I'm not going to lie... yesterday was rough. In the two games against Stanford, Corbin's simply left his pitchers in too long. On Friday, it was egregious, and if not for Tyler Ferguson stemming the tide, we could have squandered a (gifted by walks) 10 run lead. Yesterday wasn't as bad, and seeing as Fulmer has never gotten tired all year, it's more understandable, but he left him in about three batters too long. Managing a pitching staff is equal parts gut instinct, intuition, and inductive reasoning, and it's not uncommon for otherwise excellent managers to have a deficiency in this area. See Joe Torre during his dynasty run with the Yankees for the most obvious comparison.
However, I'm going to take the glass half full angle here (I know... from me???), and argue that if anyone can work himself out of jams and go deep into the game, it's Walker Buehler. In multiple games this year, but most notably the mid-week start against Memphis and the Regional winner against Oregon, Buehler has let up a run or two in front of an anemic Vanderbilt offense, but has managed to lock in until the offense manages a couple of runs, going the full 9 in the process.
In the April 22nd game against Memphis, our offense was basically nonexistent. Through 4 innings, Vandy had only cobbled together 2 hits (both singles) and had struck out a whopping 6 times. In short, they were in such a funk that it could (and normally does) adversely affect a pitcher's mentality. Luckily, through 3, Buehler had been dominant, allowing only 1 hit, and striking out 4.
In the bottom of the 4th, the lead-off hitter singled, went to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then scored on a one out single.
That was Buehler's only blemish, as he went the full 9, only allowing 3 more hits to be scattered throughout the remaining 5 innings. This was a great performance, no doubt, but it's made so much greater considering Vandy would be held scoreless until back-to-back 2 out doubles from Turner and Reynolds in the top of the 8th put this game in winnable territory. Let me make this more clear: 3 of our 7 hits in the game came in the top of the 8th, two of them with two outs, which just so happened to be our only 2 extra base hits of the game.
There is no more tense environment for a pitcher than having to pitch down 1-0 for 7 full innings, knowing you'll have to be perfect for your anemic offense to have even the slightest chance of pulling it off.
Last Sunday against Oregon (a much tougher hitting team than Memphis), Buehler again showed his tough-as-nails mindset pitching the full 9, giving up 6 hits, 2 runs, 1 walk, and striking out 8. However, again, that line doesn't tell the story. Oregon jumped out to a 1 run lead in the top of the first when the lead-off man, Payne, singled, advanced to 2nd on a FC, to third on a single, and scored on a sac fly. Vanderbilt's offense again had no answer, but were momentarily bailed out in the bottom of the 3rd by Dansby "The Mansby" Swanson with a 2 out double that scored Nolan Rogers (who had walked with one out in the inning).
Oregon struck again in the 5th to take the 2-1 lead with back-to-back-to-back singles which scored A.J. Balta. With men on first and 2nd, 1 out, Buehler could have come undone. However, against the ever-dangerous speedster Payne, Buehler managed to throw a double play ball and get out of the inning.
Buehler again had to be perfect through the rest of the game, as our offense didn't deliver any runs until they tied it up in the bottom of the 8th, and Ro Coleman ended the game on a bases loaded single in the 9th.
Of course, the best case scenario for today's game is if we jump out to an early lead, getting extra base hits from not just Rhett Wiseman, timely hitting, put continual pressure on Stanford's starter, Logan James, and get to their bullpen early.
However, if we don't, and are either tied or trailing in a close game, I trust Buehler will know how to handle it.
He's done it before.
Today's Pitching Match-Ups:
Vanderbilt Sophomore RHP Walker Buehler (11-2, 2.27 ERA)
v. Stanford Sophomore LHP Logan James (3-3, 4.77 ERA)
*Note about Logan James: In his last two starts, he was roughed up by Indiana, going only 1 and 2/3 innings, allowing 5 hits and 4 runs before getting pulled on June 1st, and going 2 innings, walking 3, and allowing 2 runs on June 2nd. Of course, Indiana's offense is Legion, and Stanford ended up coming back to win both games, but if we can jump out on James early, we'll be in a great position with Buehler on the mound and a relatively rested bullpen.
Both teams should be playing like wounded animals, and we know from the recent past that Stanford will manage at least one improbable home run late in the game, so our offense has to have one of its better showings of the year for us to get to Omaha.
Great teams can handle that kind of pressure. I trust Buehler to do his job, but the offense will need to show us something early.