Friday, February 25, 2011

VSL Gets You Ready: #3 Vanderbilt hosts #8 Stanford for a 3-Game Series at Hawkins Field

While Tim Corbin's Commodores hope to remain undefeated (5-0), the #8 Stanford Cardinal (3-1) certainly have different ideas. This series is 1 of only 2 match-ups between Top 25 teams (the other being #15 Cal State Fulterton @ #5 TCU) and is one that will be widely watched among those who follow college baseball. This is the last elite team the Commodores will face before SEC play begins in mid-March (after which pretty much every opponent is an elite team), hopefully they can make the most of it and win the series.

The Pitchers

Today's match-up features 2 Baseball America Pre-Season All-Americans: 1st teamer Sonny Gray (1-0, 6.23 ERA) vs. 2nd teamer Mark Appel (0-0, 3.18 ERA). Despite the no-decision, Appel certainly had the better outting of the 2 aces in their opening day outings. The sophomore righty pitched 5 2/3 innings, surrendering 2 runs, 8 hits, and 1 walk, while striking out 4. Vanderbilt's Gray 1st inning struggles appeared to carry over to this season, as Sonny's first inning against San Diego was ugly: allowing 3 runs and 4 hits in the opening frame. Gray did not allow another hit all day, and finished the day with 4.1 IP, 2 BB, and 6 Ks.

Saturday's match-up features a pair of undefeated rightys, Taylor Hill (1-0, 1.23 ERA) vs. McArdle (1-1, 0.00 ERA). The Stanford sophomore hasn't lost a game at the collegiate level. After going 5-0 as a freshman, McArdle picked up where he left off with an over-powering 5 inning, 3 hit, and 4 strike-out performance against #17 Rice in Houston. McArdle did allow 1 unearned run, and walked 1. The Senior Hill's outing against San Diego in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader was similarly dominating: 7.1 IP, 1 earned run, 5 hits, 0 walks and 8 strike outs.

Sunday's match-up is not yet set according to Vanderbilt's Game Notes. While Coach Tim Corbin is expecting to send junior southpaw Grayson Garvin to the hill, the Cardinal starter is TBA. Garvin had a tremendous outing in the finale of the Commodores' doubleheader against San Diego, giving Vanderbilt 8.1 IP, while scattering 5 hits, 3 runs (2 earned), 0 walks, and 10 strike-outs. Chris Reed, a junior LHP, started Stanford's 3rd game against Rice last weekend and was roughed up. Reed's line was a pedestrian 4.2 IP, 7 runs (5 earned), 7 hits, 1 walk, and 5 Ks, and he currently has a 9.64 ERA.

Commodore fans should be careful what they wish for when it comes to Stanford's pitching staff. While most teams are looking to knock a starter out, the Cardinal bullpen has been great. In 15.2 innings pitched, the Stanford pen has surrendered just 3 runs. Perhaps more impressively, in their 3 game series against #17 Rice, the Cardinal relievers allowed just 1 run in 10.2 innings. The long and the short of it is if you see Sandbrink, Snodgress, or Taft on the hill for Stanford, don't celebrate as a matter of course.

Stanford's Bats

The Cardinal line-up includes 3 hitters over .400, most notably Kenny Diekroeger, Stanford's sophomore shortstop, and Baseball America 1st Team All-American, who's leading their offensive attack from the clean-up spot. Diekroeger is batting .438 in 16 official appearances and has a slugging % of .688. Hitting behind Diekroeger is 3B Stephen Piscotty, who's 6 of 14 (.429) and leads the team in runs scored with 3. Austin Wilson is doing a lot of damage in the 7-hole, hitting .429 after starting the year our 6-14. Wilson is one of 3 stud freshman for Stanford, although he has the distinction of having earned 3rd Team Preseason All-America Honors from Baseball America (the only freshman to make the squad), and is ranked the #3 freshman in the country. The #5 freshman according to Baseball Top-50 Classes is Stanford 1B Brian Ragira. Ragira is batting a respectable .286 in the 8th spot, but did drive in the series clincher against Rice with the team's only triple so far.

Rounding out the line-up, lead-off hitter Tyler Gaffney has gotten off to a slow start, hitting just .118 with 2 hits in 17 ABs. The 2 and 3 holes have produced as well for Stanford. Sophomore CF Jake Stewart is hitting .353 in the 2 slot, while DH senior Ben Clowe is 5-15 (all singles) batting 3rd. Senior Catcher Zach Jones is the only everyday starter not mentioned. Hitting 9th, he's started out the year a woeful 1-15 (.067). Expect to also see sophomore 2B Eric Smith (.250), freshman @B Lonnie Kappulia (.250), and sophomore 1B Justin Ringo (.143) this weekend.

Final Thoughts

With the game set to start in less than 4 hours, I'll wrap this up to give anyone reading this an opportunity to digest it before the first pitch. One thing to watch out for is when the Commodores give up runs. This season, they've allowed just 10 runs. 3 have come in the 1st, 3 in the 9th. The 3 in the 1st are actually more troubling than the 3 in the 1st because those 9th inning runs were surrender in a 7-0 game. The 3 run 1st were given up by Sonny, a notorious slow starter. Vanderbilt doesn't want to start off games against a quality ball-club like Stanford. Sonny's 1st inning performance is the thing I'm probably most interested in this weekend.

Remember, you can follow all the action on, or head out to Hawkins Field at 4pm. The series will resume Saturday at 2pm, and conclude Sunday at 1pm. I'd also recommend anyone on Twitter follow Ex_o's for great analysis throughout the game. If I can make it to Hawkins I will also being tweeting either from VSLNation or BobbyOSheaVSL.

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