When it comes to playoff time, hot teams move on. At least that's what the Stanford baseball team is hoping to be true.
Thanks to a strong finish to the regular season, the Cardinal earned a berth in the NCAA tournament as a 4-seed in the Bloomington regional, using a final weekend sweep over Utah to secure its spot on the road to Omaha. This Cardinal team comes in less highly touted than any of the last three or four years, but the young squad has proved to be increasingly dangerous as the Pac-12 season progressed.
Now, the question is if the team's increasing maturity and hot play as of late can carry into the Super Regionals.
If the Cardinal does move on, it'll do so behind the bats of Austin Slater, Zach Hoffpauir and Alex Blandino. The three all have OPS above .890, and provide a balance to the Stanford order that has buoyed the Cardinal during the second half of the year.
Stanford's pitching has also stabilized over the course of the season - losing a number one overall pick has a ripple effect - but the pitching staff has found its legs mostly due to superb freshman Cal Quantrill. The Canadian already looks like the next great Stanford pitcher, posting a 2.92 ERA in a team-high 92.1 innings this year. AJ Vanegas has also done a nice job holding down the back end of the bullpen with a 2.03 ERA and seven saves.
When looking at the competition in the Bloomington regional, it's apparent that the Cardinal have a chance to make a little bit of a splash - but they might need some excessive good fortune to move on to the Super Regional. That opinion is shared by Baseball America's Aaron Fitt:
I think that's a favorable draw for Indiana, but Stanford is playing well down the stretch. Cardinal deserved at-large spot, and got it.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) May 26, 2014
Indiana State, the Cardinal's first opponent this weekend, had some struggles against higher-level competition throughout the course of the season and flamed out in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to end the year. While the Sycamores come in with straight losses on their ledger, it is worth noting that they did beat Ohio State, Indiana and Dallas Baptist this season, so they obviously can play very well in bursts - and they might have a little chip on their shoulder to boot.
The big challenge comes with number four overall seed Indiana. The Hoosiers are rock solid all around, with a .294 team batting average and a 2.17 team ERA. Sam Travis and Kyle Schwarber both provide double-digit home run power in the middle of the lineup, while one and two starters Joey DeNato and Christian Morris posted sub-two ERAs this season. Those four will be garnering most of the headlines this weekend, and will be the reason why Indiana will be picked to move on.
Unless the Cardinal, who finished the season on a 12-4 tear, has other plans.
The Cardinal start the Bloomington regional against the Sycamores on Friday at 11 am Pacific time.