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June 18, 2010
College World Series Preview
Over the past few years much discussion centered around the future site of the College World Series, with the tournament outgrowing aging Rosenblatt Stadium. Omaha will continue to host the tournament into the foreseeable future, but it will move out of Rosenblatt next season and to the new, $128 million TD Ameritrade Park. Although neither Texas—winner of the first CWS at Rosenblatt in 1950 (as well as the last held at another site, 1949 at Wichita)—nor its coach Augie Garrido, who has won more CWS games at Rosenblatt than anyone--won’t be present, traditional powers, Florida State, Arizona State, Clemson, and South Carolina will be. TCU, UCLA, Florida, and Oklahoma round out the field.
While 14 of the 16 top seeds made the super-regional round, only three of the top eight national seeds will be making the trip to Omaha. Most notably, two of the nation’s top three teams throughout the regular season—Texas and Virginia—lost their super-regionals to underdogs TCU and Clemson.
As a brief primer for those unfamiliar with the format of the College World Series, the eight teams will be broken up into two, four-team double-elimination brackets, similar to the regional round. The winners of those brackets will meet in a best-of-three championship series.
Bracket 1 is a heck of a lot murkier than Bracket 2. The favorite is Florida, the best all-around team in the nation’s best conference and a team that played its way into the national discussion by separating itself from a very strong SEC field. Florida State is the hottest team, TCU has the hottest pitcher, UCLA has the most pitching depth, and Florida is the best all-around team.
TCU (51-12) vs. Florida State (47-18), 2 p.m., Saturday
Florida (47-15) vs. UCLA (48-14), 7 p.m. Saturday
Super Regional: TCU @ Texas
Game 1: TCU 3, Texas 1
Game 2: Texas 14, TCU 1
Game 3: TCU 4, Texas 1
TCU makes its first trip to Omaha, while Florida State participates for the 19th time. TCU's pitching shut down Texas in two of their three games, and could very well send Florida State to the losers' bracket with a similar performance. Standout Matt Purke was named the nation’s Freshman Pitcher of the Year after spurning the Texas Rangers in the first round 2009 draft when he demanded a signing bonus on par with Rick Porcello. Purke has yet to lose in college, boasts a 133:28 (4.75) K:BB ratio, and is still last amongst TCU’s three starters in ERA at 3.23, with Steven Maxwell and Kyle Winkler giving up 2.41 and 2.84 runs per nine innings. In his last four starts, Purke has a 2.42 ERA, throwing 26 innings and allowing seven earned runs, while giving up seven walks against 39 strikeouts for a K:BB ratio of 5.57. Closer Tyler Lockwood and reliever Kaleb Merck have each put up very strong numbers with ERAs of 1.97 and 1.08 and opponents hitting .239 and .203. While the sample size for TCU is tough to analyze, with the Mountain West Conference only fielding seven teams—and the median RPI 90 spots lower than the SEC—recent performances demonstrate the Horned Frogs will need to get at least seven innings from their starters in Omaha and get the ball to Lockwood with a lead. With the exceptions of TCU and New Mexico, the Mountain West fielded a particularly weak field in comparison to the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-10.
Along with dominating the Mountain West, against top-50 RPI opponents—including Texas in the super regional—TCU finished 10-6.
Arizona: W (11-5)
Super Regional: Vanderbilt @ Florida State
Game 1: Florida State 9, Vanderbilt 8
Game 2: Vanderbilt 6, Florida State 2
Game 3: Florida State 7, Vanderbilt 6
Since being swept at Clemson to conclude the regular season—and giving up 25 runs over three games—Florida State has been on fire, defeating Virginia, Boston College, and North Carolina State to take the ACC tournament crown, winning its three games in the Norwich Regional, and taking two of three from Vanderbilt to advance to Omaha. FSU has performed nearly perfectly to expectations, losing only three, three-game series on the year, to NCAA Tournament participants Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Clemson. The Seminoles have done it largely by lighting up the scoreboard, averaging nearly a run an inning over their last nine games, scoring 71 runs in 75 innings and going 8-1.
Super Regional: Miami @ Florida
Game 1: Florida 7, Miami 2
Game 2: Florida 4, Miami 3
The Gators are going to be very good for a very long time. With three freshmen All-Americans—Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox, and Hudson Randall—as well as exceptional freshman catcher Mike Zunino, Florida is loaded for the future. Additionally, Mets third-round pick Kevin Chapman and Kansas City fifth-round pick Matthew den Dekker lead a stacked UF squad to Omaha. Unfortunately, either UF or UCLA will be in the losers' half of the bracket after the first day, with two of the tournament’s top three teams inexplicably playing on the first day.
Super Regional: Cal State Fullerton @ UCLA
Game 1: Cal State Fullerton 4, UCLA 3
Game 2: UCLA 11, Cal State Fullerton 7
Game 3: UCLA 8, Cal State Fullerton 1
UCLA’s softball squad took the women’s College World Series last week, and the men look to complete the sweep behind an army of top-notch arms and a total 11 players drafted in 2010. UCLA was the first team eliminated from Omaha in its previous two trips, bowing out 0-2 both times. The worst omen for UCLA, however, is that second baseman Tyler Rahmatulla broke his wrist in the Bruins’ dog pile after defeating Cal State Fullerton in the super-regional. Rahmatulla, who posted an OPS of .910 in Pac-10 play and finished second for the Bruins with 13 stolen bases while posting a .960 fielding percentage at second base, will be tough to replace, particularly on a team that relied heavily on speed (over half of the Bruins’ starters stole more than six bases this season) and defense.
