Five college baseball programs have already punched their tickets to Omaha for the College World Series. Three more may do so on Monday. Nearly every team has strong pitching, but which team’s staff is the best?
Here, we’re going to take look at the five teams that are already guaranteed a spot in the double-elimination bracket and analyze their starting rotations and bullpens. Some programs rely on their starters to go eight innings while others only need six solid frames in order to win the game.
The College World Series is going to be filled with top arms; making runs very difficult to come by the opposing offenses. With that being said, the offenses should be watching tape of upcoming opponents and taking extra batting practice once in Omaha. These pitchers are good—very good.
Let’s take a look at the best three staffs going to the College World Series.
3. Louisville Cardinals (5-0)
How They Got Here: Defeated Vanderbilt at Nashville Super Regional
Louisville has a pair of fantastic starting pitchers and another one that also comes in the game in relief from time to time. Jeff Thompson and Chad Green are the two aces of the staff, combining for 21 victories on the year and just four losses.
Thompson posted a 2.00 ERA through 16 starts while Green was not far behind with a 2.29 ERA in 17 starts. Both tossed more than 100 innings and each has solid control. Thompson is more of a strikeout pitcher, getting 109 batters out by way of the K. Green, on the other hand, struck out just 70 batters all year.
Dace Klime, who’s started eight games and pitched in relief 18 times, is a power pitcher that knows how to strike a guy out. He put out 81 batters via strikeout in 67.1 innings of work this year. He also doesn’t allow many runners to cross the plate, featuring a 3.07 ERA.
There are several outstanding relievers in the Cardinals’ bullpen, but you can’t talk about the relievers without mentioning Nick Burdi, the team’s closer. Burdi has pitched in 28 games this year and tossed 34.2 innings.
What’s remarkable is that Burdi has only allowed three earned runs. That’s a 0.78 ERA for those wondering. Talk about having a reliable arm at the end of game.
It doesn't matter who the Cardinals are playing. If Louisville has a lead in the ninth inning, Burdi is going to lockup the win for them. It’s that simple.
2. UCLA Bears (5-0)
How They Got Here: Defeated Cal State Fullerton at Fullerton Super Regional
The Bears’ bullpen is arguably the best in the nation. There’s no stopping one of their relievers from coming into a tight game and getting the job done. I’m sure coach John Savage has had quite a few scares throughout the season, but his bullpen is about as solid as they come.
Let’s start with closer, David Berg. Berg has thrown 71.1 innings as a reliever this year, appearing in 46 games. There are a lot of college starters that didn’t even log that many innings. For those that did, I bet they don’t have a 0.88 ERA. He has fantastic command and is the last pitcher an opponent wants to face.
Savage’s two other favorite relievers are James Kaprielan and Zack Weiss. The two have appeared in 71 games combined, totaling more than 70 innings as well. Kaprielan has a 1.67 ERA and Weiss isn’t far behind at 2.33. Kapriellan has shown inconsistent command at times, but overall has been solid all year.
Don’t forget about the UCLA starters, though. Savage rotates mainly between Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson. Each has started at least 16 games this year with Plutko and Vander Tuig each logging more than 111 innings of work.
Vander Tuig is arguably the Bears’ best bet on the mound to start a big game. His ERA is just percentage points behind Plutko’s and he’s won four more games. Vander Tuig has excellent command too, striking out more batters while walking less. Look for him to start the first game in Omaha and Plutko to take the mound for the second.
1. LSU Tigers (5-0)
How They Got Here: Defeated Oklahoma at Baton Rouge Super Regional
The Tigers have the best mix of starting pitchers and relievers in Omaha no matter which other teams clinch their spots. LSU has the top pitching staff and there’s no two ways about it.
Aaron Nola has been unstoppable this year when taking the mound. He’s 12-0 with a 1.68 ERA through 16 starts. He’s struck out just under a batter per inning and in more than 118 innings of work, he’s walked just 17 batters. In fact, there aren’t many Tigers pitchers who walk many batters.
Take Cody Glenn, for instance. He’s 7-2 on the year through 14 starts with a 2.41 ERA. In 82 innings, he’s only walked 16 batters. He doesn’t strike many people out—just 37 this year—but it doesn’t matter as long as he isn’t issuing free passes every time he takes the mound.
Ryan Eades has great control too for the most part. He’s walked 32 batters in 100 innings on the season. He’s also only lost one of his 17 starts and has posted a 2.79 ERA. LSU starting pitchers just keep getting the job done day after day, game after game.
LSU opponents aren't off the hook once the starting pitcher exits. Chris Cotton, LSU’s closer, has been outstanding this season and the game is practically over once he comes in. He’s allowed just six earned runs all year long, despite tossing 44 innings. Oh, and he’s only walked three batters all year.
From my standpoint, whether you agree or not, LSU is the team to beat. That’s primarily because the Tigers have sound starting pitching and a reliever that isn’t going to cave no matter the situation. Good luck to the offenses that have to play LSU the first two games in Omaha—they’re going to need it.