College World Series Preview: Why They All Will (and Won't) Win in Omaha

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College World Series Preview: Why They All Will (and Won't) Win in Omaha

Now that the college baseball season has reached its annual apex and we move on to Omaha's Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium for one of the most exciting two weeks in all sports (June 19-30, to be exact), it's time to evaluate each team's prospects as they begin the quest to be crowned 2010 College World Series Champions.

 

Arizona State, Florida, UCLA, Florida State, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Clemson and TCU have emerged as the class of college baseball, and now, after a round-robin double-elimination tournament, just one will remain standing.

 

But who will that one be? Will it be the Sun Devils, owner of the nation's No. 1 ranking? Will Mike Marin, after 30 years, finally guide the Seminoles to the trophy? Or will an offensive dynamo such as Oklahoma, TCU or Clemson slug their way past the rest?

 

Here is one outlook, focusing on each team's strengths and weaknesses, designed to give you, the fan, a primer on what to expect in Omaha.

 

THE CONTENDERS:

 

 

Arizona St. (52-8 overall record)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

The consensus No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Sun Devils possess one of the nation’s most loaded offenses. Led by first baseman Riccio Torrez and second baseman Zack MacPhee—two guys who are hitting .399 and .394 respectively through 60 games—the Devils are putting up runs at a scary rate, and have scored less than four only once since April 20.

 

Should scoring suddenly become a problem, they can always turn to a pitching staff whose 3.14 team ERA was consistently among the nation’s best all season long. The staff is anchored by Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Seth Blair, who went 12-0 with a 3.35 ERA in 17 starts and Jordan Swagerty, who converted 17 saves, posted a 2.06 ERA and was recently selected in the second round of the MLB Entry Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.

 

Why they won’t:

 

Aside from the fact that this team is alarmingly similar to the 2008 Miami Hurricanes, who went 50-6 only to lose two of their three games in Omaha, there isn’t too much to criticize about Arizona State.

 

It must, however, be noted that this team, as is the case for most warm-weather powerhouses, played a grossly unbalanced home/road schedule in 2010, going 36-3 at home, but only 16-5 away from Tempe, neutral sites included.

 

The Devils also saw their collective earned run average rise over half a run, to 3.68, in conference play, and MacPhee saw his average dip to .327 against more seasoned Pac-10 pitching. It’s also worth noting that since their most recent CWS title in 1981, the Sun Devils have come up empty in their last 10 trips to Omaha.

 

 

Florida (47-15)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

Third-year manager Kevin O’Sullivan has the Gators playing some of the best baseball in the country right now and they are loaded with young talent both offensively and on the mound. Catcher Austin Maddox and designated hitter Mike Zunino have bolstered an already formidable offense that hit 81 home runs and scored over 430 runs in 2010.

 

Not that they needed to, because a flame-throwing pitching staff led by Alex Panteliodis (11-2, 3.26 ERA) and freshman Hudson Randall (8-3, 2.95 ERA) dominated SEC hitters and shut down the University of Miami in a two-game Super Regional Sweep. Oh, and we can’t forget to mention center fielder Matt Den Dekker, one of the best seniors in the country, who led the Gators with a .358 batting average and Jim Edmonds-esque range in the outfield.

 

Why they won’t:

 

It becomes innately difficult to pick a program to win the CWS if they’ve only made one trip to Omaha since 1998 (in 2005) and has nobody on the roster who has made the trip. The Gators might be a sexy pick, but each CWS champion invariably encounters adversity, and it is hard to figure out how this freshman-laden team, which lost two SEC Tournament games and posted a pedestrian 14-12 record outside of Gainesville, will respond.

 

 

UCLA (48-14)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

The Bruins, who advanced to Omaha despite dropping the first game of the best-of-three Super Regional to Cal St.-Fullerton, posted an unheard of 2.97 team ERA and have a rotation, anchored by Rob Rasmussen, Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole that rivals any in the nation. Rasmussen most recently pitched a complete game gem as the Bruins defeated Fullerton 8-1 in Game 3 of the Super Regional. Runners up in the loaded Pac-10 Conference, the Bruins are battle-tested enough to scare any opponent they might run into.

