The Vanderbilt Commodores look like the team to beat in the 2019 College World Series.
They get their first opportunity to show off their skills in the event Sunday at 2 p.m. ET when they face the Louisville Cardinals at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
Sunday, June 16 (Bracket 2)
Game 3: Vanderbilt vs. Louisville, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 4: Mississippi State vs. Auburn, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN 2
Vanderbilt vs. Louisville
The Commodores (54-11) come into the CWS with an impressive 8-1 record against the other seven teams in the event.
Head coach Tim Corbin has a talented team led by outfielder JJ Bleday (drafted fourth by the Miami Marlins), who has bashed 26 home runs this season and drove in 69 runs. Austin Martin is another game-changing player, hitting .410 and playing a solid third base.
Vanderbilt wouldn't be the favorite going into the tournament without excellent pitching, and the Commodores have Drake Fellows, Kumar Rocker and Mason Hickman in their rotation. Fellows comes in with a 12-1 record, Rocker has a 10-5 record and a 3.50 earned-run average, while Hickman is undefeated at 8-0.
The Cardinals (49-16) are just 2-8 in their all-time CWS appearances and 2-2 against this year's CWS opponents.
Louisville does not have the power up and down its lineup that several CWS teams have, but third baseman Alex Binelas has shown he can drive the ball. He has 14 home runs and 59 RBI. Shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald is also a solid hitter with seven homers and 64 RBI.
The Cardinals have solid pitching with a pair of left-handers in Reid Detmers and Nick Bennett heading their rotation. Detmers comes into the CWS with a 12-4 record and a 2.85 ERA, while Bennett has a 7-3 record and a 4.40 ERA.
The return of relief pitcher Michael McAvene could be big for head coach Dan McDonnell. McAvene got thrown out of an NCAA regional game against Indiana because he argued with a ball call in the ninth inning. The NCAA rules called for a four-game suspension, and he returns at the most important point of the year. McAvene has a 2.67 ERA and seven saves.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 5, Louisville 1.
The Commodores take care of business as they score early and their pitching shuts down Louisville.
Mississippi State vs. Auburn
The Auburn Tigers (38-26) have a lot to overcome if they are going to make a strong showing in the CWS. They are just 2-8 against teams that have qualified for the event, and that has to be a burden for head coach Butch Thompson.
Designated hitter Conor Davis comes into the event with a .287 average, seven homers and 34 RBI, while third baseman Edouard Julien has nine home runs and 54 RBI. Pitchers Jack Owen and Tanner Burns will try to keep the Mississippi State lineup in check. Owen has a 4-2 record and a 2.83 ERA, while Burns is 4-3 with a 2.73 ERA.
Mississippi State (51-13) appears to be a powerful team with a chance to bring home the title.
The Bulldogs have a number of sluggers who are capable of putting their signature on the game. Their best hitter is second baseman Justin Foscue, who is hitting .338 with 14 homers and 59 RBI. Catcher Dustin Skelton also comes into the tournament with a .316 batting average, 10 home runs and 55 RBI.
Left-handed pitcher Ethan Small has a 10-2 record along with a 1.76 ERA, and he is joined by fellow starter Peyton Plumlee, who has a 7-4 record. Cole Gordon has a 3.76 ERA and 11 saves and is capable of finishing games for head coach Chris Lemonis.
Prediction: Mississippi State 7, Auburn 2
The Tigers are a solid team, but they don't have the power to keep up with the Bulldogs.