June 18, 2014
The old adage is that pitching and defense wins championships. But a little offense can go a long way as well, just ask the Commodores.
Throughout the season, Vanderbilt has consistently excelled on the mound and on the field, ranking in and around the top 20 nationally in earned run average and fielding percentage.
The trend has continued in the NCAA Tournament, but shutdown pitching and slick fielding aren't the only reasons why Vanderbilt finds itself with a 2-0 record in the College World Series.
No, Vanderbilt has discovered something else - the perfect compliment - to its already dangerous combination of pitching and defense. Since the NCAA Tournament began, Vanderbilt's offense has been nearly unstoppable.
In eight games this NCAA Tournament, the Commodores are averaging 7.37 runs per game, which is up from 5.52 runs per game in the regular season. That is nearly an increase of two runs per game (1.85).
The offensive production has come from throughout the lineup and players have manufactured the offense a number of different ways - just not the way many baseball fans might expect.
Vanderbilt hasn't hit a home run in its last 12 games, but the Commodores have done everything else. They have bunted for base hits, sacrifices and squeezes. They have lined singles all over the field, doubled and tripled.
Once on base, they have advanced through sacrifices or stolen bases. The Commodores have swiped 20 bags this postseason, while their opponents have yet to steal a single base.
The success has begun in the batter's box, where the team has had a knack for driving up pitch counts by going deep into at-bats and staying alive with foul balls.
"It is more of a characteristic of our offense the last quarter of the season" said Head Coach Tim Corbin about his team's ability to grind in the box. "We've done a good job of getting deep into the counts, more walks, less strikeouts, and we've hit the ball."
Vanderbilt has also been exceptionally timely with its hits. In eight NCAA Tournament games, the Commodores have now scored 23 runs with two outs in an inning.
For opponents, Vanderbilt's offense is an irritating and death-by-1,000-papercuts type of experience to watch, and it leads to comments such as this:
"This game was surprisingly a close score, because, I promise you, it felt like a root canal," UC Irvine Head Coach Mike Gillespie said after losing 6-4 to the Commodores on Monday. The Commodores had 11 hits, left a season-high 13 runners on base and stole five bases.
The explosion of offense has significantly altered the outlook of Vanderbilt's team and has been vital to its NCAA success. Combine it with a pitching staff and defense that has allowed just 3.0 runs per game, and it is easy to see why Vanderbilt keeps winning.
So far in the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park, a notorious pitcher's park with deep alleys and a stiff wind that always seems to be blowing in, teams not named Vanderbilt have struggled to produce on offense.
The Commodores are the only team to score five-plus runs in a game, and have done so in both games. If Vanderbilt keeps having those types of offensive outbursts, history says they are going to be difficult, if not impossible, to beat. Since the College World Series moved to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011, teams are 24-0 when scoring at least five runs.
Vanderbilt has not just been good on offense in comparison to other NCAA Tournament teams, it has put together numbers that rival any team in school history.
With at least two postseason games remaining, the Commodores already have scored 59 runs and are on pace to top the 2011 team (63 runs) for most runs scored in a postseason. Additionally, the team's scoring average of 7.37 would rank second in school history, behind only the 2008 squad and its average of 8.0 runs in three games.
"We've really hit the ball well the last three weeks," Corbin added.
In eight NCAA Tournament games, Vanderbilt has scored five or more runs six times.
The offense is hitting its stride at the right time and has been added to the recipe with strong pitching and defense to create a lethal combination. Add it all up and it is no wonder why the Commodores are in a position they have not been in before.