 

Why they won’t:

 

College baseball is fond of its high-scoring slugfests, but although they managed to win 48 games in 2010 their leading power hitters—first baseman Dean Espy, third baseman Cody Regis and catcher Steve Rodriguez—were only able to notch eight home runs apiece.

 

Like Florida, the Bruins are also ending a long CWS drought—surprising, no?—having not been to Omaha since 1997, and have an extremely young roster consisting of 25 freshmen and sophomores. This seems to be the classic case of the team that has to learn what it takes to compete in Omaha and should be primed for a stronger campaign next year. It is also worth noting that in their most prominent series of the season, they were swept at home by Arizona St., who outscored them 23-5 in three games.

 

 

Florida St. (47-18)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

Legendary Mike Martin is in his 30th season at the helm for the ‘Noles and is heading to Omaha for a 14th time, and he’s bringing his offense with him. Outfielder Mike McGee, one of the nation’s most feared power hitters, and center fielder Tyler Holt, one of the game’s top leadoff men, jump-start a lineup that scored an astounding 527 runs (8.1 per game).

 

McGee, the team’s stud closer (12 saves, 1.37 ERA) might even be a better pitcher than hitter. A veteran team, FSU has had a lot of success away from the friendly confines of Dick Howser Stadium, going 8-1 at neutral sites, which is exactly what Rosenblatt Stadium will be.

 

Why they won’t:

 

The Seminoles are making an impressive 20th CWS appearance, but have never brought a national championship to Tallahassee. Additionally, the ‘Noles are utterly devoid of a shutdown starter. The guys who have started the most games this season—Geoff Parker, Sean Gilmartin and John Gast—have pedestrian-at-best ERAs of 4.85, 4.89 and 5.61 respectively.

 

McGee, Holt, and Co. can score runs, but can they do enough against the nation’s best pitchers to offset a dearth of pitching that almost cost them the Super Regional, where they failed to hold Vanderbilt to fewer than six runs in any game?

 

 

South Carolina (47-15)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

After losing four of their last five games against ACC competition, the Gamecocks rebounded and have not lost since, going 3-0 in their Regional and registering a two-game sweep of fourth ranked Coastal Carolina on the road in the Super Regional.

 

Freshman first baseman Christian Walker adds pop to a solid—if not spectacular—lineup that includes stellar outfielders Whit Merrifield and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Hard-throwing right-hander Blake Cooper (2.81 ERA, 105 strikeouts) anchors a rotation that got better as the season progressed and finished with a surprising 21-9 record in the SEC.

 

Why they won’t:

 

Making their first CWS appearance since 2004, the Gamecocks don’t appear to have any major weaknesses on their roster. They also don’t appear to have that “it” factor—the power hitter who can carry a team, the shutdown reliever who can pick up the key three inning save, or the outfield defense that can take runs away—that teams need to beat the best in Omaha.

 

Pitching consistency has been an issue all season—only Cooper and Sam Dyson (4.35 ERA), have made more than nine starts—and the back end of the bullpen, led by closer Matt Price and setup man Jose Mata, has reached higher-than-desirable innings totals. The Cocks have been able to mix and match their way to 47 wins thanks to good fundamental baseball, but it takes a better than good effort to go all the way in Omaha.

 

 

Oklahoma (49-16)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

The last team to punch their ticket to Omaha, the Sooners shellacked tournament favorite Virginia 11-0 to win their Super Regional’s rubber game in Charlottesville. The Sooners bashed 96 home runs this season, led by all-conference third baseman Garrett Buechele (16 HRs), leftfielder Max White (15) and first baseman Cameron Seitzer (14).

