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Felling Trees

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Interesting weekend forthcoming at Disch Falk Field, as the Stanford Cardinal come to Austin for a three game series. I’m not sold on Stanford as an Omaha-level team yet, but there is no question that they have as much or more talent as Texas will see throughout Big 12 play.

This post is directed toward the weekend series only. We’ll get into a review of the first 10+ games next week after we know a bit more about the team and season. If you want to know what Augie thinks of the first eight games, he shared some thoughts here.

For me, suffice it to say that when Albert Pujols exits the first week of the season on pace to mash 157 homeruns, I don’t get excited. Similarly, I don’t worry about last week’s TAMCC loss.

(I just re-read that intro – Bill Little would be proud. I have apparently mastered the poorly constructed sentence and now only need an historical reference and a goofy analogy.)

On to this weekend…

At the macro level, the Cardinal come to town with a 5-3 record that matches the Horns. The records' similarities end there – Stanford played their first seven games against Rice, Cal and Vanderbilt. They won the series in Houston, beat Cal and dropped two one-run games to the Commodores. Even Rick Barnes thinks their schedule is tough.

From a stylistic standpoint, Stanford is almost the exact opposite of Texas. The Cardinal rely on a capable offense and back that up with a talented staff of pitchers.

Despite the pitchers they’ve faced, Stanford is clipping along at .302 as a team and has six different players with a homerun. Shortstop Kenny Diekroeger is the guy to watch. He’s a surefire Major Leaguer that leads the team in average and RBI.

As evidinced by 14 errors, Head Coach Mark Marquess is choosing offensive production over defense. For you married types, that’s twice as many as Texas has.

On the hill, it’s a work in progress. Friday night anchor Mark Appel is easily the most consistent thing going for the Trees. Appel vs Jungmann should be as good of a duel as you’ll see this season.

Beyond him, Marquess is rotating arms liberally. Don’t mistake the revolving door as depth though – Stanford has only thrown 8 pitchers this season. Marquess knows who he wants to use, but hasn’t settled on specific roles yet.

Longhorn trivia: Bevo prefers redwood toothpicks.
Longhorn Trivia: Bevo prefers redwood toothpicks.

Keys to the series

Efficient Offense: It’s elementary Augie-ball – put the ball in play and force the defense. Not only is defense the Cardinal’s weakest point, but it’s also unrealistic to expect the Horns to completely shutdown their offense in every game.

In this series being effective at the plate goes beyond successfully laying down a bunt. This weekend Texas needs to keep the ball in play at all times. A bouncing grounder to third base is infinitely preferable to a strikeout. Swing the bat, fellas.

A pesky, persistent offense also poses problems for Marquess’ pitching posse. Remember, this is a relatively short rotation, so extending at bats or innings amplifies everything the Horns are trying to accomplish at the plate.

Hit Spots: As discussed, the Cardinal have a potent lineup. Beyond that, Stanford presents two particular challenges for Texas. First, their batting order is right-hand heavy. A lot of the gaudy statistics piled up, particularly by Jungmann and Green, are against lefties. That isn’t a luxury the Horns will be afforded during this series. Second, Stanford does an excellent job of balancing their attack. In addition to 6 players with homeruns, the Cardinal lineup already has 10 guys that have posted at least one RBI.

To counter the Cardinal offense, the Horns will need to change speeds and locations effectively. That may sound like a junior high pitching plan, but when you consider the challenge of doing it against every batter, in every inning, you begin to get an inkling for the task. The abundance of right-handers also forces Texas to change locations (vertically and horizontally) in order to dictate during each at bat.

Say, have I ever told you about my old carpenter’s pencil? It’s the damnedest-looking, most misshapen thing you’ve ever seen. By the look of it, you’d never even guess it would write.

Thankfully, I have a wide-mouth sharpener that fits the pencil just right. No matter how much abuse the thing takes, after a couple of twists, it always writes well.

This series reminds me of the 1981 Central Regional leading up to the College World Series. That team featured some Longhorn-greats like Calvin Schiraldi and Spike Owen, but still dropped a heartbreaker to Stanford by a single run. The ever-resilient Longhorns, under the venerable guidance of Cliff Gustafson, rebounded with a 10-2 victory thanks in large part to a remarkable performance by wiry, right-hander Tony Arnold, thus clinching a berth in the team’s 20th College World Series.

The series reminds me even more of my wide-mouthed sharpener. No matter the outcome of the games, the weekend is going to hone a few rough edges off this team. And when you’re Texas baseball, the only thing that matters is how you’re writing in June.