Either UCLA or Mississippi State is going to take a 1-0 College World Series lead after Monday night, and it’s going to be because they accomplished a vital task.
Who wins Game 1?
While the Bruins and Bulldogs have each been great throughout the postseason, they haven’t been perfect in terms of their on-field performance. There are still several ways to improve and make each a more complete and dominant program, which will be essential over the next few days.
Can UCLA or Mississippi State win without enhancing some aspects? Of course, but not doing so is going to greatly lessen the chance that they win Game 1. A Game 1 loss is a big blow for a team, as winning back-to-back games to take the title is going to be nearly impossible.
Here’s a look at what each College World Series finalist needs to do in order come away with a massive Game 1 victory.
UCLA Key to Victory: Wake Up the Bats
UCLA’s offense is terrible.
There’s no nice way to put it. The Bruins are only hitting .248 as a team this season. When they were hitting .251 a few days ago, it was the 253rd best in Division I College Baseball. There are only 296 teams, so that’s about as bad as it gets.
Here’s a look at the regular batting order for UCLA:
And yet, UCLA is two victories away from a national championship.
The Bruins have only scored four runs throughout three games at the College World Series. They’ve been winning because the pitching staff has been lights out, allowing just one run in each of the games.
The Bruins have only hit 19 home runs this season, which would be fine if they’d only played in 25 games. But UCLA will take the field for the 65th time in 2013 on Monday, and 19 homers is all they have. For comparison’s sake, Kris Bryant of San Diego (31) and Ryan Kinsella of Elon (21) each had more home runs than UCLA’s entire roster.
TD Ameritrade Park has been difficult to hit home runs in, and there’s no chance that a player on UCLA hits one out. But hitting home runs isn’t the only way to put runs on the scoreboard. UCLA needs to get runners on base and hit them home when given the opportunity to do so.
Scoring just a pair of runs will not be enough for UCLA to a take a 1-0 series lead over Mississippi State. At least three or four runs are going to be necessary to win Game 1. Mississippi State has a good offense, and while UCLA has good pitching, don’t expect to see a 1-0 victory for either team.
UCLA will only win Game 1 if the Bruins take the batters off their shoulders, make contact and hit the ball where the Bulldogs aren’t.
Mississippi State Key to Victory: Rely on the Relievers
The Bulldogs have relied on just two starting pitchers all postseason long. Kendall Graveman and Trevor Fitts have started seven combined games. Ben Bracewell and Luis Pollorena has each started a game apiece too but haven’t played a major role on the staff in Omaha or during the NCAA Tournament.
Only using a few starters can be an effective strategy. The problem is that they don’t go very deep into the games. Mississippi State starters only averaged around 3.2 innings per start, which isn’t very many at all. The Bulldogs let their starter go a couple of innings and then hand the ball to a very good bullpen.
If it weren’t for the bullpen, the Bulldogs wouldn’t be here.
Ross Mitchell has easily been the top reliever on the club this postseason. He’s come into four games, thrown 14.1 innings and has still yet to allow a run. He has given up 13 hits and walked five batters, but no one has crossed the plate yet. It doesn’t matter if opponents are hitting .250 off him if no one is scoring.
Chad Girodo is the only middle reliever that the Bulldogs tend to use often. He’s also appeared in four games but has taken on a larger workload. He’s averaging nearly five innings of relief each time he comes into the game, which, if you remember, is more than the starter usually does.
The goal is to get the ball from Mitchell and Girodo to Jonathan Holder, the closer.
Holder has been good this postseason, saving five games in five chances. He’s allowed three earned runs in 5.2 innings, but that hasn’t impacted any of the games very much. He’s about as reliable as they come, and the Bulldogs will look to get him on the mound with a lead in the eighth or ninth inning—depending on the situation.
If the Bulldogs can score a couple of early runs off of UCLA and Trevor Fitts—who’s expected to start Game 1—goes four or five strong innings, Mississippi State should be in a good position to win the game. The bullpen hasn’t given us a reason to doubt it yet, and don’t expect it to falter under pressure in the Championship Series.