 

With power like that, in addition to speedy leadoff hitter and center fielder Chris Ellison (.331 average, 23 stolen bases), Oklahoma, makings its first CWS appearance since 1995, believes it can—and will—outscore anybody. And as the only team in Omaha that lost its first Super Regional game on the road before winning the next two, Oklahoma has proven that it knows how to battle back from adversity in a double-elimination setting.

 

Why they won’t:

 

An alarmingly mediocre 15-10 conference record and a pitching staff with a cumulative ERA just a shade under four, are serious causes for concern for the crimson and cream. Their most (only?) reliable starters, Bobby Shore and Jeremy Erben, have struggled late in the season, although Shore did pitch a gem in the Super Regional clincher, and closer Ryan Duke’s 3.51 ERA reminds few of Huston Street or Ryan Perry.

 

For all their speed, the Sooners have not done a great job of manufacturing runs this season, and instead seem to play an American League, “walk-walk-three-run-homer” style of play. That approach has fared much worse against top-tier competition, and doesn’t bode well for the 4-3 or 5-4 game that every CWS champion has to win at some point.  

 

Clemson (42-23)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

Outfielder Kyle Parker is a preseason all-ACC pick…as a quarterback. And he’s even better (.353-20-64) at baseball. Parker leads a loaded offense that scored an ACC-best 584 runs in 2010 and hit 93 home runs. Parker is joined by third baseman Jeff Schaus’ team-leading 72 RBIs and John Hinson’s 72 RBIs and 23 stolen bases.

 

In 10 postseason games so far, the Tigers have scored 94 runs, so they know they can bring the lumber. If ace Casey Harman (7-3, 3.73 ERA, 95 K) can continue to churn out quality starts, the Tigers can slug their way past anybody.

 

Why they won’t:

 

To say that pitching has hindered Clemson’s quest is a gross understatement. Their team ERA is an atrocious 4.72, and Harman is the only staff member to have started more than 10 games and have an ERA lower than 5. Despite banging out over nine runs a game in postseason play, the Tigers are an equal opportunity employer, allowing over six themselves.

 

Clemson has converted 12 saves on the season—although they have been split between 6 relievers, further illustrating their lack of pitching depth. Long-time manager Jack Leggett (17th season with the Tigers) has done a lot with a patchwork staff, but it doesn’t appear that they can beat the big boys away from home. Posting an underwhelming 14-14 record away from Doug Kingsmore Stadium does not bode well for Omaha success.

 

TCU (51-12)

 

Why they’ll win:

 

There is perhaps no more balanced squad in all of college baseball than the Horned Frogs. Sure, playing in the Mountain West may contribute to record inflation, but this team is no fluke and definitely no Cinderella. Their three tri-aces—Steven Maxwell, Kyle Winkler, and Matt Purke combined to go 37-3 with a sub-3 ERA and 312 strikeouts—form a deadly combination. Just ask the Texas Longhorns, who TCU defeated in the Super Regional, winning games 3-1 and 4-1.

 

But pitching is not the Frogs’ only asset. Eleven hitters posted batting averages over .300, led by the dynamic middle-of-the-order tandem of first baseman Matt Curry (17 home runs) and left fielder Jason Coats (.373 average). TCU, fresh off a huge road win against their arch-rivals, don’t just beat people; they embarrass them, and their No. 12 ranking at season’s end is a gross underestimation of their talent.

 

Why they won’t:

 

Quite simply, they haven’t played the same competition that the other seven squads have. A Mountain West schedule can’t compete with the Pac-10 or SEC, and it remains to be seen if the Frogs have a strong enough bullpen to eke out a win or two when they face an Arizona State or a Florida, whose pitchers have faced professional-quality hitters for four months.

 

TCU is also making its first ever trip to Omaha, and their rabid fan base, which will make their presence felt in Omaha, may place undue pressure on them. Keep an eye on their starters’ fatigue levels, as well. Maxwell, Winkler and Purke have all already eclipsed the 100 inning mark in 2010, which might be cause for concern, especially since the bullpen has not been tested much.

 

PREDICTION:

 

TCU over Arizona State in three games.

 

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