May 19, 2008
Wait 'Til Next Year
Home Stretch Action
It was a Thursday-through-Saturday weekend for many teams in college baseball, as series ended early across the country so that conference tournaments could begin to be drawn up. For many teams, Saturday was their last chance to prove something: that they should make the conference tournament, that they should make the NCAA Tournament, and/or that they should host a regional. For bubble teams, next weekend will begin their do-or-die season, as they simultaneously play and scoreboard watch, to make sure no Cinderellas are winning conference tournaments. Looking through this past weekend's results, it was a pretty brutal winnowing process, as numerous teams that were on the bubble jumped off. It also featured a loss by the number one team in the country, all of which you'll read about below:
Number 1 vs. Number 2: Before the weekend, it would have stood to reason that a high-scoring affair would favor Miami in the season's biggest matchup. However, after scoring just two runs off of Chris Hernandez on Friday night, the Tar Heels offense came back fighting, and North Carolina left Coral Gables with their season's biggest wins yet. The clincher came in an interesting Saturday battle, a 12-11 game that certainly will help shift UNC's amazingly low team ERA upwards. Kyle Shelton had a four-hit day and Tim Fedroff delivered a huge home run as UNC blasted starter Enrique Garcia and reliever David Gutierrez. On the Miami side, credit due to Yonder Alonso, who certainly swung the bat that will get him picked in this year's first round, collecting six hits, five walks, and homering in all three games. In a series that saw 54 runs score, praising the pitching doesn't make much sense, but it's clear following the weekend that Miami's pitching staff can be exploited, and Miami could have certainly picked a better time to look beatable.
The Beaver Anomaly: With weekend series wins over Georgia, Pepperdine, Arizona State, and Arizona, it wasn't all that long ago that we started talking about Oregon State as a potential regional host. However, let's see what has happened since April 27, when the Beavers pulled out a 3-2 win over Arizona: they went 1-3 mid-week against Gonzaga and Utah Valley State, suffered a weekend series loss to Washington State, then a home series win against UCLA, and this weekend OSU was swept by USC. As a result, the Beavers have nearly as many bad points on their resume as good ones, so the days of thinking that they might end up hosting a regional are over, and a this point it would be a stretch to think they've earned a second-slot seed. As for USC, the sweep is a nice touch to a year that has included some good wins, but I still see them on the wrong side of the bubble. Winning, or probably sweeping, Washington State next weekend could be a requisite for their getting a post-season invitation.
Opposite Side of the Coin: While OSU has seen their fortunes tumble in the last two weeks, Missouri is finally beginning to get over a late-April five-game losing streak, which included a sweep at the hands of Texas A&M and mid-week losses to Southern Illinois and Kansas. Since then the Tigers are 8-2, and sweeping Nebraska this weekend goes down as their best series win of the season. Aaron Crow was his usual brilliant self on Friday, outpitching Johnny Dorn while working into the ninth inning. Give head coach Tim Jamieson some credit, as his decision to flip-flop the roles of freshman Nick Tepesch and sophomore Kyle Gibson worked swimmingly; Gibson closed out Crow's gem in only six pitches on Friday, and came back to earn the save with three scoreless innings on Sunday. Meanwhile, Tepesch pitched well if inefficiently in 3 2/3 innings in his Sunday start. Missouri's late April misstep cost them a regional, but there will be few better two seeds in the tournament pool.
Where 5-for-12 Isn't Good: Shortly after the weekend's slate of games, the Big 12 announced the bracket for their post-season tournament next weekend. At this point, it stands to reason that just five of the eight teams that made the conference tournament will then play in the NCAA Tournament. Baylor, who looked like they were in just a few weeks ago, now seems to be on the outside after losing a weekend series to Texas Tech. The Bears were overcome by Tech's two well-regarded players: Roger Kieschnick, who homered twice on Friday and again on Sunday, and Zach Stewart, the former closer who gutted out eight innings in a Friday start. Baylor has not won a weekend since toppling Kansas State in Manhattan on April 13, and they don't have a particularly solid weekend win since Oklahoma State a month before that. Another Big 12 bubble team, Oklahoma, lost in a neutral series against OSU, effectively quashing their post-season hopes. The Sooners also drew the more difficult pool in the Big 12's two-pool, round-robin tournament, with games against Texas A&M, Missouri, and Texas.
Class of the C-USA: There might not be a coach in college baseball that more consistently gets his players ready for the postseason than Wayne Graham. Last year, the Owls entered the postseason on a tear, having lost twice since the start of April. After sweeping Tulane in New Orleans this weekend, Rice will enter the C-USA tournament having lost only twice since the start of April. The Rice pitching staff proved too much for the Green Wave, who were shut out by Ryan Berry on Friday, and then managed just six runs in the final two games; they were simply unable to score off of the Owls' deep pitching staff. At no point in the season has Rice looked as if they've had so many weapons at their disposal. For Tulane, the series isn't particularly crippling, but like Oregon State, their hopes of garnering a two-seed are slipping away. The Conference USA Tournament certainly has a favorite, but Tulane, ECU, Houston, and Southern Miss with all come into it with something to prove.
Weekly SEC Parity Report: There is just no figuring out this conference. A week ago, Arkansas looked like they would be in the tournament, as their excellent RPI after a series sweep of South Carolina seemed the tipping point. One week later, Ron Polk's final series at Mississippi State might have pushed Arkansas back onto the bubble. In their place goes Alabama, who will be hosting next weekend's SEC Tournament, and will come in not having lost a weekend series in a month. With weekend wins over Arkansas, Florida, and now over Georgia in Athens this weekend, Alabama looks to be in. Vanderbilt was jockeying for a host spot last weekend, but the Commodores went 0-for-3 in their series down in Gainesville, and open the SEC Tournament against the same Florida team that just swept them. LSU took care of business in three games against Auburn after exhausting their resources in a 15-inning win over New Orleans on Tuesday. Finally, Kentucky beat Ole Miss in a big series for both teams. So where do I think things stand? It looks to me like LSU, Georgia, and Florida are going to get regionals, and with Arkansas missing the SEC Tournament, it looks like an eight-bid conference, with the Razorbacks on the outside looking in.
The BP College 12