Pitching is the key strength for both teams in the 2014 College World Series. Both the Virginia Cavaliers and Vanderbilt Commodores have impressive arms.
The team that wins Game 1 will be the one that can find a way to get big hits or manufacture runs against a stingy staff.
When looking at the opening-game matchup, we have to first look at who will be on the mound for both teams.
Nathan Kirby vs. Tyler Beede or Walker Buehler
To no one's surprise, Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor will go with ace Nathan Kirby in Game 1.
No surprise here, but #UVa coach Brian O'Connor announces Nathan Kirby will start in Game 1. Brandon Waddell will likely go in Game 2.— Andrew Ramspacher (@ARamspacher) June 22, 2014
Per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), O'Connor said this about his staff at a postgame presser during the CWS:
I thought we would be pretty darn good in Omaha on the mound. I really did. Obviously, the spacious ballpark and our ability to defend have a lot to do with it. What we've done all year is throw strikes. Our walk numbers are ridiculously low. And we've got really good arms.
That's a huge understatement.
Kirby has led a dominant Cavs staff that has surrendered just 10 hits in 24 innings and hasn't allowed an earned run in 22 frames.
Expected to be one of the top major league prospects in the 2015 draft, Kirby is set to take the ball with a chance to play a big role in putting his team ahead 1-0. Jim Callis of MLB.com is high on Kirby:
Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin has yet to choose whether Tyler Beede or Walker Buehler will be the man on the mound against Kirby.
Corbin did not commit to a Game 1 starter when asked in presser. Said it would be Tyler Beede or Walker Buehler.— Nick Cole (@ncole6) June 22, 2014
If Beede is the chosen one for head coach Tim Corbin, the Commodores will have an ace of their own on the mound. Beede was selected No. 14 overall by the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 MLB draft, but he hasn't pitched like a stud of late.
His 5.51 ERA in three postseason starts can't make Corbin feel too comfortable. That said, Beede's entire body of work at Vandy would lead one to believe he'll bounce back with a strong performance at some point.
There's no better time than in what will likely be the last start of his collegiate career.
Vandy is a scrappy bunch without a ton of power, but they execute and know how to manufacture runs. The team hit a combined 21 home runs but stole 115 bases.
As a matter of fact, an infield single by Tyler Campbell against the Texas Longhorns put the team into the finals. Can Vandy win without big boppers in the lineup to get runs in chunks?
Virginia's offense is not filled with power threats, but it does have more pop than Vandy's. Led by Mike Papi's 11 dingers, the Cavs went deep 33 times during the season.
Against a struggling Beede, the Cavs would seemingly have an edge.
Kirby is on a mission right now. He's in one of those grooves that will make him hard to hit for just about any team. The fact that Vandy needs to string together an offensive sequence to scratch makes it all the more likely Kirby dominates.
Look for Virginia to win Game 1 handily behind another strong outing from Kirby.