The 2013 College World Series has been absolutely fantastic thus far due to both the high level of play and the surprising results, but only four teams remain in the mix.
Both UCLA and Mississippi State are in the driver's seat, as they can advance to the finals with one more win each, but North Carolina and Oregon State won't go down without a fight.
While North Carolina and Oregon State are in a difficult position with no losses to spare, they are the No. 1- and No. 3-seeded teams in this tournament, respectively, so they certainly have a puncher's chance. UCLA and Mississippi State have surprised a lot of people in this tournament, though, as they have thrived despite a lack of hype.
With the 2013 College World Series getting down to the nitty-gritty, here is a full list of power rankings as well as analysis involving the four teams still battling in Omaha.
It was well known heading into the tournament that UCLA had a very good team, but the Bruins have exceeded expectations to this point. They started off with a very difficult matchup against No. 4 LSU, but they beat the Tigers at their own game, winning a 2-1 pitching duel. UCLA followed that up with another fine performance by beating NC State 2-1 in order to pull to within one victory of the finals.
The Bruins' pitching must continue to dominate in order for them to win it all. UCLA boasts a pair of aces in the form of Nick Vander Tuig and Adam Plutko, but perhaps more importantly, they have a guy who can shut the door on opponents. Closer David Berg owns a 7-0 record, 23 saves and a 0.85 ERA this season, which led to him being named Stopper of the Year, according to UCLA Baseball on Twitter:
Having great pitching is of the utmost importance, but the bats have to come alive at some point. UCLA is the only team remaining in the tournament without a .300 hitter on the roster. There are very few reliable hitters on the team, and that figures to come back and bite the Bruins, whether it's against North Carolina in the semis or against another team in the finals.
3. Mississippi State
Although they have taken very different routes to get there, Mississippi State and UCLA are both on the verge of reaching the College World Series finals. The Bulldogs need just one win over Oregon State to do it, and there is no question that they have what it takes to make it happen. Anything can happen in one game, but Mississippi State won't be able to steamroll past a resilient team like the Beavers.
Unlike UCLA, hitting has been key to the Bulldogs' success. Six regular players on the team are hitting .293 or better this season, including San Diego Padres first-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe. He leads the team with 15 home runs and 62 RBI and trails Adam Frazier for the team lead in batting average by three points at .357. Aaron Fitt of Baseball America has been particularly impressed with Mississippi State's play in Omaha:
So, Mississippi State is one victory away from the #CWS Finals. Great team win for MSU. Heroes are Girodo, Rea, Henderson, Porter, Pirtle.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) June 18, 2013
Both of the Bulldogs' wins have come by a 5-4 score, so their pitching hasn't exactly been dominant. Mississippi State lacks an ace on its staff, and that could be a problem. Kendall Graveman is the de facto ace with 18 starts to his credit, but his 3.17 ERA isn't exactly sparkling. The Bulldogs have to piece things together after him, so they may not have the pitching necessary to succeed in a winner-takes-all scenario.
2. North Carolina
Despite being the No. 1 overall seed in this tournament, the North Carolina Tar Heels have faced their fair share of adversity over the past several games. UNC got off to an awful start in Omaha, as it lost 8-1 to NC State. The Tar Heels bounced back with a gutsy win over LSU to stay alive, though, and then got revenge on the Wolfpack by eliminating them from the tournament with a 7-0 victory, according to ESPNU:
North Carolina has a great mix, as it is capable of winning a slug fest or taking a 1-0 decision. The UNC lineup is absolutely stacked with talent, including third baseman Colin Moran, who was selected No. 6 overall by the Miami Marlins in the 2013 MLB draft. Moran is third on the team with a .350 batting average and leads the way as a run producer with 13 home runs and 91 RBI.
Pitching is also a strength of North Carolina due to the likes of Trent Thornton and Hobbs Johnson. Thornton was a reliever for much of the year, but he has been used as a starter as well, so he is the ultimate swing man. No matter when he comes into a game, he produces to the tune of a 1.37 ERA. Johnson is a more conventional starter and has given UNC a lot of good innings this year. The Tar Heels' backs are against the wall, but I like them to win two straight against UCLA to reach the finals.
1. Oregon State
Things haven't come easy for Oregon State in the College World Series, but much like North Carolina, the Beavers have responded to every loss and misstep. Oregon State had to regroup after a tough opening loss to Mississippi State, and did it by thrashing Louisville 11-4. The Beavers then engaged in a low-scoring affair against Indiana, but they were ultimately able to come out on top thanks to the arm of Matt Boyd:
Which team will win the College World Series?
The Beavers happen to have a stable of huge arms, with Boyd being among the best. Fellow starting pitchers Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler have been fantastic all season long as well, so Oregon State is in a position where it can win two straight against the Bulldogs on the strength of its pitching.
Oregon State is also a virtually lock to win while leading late in the game because of lockdown relievers such as Max Engelbrekt, Tony Bryant and Scott Schultz.
That isn't to say that Oregon State can't tear the cover off the ball, though, as they are perfectly capable of doing so. Outfielder Michael Conforto leads the way with a .333 batting average, 11 homers and 47 RBI, but the Beavers have six .300 hitters in all, so there isn't an easy out in the lineup. That is what will allow them to win it all in Omaha.
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