If there's one thing that has defined the College World Series over the years, it's parity. Just as we have no idea what to expect from Major League Baseball's postseason, the college game has a way of making us look like fools.
However, it's precisely because of parity that the annual trek to Omaha is more than just a niche event for hardcore baseball fans. The air of unpredictability and excitement gives it a special feeling that begins in earnest on Saturday.
The field of 64 has been whittled down to just eight with four teams kicking off the main portion of the College World Series today, including a battle between two No. 1 seeds that has the potential to be one of the best-pitched games you will see.
We have all the schedule information to get you set for Day 1 of the College World Series, as well as some last-minute predictions.
College World Series Day 1 Schedule
|Start Time (ET)||Matchup||Pitching Matchup||Network|
|3 p.m.||No. 2 Texas vs. No. 3 UC Irvine||RHP Thornhill vs. RHP Morales||ESPN2|
|8 p.m.||No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 1 Vanderbilt||RHP Funkhouser vs. RHP Fulmer||ESPN2|
Day 1 Game Predictions
Texas vs. UC Irvine
Despite not being the main attraction on Day 1,Texas vs. UC Irvine is a game between two teams that matchup well against each other because they have different strengths, making it difficult to forecast a favorite.
The Anteaters boast a talented lineup led by first baseman Connor Spencer and third baseman Taylor Sparks, who was taken in the second round of the MLB draft by Cincinnati. Spencer leads the team in average (.370) and on-base percentage (.459), while Sparks provides the power with five homers and 29 extra-base hits.
UC Irvine waited until the tournament started to play up to its potential, scoring 37 runs in six games through the Super Regionals after averaging just 4.2 runs per game in 57 regular season games.
Andrew Morales, who tossed a complete-game shutout against Oklahoma State in the game that sent UC Irvine to the College World Series, leads a solid pitching staff. He was also an early MLB draft pick, going to St. Louis in the second compensation round and has excellent control of a deep arsenal.
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On the other side, Texas succeeds thanks to its pitching staff. The Longhorns have been efficient on offense in the tournament thus far, scoring 25 runs through six games, but the pitching has carried the way with nine runs allowed.
It's because of the Longhorns' dominance on the mound in this tournament, combined with playing in TD Ameritrade Park, that they are going to win the opening game. The stadium in Omaha is built like an MLB park with a spacious outfield and long dimensions even down the lines (335 feet to left and right field; 408 feet to dead center).
Irvine's ability to put the ball in play will put pressure on Texas' defense, but Sparks has always been a low-contact hitter in college (67 strikeouts in 241 at-bats this season). That negates the main power source for the Anteaters.
Texas' ability to mix and match with a deep bullpen also gives it an advantage. There aren't a lot of guys who miss bats, but John Curtiss has a big arm when he's throwing strikes (14 walks in 39.1 innings). Morgan Cooper is deceptive and difficult to pick up, which helps his elite control (eight walks in 51.1 innings) play up.
The Longhorns also have more balance in the lineup with two players who hit at least five home runs (Ben Johnson, Tres Barrera) and eight players with an on-base percentage of at least ,340.
It's going to be close, but in a battle of small ball and bullpens, Texas has a slight edge.
Prediction: Texas 3, UC Irvine 2
Louisville vs. Vanderbilt
You won't find many opening games better than Louisville vs. Vanderbilt, though we are fortunate to get another epic confrontation on Sunday when Virginia and Mississippi square off.
Louisville and Vanderbilt aren't the best or most complete teams in the country, but they fall into the category of "do everything well" that it's hard to separate them. If there is a difference-making aspect on either side, it's the Cardinals' bullpen.
Nick Burdi is the most famous name in the group as a second-round pick to Minnesota and capable of breaking triple digits with his fastball, but Kyle McGrath and Cole Sturgeon also averaged more than one strikeout per inning pitched with ERAs under 2.00.
Louisville starter Kyle Funkhouser has been one of the best pitchers in college baseball this season, ranking ninth in strikeouts (117) and 34th in ERA (1.73).
Vandy's Carson Fulmer isn't as overpowering as Funkhouser, but does a great job of mixing pitches and hitting spots to keep hitters off balance.
The Cardinals have a powerful lineup that hit 32 homers during the season and has enough thump to find the gaps in Omaha. They also get on base at a better clip (.380) than the Commodores (.369).
But in a one-game scenario, these things are more often decided by pitching than anything else. Louisville has the right guy starting the game and the big arms to use late to stifle a slappy Vanderbilt lineup.
Prediction: Louisville 2, Vanderbilt 1
Stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.
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