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Vanderbilt hosts Stanford in the Nashville Super Regional in a rematch of an earlier weekend series. The Commodores swept that one 3-0, but the Cardinal have momentum, fate, and a lineup full of spray-hitting batters on their side as a trip to Omaha looms.
On paper, Vanderbilt has a favorable matchup against Stanford. The Cardinal finished the 2014 season only 10 games over .500 and with a middling RPI of 45. The Commodores even have a three-game home sweep of their Super Regional opponent on record from earlier in the season. In terms of a sweet sixteen matchup, the 'Dores couldn't have drawn up a better theoretical opponent out of the available teams.
However, the Nashville Super Regional won't be played on paper. And, as folks across the state of Indiana would tell you, the Cardinal are a much more dangerous team that most give them credit for.
Stanford rallied for an emotional, come-from-behind victory over the #4 Hoosiers last Monday when light-hitting shortstop Tommy Edman cleared the bases with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. That homer - Edman's third of the season and the first of his lifetime from the left side of the plate - stunned the home crowd and capped off a tremendous rally that vaulted the Cardinal to this weekend's Super Regional matchup. They'll be riding that momentum - and an innate sense of destiny - into Nashville. While oddsmakers will see them as underdogs, it's almost certain that these Stanford players do not feel the same way.
2014 Record Against Vanderbilt: 0-3 (in Nashville)
Best Win: In the regular season? A series win against #23 (RPI) Oregon in which the Cardinal won the first two games before dropping the finale. In the postseason? That would be last week's come-from-behind Regional win, where Stanford took the final two games of the session against #2 Indiana in Bloomington.
Worst Loss: A homestand series loss to #61 Southern California. Like Oregon before them, the Cardinal avoided embarrassing defeats in 2014. Most of their losses came to teams who were playing in Regional showdowns last weekend.
Batter to Be Wary Of: Third baseman Alex Blandino is an absolute hoss, leading Stanford in home runs (12), RBI (42), and runs scored (46) while batting .312. He's the player Vandy pitchers will have to tiptoe around in a lineup filled with players who make solid contact. Aside from Blandino, three other Cardinal starters get on base at a 40% clip. This team can bury you under a landslide of hits if you get sloppy.
And, apparently, Tommy Edman is made of magic. So keep an eye on that, Vandy pitchers.
Pitchers to Watch: No one player has been able to fill Mark Appel's role as King Shutdown, the Pitcher, but a solid three man rotation will give Stanford plenty of options for a weekend series without running out of steam. Cal Quantrill is likely to get the Friday start and he's the Cardinal's most proficient escape artist due to his ability to induce key strikeouts (93 in 103.2 IP). He's just a freshman, but he turned up in a big way during the Bloomington Regional (11.1 IP, 1 ER, 10 baserunners). Lefty John Hochstatter won't overpower Vandy's batters with his arm, but he throws junk that frustrates impatient batters and creates ground ball outs. He's in line to get the call on Saturday.
Key Stat: Vanderbilt limited Stanford to just four runs in their early-season series this March. In the three games that surrounded that matchup, the Cardinal plated 28 runs. Vandy is going to have to rely on its pitching to advance here against a dangerous, but streaky, offensive team. Fortunately for the 'Dores, last week's performance at home showcased the very best of Vanderbilt's starting pitching (25 innings, four earned runs, 27 strikeouts).
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