2011 College World Series: 10 Reasons Texas A&M Can Win the Title
The Aggies come into the College World Series as underdogs. Outside of Cal, no team in the field is a bigger underdog in fact.
To overlook them would be a huge mistake, though. The Aggies are led by two ace pitchers and a lineup that gets contributions from top to bottom.
They are also playing with a chip on their shoulder. They felt that they were deserving of a top eight national seed and they were not given one. Since being slighted, they have played some of their best baseball.
Let's take a look at 10 reasons why Texas A&M could come out victorious.
1. Michael Wacha
After losing staff ace John Stilson to a season-ending injury in the latter part of the regular season, Michael Wacha stepped into the ace role and has flourished.
Thanks to rain throwing off scheduling, Wacha was able to start two games for the Aggies in the regional round. He won them both. Particularly impressive was his second start in the regional. Wacha gave the Aggies seven shutout innings on just three days rest.
In the super regional-clinching win over Florida State, Wacha gave a yeoman's effort once again. Wacha gave up two earned runs in 7.1 innings, throwing 129 pitches.
Having an ace like Wacha is a huge advantage in tournament play like the College World Series.
2. Ross Stripling
Ross Stripling has been nearly as impressive as Wacha in this postseason. For much of the season, Stripling was overshadowed by staff aces Stilson and Wacha.
Once Stilson went down, Stripling was forced into a bigger role and he has shined. In the regional win over Seton Hall, Stripling threw a complete game, limiting the Pirates to one earned run.
In the super regional opener against the Seminoles, Stripling got the Aggies off on the right foot by throwing seven innings, allowing the powerful Florida State offense only two earned runs.
Stripling, coupled with Wacha, gives A&M a great tandem of starting pitchers.
3. Kevin Gonzalez
Kevin Gonzalez as a key to the Aggies' success goes hand in hand with their great pitching staff.
Gonzo is as solid as they come behind the plate. He knows the pitchers better than they do themselves and the pitchers can trust him to block anything and everything that bounces in front of him.
It sounds like a cliche, but when Rob Childress says that Gonzalez is a coach on the field, he truly means it.
Gonzalez also has sneaky pop in his bat. He has only five home runs on the season, but he has solid gap power.
4. Speed on the Bases
The Aggies are a team that loves to make things happen on offense. When they get guys on, it's only a matter of time before they are put in motion.
As a team, they have stolen 107 bases. Krey Bratsen leads the team with 31, and Andrew Collazo has 18. Matt Juengel, who also leads the team in home runs, is second with 14.
Seven players on their roster have at least six steals on the season. A&M will put constant pressure on a defense with their ability to put runners in motion. They will force defenses to make plays.
5. Tyler Naquin
Hitters like Aaron Westlake of Vanderbilt and Mike Zunino of Florida will get more headlines and features during the College World Series, but Tyler Naquin of Texas A&M is a hitter who rivals any other left playing.
Naquin, the Big 12 Player of the Year, is hitting .390 this season. He has 23 doubles, seven triples and has driven in 44 runs. He has plus speed, even though he only has six steals to show for it.
His skills aren't limited to the plate, either. Naquin has a rifle for an arm in the outfield. He has seven outfield assists on the season. Runners should think twice before trying to take an extra base against Naquin.
6. Versatile Bullpen
The Aggies don't have the deep bullpen that Vanderbilt, Texas or Florida has, but they do boast a bullpen that can be used in a variety of ways.
Four relievers have started games this season. Those are guys who can give Rob Childress multiple innings at a time.
Nick Fleece, Joaquin Hinojosa and Kyle Martin, the three best relievers in the bullpen, all have more than 30 appearances. Those guys have rubber arms and can bounce back quickly if the Aggies need them to.
7. Success in Tournament Play
The Aggies' run through the postseason began in the Big 12 tournament. In the championship game, A&M rallied from being down 6-0 to Missouri to winning the game in walk-off fashion.
In the regional, the Aggies not only battled the other teams but bad weather, to move on to the super regional.
In the super regional in Tallahassee, the Aggies lost the middle game of the series 23-9. It would have been easy to get down on themselves but, instead, A&M came back the next day and won 11-2 to move on to Omaha.
The Aggies have fought back from adversity time and time again, something a team must do in tournament play.
8. Ability to Win Any Type of Game
The Aggies are well-equipped to win any type of ball game they are faced with.
With Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling at the head of their rotation, they have the horses to win pitcher's duels.
Tyler Naquin, Krey Bratsen, Matt Juengel and Jacob House, among others, are talented enough at the plate to keep A&M competitive in many slugfests.
The versatile, rubber-armed bullpen of the Aggies would allow them to stand a good chance of winning any extra inning game.
As a team, they also have 74 sacrifice bunts, led by Bratsen's 18. This will bode well for the Aggies' chances to win close games.
9. Team Defense
Generally speaking, the Aggies are a team that won't beat itself. They have a solid .976 team fielding percentage.
They are particularly solid in the outfield with Bratsen (.994 fielding percentage) and Brandon Wood (.987). Kevin Gonzalez is as good as they come behind the plate, as he has a .994 fielding percentage.
Of all players who play regularly, only Adam Smith struggles defensively. He has an .895 fielding percentage. His defense can be easily remedied in the late innings, though, by moving Andrew Collazo over to third and bringing in Scott Arthur to play second.
10. The Chip on Their Shoulder
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Aggies firmly believe that they are one of the best eight teams in the country and should have been among the top eight national seeds.
All they have done since being slighted, is run through a home regional that included a very good Arizona team and a super regional on the road against national power Florida State and their elite offense.
The Aggies, as the underdogs, will still be playing with that chip on their collective shoulders. That likely isn't good news for their opponents, beginning with defending champion South Carolina on Sunday night.