It is, however, the Bruins’ pitching that will determine their success in Omaha. In the Pac-10, starters Rob Rasmussen, Trevor Bauer, and Gerrit Cole posted ERAs of 3.04, 3.16, and 3.68, while Rasmussen struck out 54 of the 200 batters he faced while walking only eight—an incredible one walk every 25 plate appearances. Florida is the second-best team UCLA will have faced this season, after being swept by Arizona State during Pac-10 play. UCLA is perhaps a better bellwether for the strength of West Coast baseball than Arizona State, and if it is able to knock off the Gators and make a deep run in Omaha, the tournament committee will have a hard time maintaining the traditional two regional hosts west of Texas in the future.
Oklahoma (48-16) vs. South Carolina (48-15), 2 p.m. Sunday
Arizona State (52-8) vs. Clemson (43-23), 7 p.m. Sunday
Oklahoma @ Virginia
Game 1: Virginia 3, Oklahoma 2
Game 2: Oklahoma 10, Virginia 7
Game 3: Oklahoma 11, Virginia 0
Oklahoma had one of the toughest roads to Omaha, having to get past North Carolina in their regional and knock off Virginia in Charlottesville in the super regional, scoring 22 runs in the final two games. The Sooners are surprisingly the only Big 12 team to make it to Omaha, after upsetting heavily favored Virginia and seeing Texas fall to TCU. None of the Sooners starters are truly dominant, though Bobby Shore’s eight-inning, four-hit, no-run performance in the finale against top-ranked Virginia was the standout pitching moment for any Big 12 starter this season. The Sooners also benefited from a very weak performance by Virginia’s Robert Morey, who last year began the College World Series by shutting down San Diego State and outdueling Stephen Strasburg.
The Sooners offense is led by Garrett Buechele, who posted a .383 average in the Big 12 in 94 at-bats, and is one of the strongest offensive performers on any team in Omaha. The Sooners bats will have to be explosive and they’ll need their starters to continue playing above their season averages to make a deep—and surprising—run in Omaha.
Super Regional: Arkansas @ Arizona State
Game 1: Arizona State 7, Arkansas 6
Game 2: Arizona State 7, Arkansas 5
The undisputed favorite in Omaha, Arizona State already dominated the tournament’s third seed—UCLA—on the road, posting 23 runs while giving up only five in three games. The Sun Devils' successes are well-known, from winning every non-conference game this season, winning every game in February and March, and only losing one weekend series (2-1 at Washington State). Starters Seth Blair, Merrill Kelly, and Jake Borup all project to succeed at the next level, while relievers Jake Barrett, Brady Rodgers, Jimmy Patterson, and Jordan Swagerty all should find places on minor-league rosters. Simply put, a number of major-league teams are finding and developing pitching talent less successfully than the Sun Devils.
And then there’s the hitting. Even when only eliminating out of conference cupcakes and looking only at Pac-10 games, ASU’s lineup boasts six starters with OBPs above .423, a team fielding percentage of .979, and 55 stolen bases in 27 games. Arizona State is the nation’s most impressive team, If Arizona State performs as well as it has all season, the Sun Devils should be bringing hardware back to Tempe for the first time since 1981.
Super Regional: South Carolina @ Coastal Carolina
Game 1: South Carolina 4, Coastal Carolina 3
Game 2: South Carolina 10, Coastal Carolina 9
At 17, South Carolina has the sixth-best RPI in Omaha. By the same measure, the Gamecocks coincidentally finished sixth in the SEC. In such a deep conference, South Carolina’s hitters separated themselves late in the season as the Gamecocks were the hottest team in the country at the end of regular- season conference play—but lost two of three against Florida to close the season, as well as both of their contests the SEC tournament. South Carolina has yet to lose in the NCAA tournament, sweeping both the regional it hosted and two games at Coastal Carolina in the super regional.
The starting pitching thins out after Blake Cooper, who was nailed by a foul ball while sitting in the dugout the super regional but will pitch in Omaha. Yet South Carolina will be led by an explosive offense, with nine players with seven home runs and an OPS over .900. With the second-best hitting in their bracket, the Gamecocks have the bats to compete with Arizona State and are a threat to knock off the Sun Devils if second starter Sam Dyson can pitch well.
Super Regional: Alabama @ Clemson
Game 1: Alabama 5, Clemson 4
Game 2: Clemson 19, Alabama 5
Game 3: Clemson 8, Alabama 6
Clemson performed well against top-notch opponents this season, sweeping Florida State, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina State, while taking two of three from South Carolina early in the season. The Tigers ace, Casey Harman, performed well in the super regional opener against Alabama, giving up only one earned with nine strikeouts and no walks over 8 1/3 innings, but being tagged with the loss. Harman receives his toughest assignment of the year against Arizona State, and could prove a steal for the Cubs as their 29th-round pick (880thoverall).
The Tigers also have the only first-round selection to make it to Omaha. Kyle Parker—taken 26th by Colorado—leads an amazing offensive attack, with six of its players slugging .538 or better and eight posting OPS over .900. Parker has belted 20 homers, followed by John Hinson with 17 and Jeff Schaus with 15. Scott Firth and Alex Federick have performed well out of the bullpen.