No team in the College World Series has had a road to Omaha like TCU. The Frogs, who went 0-2 in the futile Big 12 Tournament, was awarded a National Seed much to Florida State's and A&M's chagrin. After a gracious performance in their second regional game against NC State the weird began to get really weird; Riley Ferrell, TCU's spiritual and mechanical rock, blew the game on a walk-off homerun. Fast forward the Frogs cruising past their first elimination game the next morning, and even the absolutely dominant performance by sophomore lefty, Tyler Alexander, in the first rematch game that allowed the Frogs to live to fight another day.
And fight they did.
Well. Sort of.
"NC State *gave* TCU that game"
There's no denying that the 8-1 is one of the biggest meltdowns in recent college sports memory. No TCU fan will tell you, or at least should tell you, that the Horned Frogs won that game. However, not every team is like TCU, and there are arguably very few teams wouldn't have squandered that chance. The Frogs, and the crowd at Lupton, played it perfectly. When they needed to hit, they hit. When they needed a runner to advance, they did it, but they weren't overly eager. And once TCU tied the game up, it was pretty hard to imagine them losing at that point.
Although speaking of overly eager...
Being overly eager is probably what got TCU to Omaha. Taking a lead into the 9th, one could make the very strong argument that that was not the time for Ferrell to get his groove back; had they stuck with Trey Teakell, who despite giving a up a home run battled right back with a strikeout, there never would've been that 16 inning marathon. We could butterfly effect this all day, but it doesn't change the fact that the game ended- the next day- with Garrett Crain doing what we've all done at some point in our life; not listening. Crain's winning run, which came on two bad errors--a bobble, and a horrendous throw-- from the Aggie third baseman, probably would've had the same result had he been blind.
Sports, especially baseball, is a lovely paradox. Baseball is so statistically driven that you can pretty much argue yourself out of any gut-feeling you could ever have if it could be even mildly disproven with numbers. But yesterday when Cody Jones threw that rope from centerfield- combined with Skoug's brilliant block- prevented LSU from getting the first run of the game, you had to like TCU's chances for the day.
The only throw more important in Sunday's game was the one that LSU pitcher, Jared Poche, threw. The ball, which was intended for 1st base, looked like Poche was trying to hit a cotton-candy vendor. Even worse, it came against Cody Jones, who swiftly turned an automatic out to an error-riddled triple. That's just how the day went for LSU. The Frogs were outhit until the very late innings of the game, and the Tigers' four errors inexplicably led to their demise. But again, like the NC State game, or even the last A&M game, TCU did what no team in the country does better: twisting the knife their opponents fall on.
On Monday night, Schlossnagle still hadn't named a starter. And just like that, we're back the argument that makes everyone crazy; Mitchell Traver or Alex Young or Tyler Alexander. We saw how dynamite Young can be in a pressure situation against Vandy's other SEC brethren over a week ago in the Super Regional elimination game. Traver, who pitched in the same game (albeit nearly a half-a-game's worth of innings later) was equally brilliant. Tyler Alexander had one of the best performances of his career two weeks ago in the Sunday rematch against NC State. The real answer, is that it really doesn't matter. Any choice, especially if you're entertaining throwing a lefty, is a good choice.
Using Traver in relief in the A&M game was as perfect as a move as one could make. TCU's power righty, who went in the 27th round last week, which was just two rounds ahead of where they just start pulling names out of a cap, will likely, and should return as the Frog's ace in 2016. Having him in the bullpen, the more I think about it, may in fact be TCU's best weapon in Omaha. This pains me to say, especially because it seems like Riley Ferrell is indeed back. Given the talent pool of this year's College World Series, it's hard to imagine the Frogs not participating in an extra-inning Battle Royale at some point in this tournament. I'm not saying Traver should be the closer, I'm saying that outside of their fanbase, teams know how TCU plays.
After a little luck from Mother Nature herself, the defending champion, Vanderbilt will get their chance at redemption after suffering an early March defeat at the hands of Preston Morrison.
The two play at a neutral field yet again, and sadly, if you're TCU, you don't get to play the Commodores whilst they wear what looks like a 1930's Chicago gangster costume you buy last minute at a Walgreens on the afternoon of October 31st. But they will get to see the Nation's best player, Dansby Swanson, once again--who was held to just one hit by Preston Morrison in March. If you're TCU, you might be more worried about Rhett Wiseman, who had by far the most success against the Frogs in that game; knocking three big hits and scoring half of Vanderbilt's runs (which, to be fair to the statistical gods, was only 1).
Vanderbilt faces a similar dilemma: who in the hell are they going to throw? Despite giving two first round pitchers in Carson Fulmer--whom the ‘Dores used against Fullerton--the other, Walker Buehler, like Fulmer, is also right-handed...which can be a problem if you're facing a run-hungry team like the Frogs. Though LSU proved it doesn't always matter if you stick the script and throw a lefty against the Frogs--that's still the preferred route. Nevermind the fact that Pfeifer has already pitched against, and lost to TCU this year in a game he didn't start (if you're playing along at home, you can probably or remember who did start that game in Dodger Stadium: Walker Buehler). Occam's Razor once again applies: the simplest answer is the best. If you're Vandy, that answer Phillip Pfeifer for the reasons listed above.
If we haven't lost our minds going down Alice in Wonderland pitching-matchup rabbit holes, one thing we can bet on for Tuesday night's bout is that TCU fans, and Vandy fans for that matter, are going to get what they expect. Hopefully it falls into the category of good baseball. After all, like we talked about Wiseman scoring half of Vandy's 2 runs in their 4-2 loss in March, this game by all means should be close. But good baseball or not, #Freebaseball or not, fully expect TCU to be aggressive on all fronts; whether that's on the basepath, the mound, or in the batter's box. And if you're the Commodores, your biggest fear isn't Cody on the basepath, or their freshmen wunderkinds in the middle of the lineup, and it's not even the prospect of hitting game-planning around Alexander, Young, or Traver. It's letting TCU play their true Machiavellian game: waiting until you become your own worst enemy, fall on your sword, and allow them twist it until you bleed out. That's not lucky, that's just sadistic.