TCU's 2015 College World Series is starting to echo their run in 2010. Whether it's a pitcher's duel--like the CWS insta-classic with Vandy edging the Frogs 1-0--or just a game where we can watch Alex Bergman make a play like he did last night, this World Series, chalked full of dynamite pitching and future MLB stars, is the best one in years.
Last year was a bit of snooze fest, and the returning teams--namely Vanderbilt, Virginia, and TCU, who, as of 9:00am on Friday June 19th, are still alive, are more exciting to watch too. But this series is about greater things too; it's about the rising and (somewhat) falling families of college baseball--but mostly about the rising.
The dream if you're TCU is to play Virginia. Not because you can't beat Florida, because should you get to the Finals, it'll be because you beat 3 SEC teams in a row, thus proving superior to the Nation's most beloved and most hated conference.
(1) You want to play Virginia in a rematch of last year's game, which was put into the college sports meme Hall of Fame when Kevin Cron semi-decked Kenny Towns on a furious tag. And (2), more importantly it's a testament for both schools--who are much more alike than not-- to how their programs are managed, and how the new age college baseball can be run. Hell, in 2010, of the four finalists--Clemson, UCLA, TCU, and South Carolina--none of them had a title. Now South Carolina has 2, and UCLA, 1. Vanderbilt, rightly thought of as a National power, got their first Title last year. Virginia, who made their first College World Series in 2009, has been to three since--that means, on average, you should see the Hoos in Omaha every other year. Ridiculous.
Even Florida, sun soaked and rooted in football legends like Danny Wuerffel and everyone's favorite piece of leather, Steve Spurrier, are also fairly recent powers in the world of college baseball. Sure, the Gators have a little more history than everyone left in the tournament, as their first appearance in 1988 came a year before I was born. This may seem long ago, but if you're LSU, USC, or Texas, 1988, in terms of baseball, seems as recent as the first generation iPhone. The Gators have been 8 times in 26 years; but more importantly, they've made it in 5 of the last 10. And like TCU, who've now been back twice since 2010, are looking for their first title as well. Whatever the case, and no matter who ends up playing for the title, a team's going to either be playing for either their first title, or just their second. With apologies to the old powers, I think these new guys will be here for awhile.
It's 9:56am, I've spilled coffee on a carpet and I still don't know who's pitching for TCU. I do, however, know who's pitching for Vanderbilt: stud righty, Walker Buehler. Buehler is just one of the many Vanderbilt players who was drafted over a week ago, and one of three who were taken in the first round. The Frogs' rematch against Vandy isn't terribly unlike the salty UCLA games of 2010. Like the Bruins then, the ‘Dores also have MLB-level talent on the bump in Buehler and Carson Fulmer--and to a degree, Philip Pfeifer. Unfortunately for the Frogs, Buehler won't be a Rob Rasmussen to knock around in the first rematch game. Buehler is shit gritty, and completely unapologetic in his delivery. Read this from SBNation's Houston Astros affiliate, Crawfish Boxes:
Walker Buehler checks a lot of boxes. A fastball that shows good life down in the zone and ranges from 90-96. He throws both a curve and slider and they both have shown potential of being above-average major league pitches. He also throws a changeup that is less consistent than the breaking balls, but also flashes above-average potential. Thats four pitches that can be at least average at the major league level. Paired with good pitchability that allows of him to change speeds effectively, the ceiling is quite high.
The biggest questions with him are that he's a 6'1" pitcher that might weigh 170 pounds. He doesn't look like a workhorse. But, the history books aren't void of pitchers with his frame. A good delivery and good training can keep you healthy. He comes from a program that has stood out in recent years of keeping pitcher's healthy due to using modern advancements in training at Vanderbilt.
Mechanically, he doesn't do anything that makes you cringe. Good arm slot. Good abduction and external rotation. Good deceleration of the glove side. Good forward rotation that allows for the release point to shorten the distance to the plate and provide a good deceleration path. He shows good pronation at release and through deceleration. He does get a lot of horizontal abduction early in the delivery which can add stress to the shoulder though.
The good news for TCU, however, is that Buehler is a righty--even if Buehler dominates early, you have to like the chances going forward. Like the Frogs showed LSU last night, once they get the starter out, they punish the bullpens inferior to theirs, which really means everyone's bullpen. While he gets Major League scouts drooling, Buehler, at 6-4, and possessing a 2.97 ERA, statistically isn't that intimidating if you're TCU. And given TCU's run-like-hell tendencies and patience at the plate, they should try to force a high pitch counter sooner rather later and force his exit. However, should Buehler go 7 or 8 innings, it get's exceptionally more difficult.
Speaking of bullpens, the world now weeps at the brilliance of Trey Teakell. The guy who Schloss called "the most valuable pitcher that's been in our program maybe ever" was literally perfect Thursday night, and after he came in there were no more cringe-worthy LSU on-base celebrations that echoed everyone's favorite cheap imitation of a 1980s movie bully, Tyler Hansbrough. And aside from a rare mental/fielding error from Keaton Jones (and also just as much at fault Dane Steinhagen and Derek Odell for not calling the ball off), Preston Guillory was also electric.
It's now 10:37am and I haven't spilled any more coffee, mostly because I've graduated to Coke Zero for the day, despite it being before noon. So what are TCU's best chances at a rotation going forward?
If you throw Tyler Alexander today--who should gain a little chip today with Vanderbilt fans prematurely salivating at his "junk ball" status--your situation going forward can presumably go like this: Alexander (Friday)--Preston Morrison (Saturday)--Alex Young (Monday)--and then, depending on how Young does, you're left with the decision on when to start Morrison again. Should they advance to a third game in the championship series (which would be Wednesday), Morrison is the ideal pick to pitch in that finale, with no clear way to start him earlier after a Saturday start. So I guess the decision really isn't a decision at all. And based on Schloss leaving Morrison off of the bullpen roster last night, it seems likely we would see Morrison on Saturday.
Another interesting story-line about TCU and Vandy has been the lack of offensive production by respective field generals; Cody Jones and Dansby Swanson. The No. 1 MLB pick and the Big 12 Year Player of the Year have a combined, um, get ready for this, 0 hits in Omaha. We know one of these guys will play for a National Championship, and if either TCU or Vandy, which ever gets past tonight and or tomorrow, they'll need their MVP.
11:55am, as predicted, it's Tyler Alexander vs Walker Buehler. It's Vandy vs. TCU. New Power vs. New Power.