If there's one thing you can definitively say about Stanford's baseball team, it's this: The Cardinal isn't lacking for talent.
Staff ace Mark Appel will either be the first or second pick in June's MLB draft. Outfielder Austin Wilson will probably join Appel as a first rounder. And fellow juniors A.J. Vanegas and Brian Ragira should be taken in the early rounds of the draft as well.
But despite all of that, the Cardinal baseball team finds itself mired in the middle of the Pac-12... and likely out of the NCAA tournament field.
Look up at the beginning of the season, and the Cardinal were ranked number 7 in the country and picked to win the Pac-12. Look up now. The team's lost 6 straight games, touts an 11-13 record in the Pac-12 and an RPI of 99. Even with Cal and UCLA still on the schedule, things are looking bleak.
What's going on here?
The numbers underlying Stanford's season don't provide any answers to why they're struggling.
Mark Appel has been untouchable, carrying a 1.97 ERA. Austin Wilson, who missed significant time with an elbow injury, is back in the starting lineup and hitting .333. Brian Ragira is having another excellent year and leads the team with 8 homers. Justin Ringo has had a huge breakout year, hitting .321 and mashing 6 dingers. The team is batting .273 as a whole.
However, the rotation after Appel is a carousel of guys that aren't getting the job done. There's a 40-inning difference in innings pitched between Appel and the next closest guy, freshman righty Bobby Zarubin (91.1 to 51.0). The only other starter with big-time experience, senior Dean McArdle, has a 6.69 ERA.
On the offensive side of things, some veterans aren't producing, either - third baseman Alex Blandino is only hitting .240 while shortstop Lonnie Kauppila is hitting a miserable .224.
All things considered, Stanford's problem in 2013 appears to be a lack of depth, coupled with some injury issues. Vanegas was hurt to start the season and then Wilson went down for a while as well. All in all, Stanford's top-heavy team could only go so far if the role players weren't able to carry some of the load. And now that the season is nearly over, the only thing left to think is this: it's disappointing that players like Appel and Wilson and Ragira won't be able to flash their stuff on the national stage.
Unfortunately, though, I don't think the lost 2013 season can just be chalked up as a season where things haven't broken the Cardinal's way. Instead, I believe now is the time to ask another question: Is there a problem with Stanford baseball?
The Cardinal hasn't won a College World Series since 1988. They've been unceremoniously swept out of the Super Regionals the last two seasons. Sure, the Cardinal went to three CWS title games in four years in 2000, 2001 and 2003... but that was a decade ago.
The talent on Stanford's baseball teams in the last couple of years has been outstanding (a short list: Jason Castro, Drew Storen, Chris Reed, Mark Appel, Stephen Piscotty, Austin Wilson, Brian Ragira, Kenny Diekroeger) but Mark Marquess' squad has consistently come up short of a title run while all of those guys have been on the team. Back-to-back top recruiting classes have yielded zero Pac-12 (or Pac-10) titles.
Maybe it's too much to judge a team's success on just titles. After all, the Pac-12 is probably the most difficult conference to win outside of the SEC, and there's no postseason conference tournament to give teams a second chance at claiming a Pac-12 title. On top of that, the College World Series is a bit of a crapshoot every year.
And sometimes teams just fall flat on their face. Even Texas, a program of Stanford's caliber, is going to finish last in the Big 12 this year. If Augie Garrido, coach with the most wins in D1 college baseball history is entitled to a bad season every now and then, Mark Marquess has also earned the right to flop every once in a while.
Sometimes good programs come up short and sometimes good programs don't perform like fans think they should. So there probably isn't reason to panic. But 2013 does make me question if Stanford baseball's best days are behind it.