, Inman and Yount. Stanford needs not worry about who starts Wednesday versus Friday versus Saturday though – they must win games on all three dates to advance.
The Key: Who is Mark Marquess starting Wednesday? If it's Erik Davis, can he return to regular-season form? If I were the manager, I would have Davis, Bleich and Inman pitch Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday respectively, but I would take a hard look at pulling Davis and starting Danny Sandbrink (9 IP, CG, 1.0 ERA, playoffs). I would need to feel confident that Davis is neither pressing too hard nor overworked – as a fan, I'm unsure on both counts. If Bleich, Inman, Yount and Sandbrink see further action, they need to continue their postseason dominance for Stanford to have a chance in the face of overwhelming odds...
4. The setup: The Odds
The RPI says Miami is No. 1, Georgia No. 10, and Stanford No. 14. The Card are the functional four seed in this pod, and now must win three straight. Even if they are, generously, 50/50 to win each game, that's still just a 12.5 percent chance of reaching the College World Series Finals, and about a six percent chance to win the whole thing. Suffice it to say, it's probably cold probability and not the curse of MizzouCard at work should Stanford go down.
The Key: Simply put, Stanford must string together a streak. The Card had won seven straight before their loss to Georgia, and have win streaks of three (twice), four (twice) and six earlier this season. Of course, Miami has won 14 straight this season, and Georgia has now won three straight, and is 8-1 over their last nine.
But the Bulldogs can get cold too, as they've lost straight games seven times this season (like Stanford), including four straight in late May, overlapping the end of the regular season, the SEC Tournament and the start of the NCAA Tournament. If I'm a Stanford player, I view the long odds before me as liberating, don't expect too much from my team, and simply relax and just play as best I can.
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