Baseball sets history of the wrong kind

A 2-6 mark isn't truly atrocious, yet in baseball, a sport where one game in seven can mean the difference between making the playoffs and a last-place divisional finish, the Card are in as deep a hole as they've faced in decades. Read on to hear who's playing well, who needs to improve and, with Texas in town for three this weekend, the skinny on the Longhorn-Cardinal rivalry.

Here's a stat you won't find in the official press release: the last time Stanford baseball was worse than its current 2-6 mark eight games into the season was, well, quite possibly never. The Stanford baseball media guide gives game-by-game results dating back to 1959, and the Cardinal have never been worse off through eight games than they have this season. Stanford finished the 12 seasons preceding 1959 with winning records, making a 1-7 or 0-8 start rather unlikely, so if the Card ever did start a season with a worse slump, it probably came before World War II, predating all but the most curmudgeonly of Bootleg posters.

To make matters worse, only once since 1959 did the Card start as poorly as this year's 2-6. The 1974 Card would drop as low as 2-8 after a 2-6 start, but rallied to finish 29-19 overall.

For the 2009 Card, of course, a 3-8 or 2-9 start is a real possibility with a three-game visit from Texas starting this Friday. Not only is Texas 10-0 this season, but, at least in this Stanford fan's memory, Texas is one school the Cardinal historically seem to struggle against more than most. Whether it be an 0-for-Lone Star State run against the Longhorns in football recruiting, Texas ending Stanford basketball's NCAA Tournament last season (and giving Trent Johnson a lasting visual of Mitch Johnson getting beat to a loose ball which, in turn, the elder Johnson cited as a reason for his departure from the Farm), or Texas football 69, Stanford 17 in the 1999 season opener, the Longhorns have been a pesky rival.

Then again, Stanford did avenge its football loss with a 27-24 victory in 2000 and leads the all-time baseball series 23-20. (Plus, Stanford appears to have the law on its side, with the Supreme Court ruling unanimously that Texas' search and seizure of a John William Stanford Jr.'s Communist literature violated his Fourth Amendment rights in the 1965 case Stanford v. Texas. Apparently the case was a rout, the legal equivalent of 69-17. So the Card do have that going for them.)

Back on the diamond, Stanford lost once since The Bootleg's last update, 6-5 Thursday versus a visiting Saint Mary's. Trailing by that 6-5 margin, the Card had sophomore outfielder Kellen Kiilsgard on first with one out in the eighth, but the Gaels retired five straight batters to ice the contest and drop Stanford to 2-4 in games decided by three runs or fewer.

Unsurprisingly, given their record, Stanford is neither hitting nor fielding well eight games in. The Cardinal are batting just .237 as a team, but there are bright spots, with Kiilsgard hitting .386 and slugging .737, junior infielder Adam Gaylord batting a team-high .385 and senior outfielder Joey August, sophomore first baseman Jonathan Kaskow and third baseman/catcher Zach Jones each over .250.

Defenisvely, the Card are suffering with a 6.43 ERA, with senior righty Max Fearnow, sophomore righty Danny Sandbrink and freshman lefty Scott Snodgrass each posting double-digit ERAs in a combined 16.2 innings of work. No regularly-used pitcher has put up spectacular numbers, but sophomore righties Carey Schwarz and Drew Storen and freshman lefty Brett Mooneyham have respectable ERAs of between two and four in a combined 14.1 innings.

Stanford is compounding its struggles on the mound and in the batter's box with mistakes, as well. The Card have hit into eight double plays, committed seven errors and been caught stealing eight times in as many games, with sophomore catcher Ben Clowe caught stealing five times. The Card have struck out 73 times, or over nine times per contest, with senior first baseman Brent Milleville, Clowe and junior outfielder Toby Gerhart each averaging over a strikeout per game. (Of interest to football fans hoping Gerhart bypasses the MLB Draft for another season at tailback: the outfielder is hitting just .214, slugging just .250 and has nine strikeouts to six hits.)

So the bad news for the Cardinal faithful is that Stanford's 2-6 record is no fluke: the Card are struggling to hit, pitch and nearly everything else early. The good news, of course, is of all college sports, baseball is the most akin to a marathon, and eight games in March are hardly a conclusive indictment of a team that returns many core players from a 2008 squad that won two games in the College World Series. Plus, Cal-State Fullerton, who swept the Card, is a perennial power, Vanderbilt, who won the SEC in 2007, is 6-2 against teams not named Stanford, and St. Mary's is 7-2, so perhaps the Card is just getting unlucky in a particularly tough stretch of their season.

Junior righty Jeffrey Inman (0-1, 4.85 ERA) and Mooneyham (0-1, 3.68) are expected to start against the Longhorns Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m., respectively.  They'll need to perform better than they have thus far, as the Longhorns start strong, winning the first inning 9-1 thus far this season, and close perfectly, having yet to allow a run in the ninth.


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