In honor of the College World Series, which kicked off Saturday, we rounded up a little roundtable not dissimilar to last year. Thanks to all of the participants:
Jonathan Althaus (Viva the Matadors, Texas Tech)
Cam Underwood (State of the U, Miami)
Jason Bartel (Arizona Desert Swarm, Arizona)
This doesn't have to be fortune-cookie-short, but give a few sentences as to how your team got here.
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): It's not easy to get to Omaha, but obtaining a national seed gives you a step up and makes it easier to reach. Running right through the Big 12 plus playing and defeating some traditional powerhouses like CSF and FSU locked us into the national seed halfway into the season and we never looked back. Then, playing the regional and super regional in front of a very passionate crowd put the team in position to make it back to Omaha.
Cam (State of the U): Miami earned their way back to the CWS by sweeping the Coral Gables Regional, and then taking 2 of 3 vs Boston College in Super Regionals. It hasn't been a dominating offense showcase in the 5-1 postseason (the Canes have only scored double digits once), but this team has fought to the end and won tightly contested games over and over again. This is a consistent team, and their postseason wins give Miami their 2nd consecutive 50 win season, and trip to Omaha for the CWS.
Marsh (FoW): TCU had a really great opening weekend and a really great start overall. Once they lost the series to Texas in late March, they kind of hit a period of mediocrity. But they got hot at the right time; winning the Big 12 tournament, blowing through their Regional, and getting a huge Super Regional win against A&M.
Over half the teams in Omaha weren't National Seeds. Was the calculus a bit off with some of these ACC and SEC teams in 2016? Is this year just an anomaly where 'inferior' teams got through? Or is it just the spirit of a Tournament and how something like timing and momentum plays a crucial role into where you end up?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): Timing and momentum do play a crucial role for the postseason in any sport, but the seedings and teams selected was based off the body of work by that team, not just momentum. If momentum and how hot a team was playing was included in the selection, West Virginia would have never been left out. The committee that decides the field of 64 has to look at everything, and they have been wrong before, and they will be wrong again. Every team that made it could plead their case for why they were selected, and any of the teams in the tournament could make a run.
Jason Bartel (Arizona Desert Swarm): The last thing, definitely. Being a guy that lives in Arizona, I thought it was weird that there were no Regionals west of Lubbock, but not necessarily shocking. The Pac-12 suffered a lot of big-time injuries, allowing an awful Utah team to win the conference. Then the rest of the West did not really have a dominating team in each conference this year like normal, so I thought the perception going into the tournament was fairly accurate. But baseball is weird, and weird things are going to happen when you play it, especially in a small sample size like a tournament setting.
Cam (State of the U): I think it's more a fact of teams getting hot at the right time than the seedings having been off. When you look at Louisville, for example, that was a top team from beginning to end of the college baseball season. They have a bunch of MLB draft picks on the team, and won 40+ games heading into Super Regionals. I can't go back and say they shouldn't have been a National Seed.
When you look at Texas A&M, or LSU, or Mississippi State, or Clemson, those teams were all among the best in the country all season long and deserved to be National Seeds. Would they have preferred to make it to Omaha? Of course. No doubt. But the fact that they didn't is more about timing than talent
Who is the deadliest player on your team and why?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): Without a doubt, Eric Gutierrez is our most dangerous player. Anytime you have a conference player of the year and a 1st team All-American with over 240 games of experience, you have a good shot. Add to that the familiarity Eric has with TD Ameritrade, hitting over 50 long balls in the 2014 homerun derby and the fact he just broke out of a slump at the end of the super regionals and you have a mighty powerful weapon. A weapon that usually bats 5th or 6th in the order.
Jason (Arizona Desert Swarm): I think the beauty of Arizona is that there isn't really a deadliest player. There are multiple guys that can beat you, and in multiple ways. But I will go with senior Ryan Aguilar. He's the most dangerous power hitter this year, and can play either first base or left field, and play both well.
Cam (State of the U): C Zack Collins is the top hitter on this team, and one of the top hitters in America. He's a 1st team All-American by Baseball America, d1baseball, and the National College Baseball Writers Association, a finalist for the Johnny Bench award for the Nation's Best Catcher, and was a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes award for Best Collegiate Baseball Player. Sporting a healthy stat line of .357 average, 15 HR, 57 RBI, .538 OBP, and 1.187 OPS, Collins was the #10 overall pick in last week's MLB draft by the Chicago White Sox. Collins has immense power and a well-trained eye at the plate; his 72 walks lead the Nation. He's the straw that stirs the drink for Miami on offense, and can change any game with a single swing. If you make a mistake to Collins, there's a good chance the scoreboard is going to change. For Miami's offense and team, he's the guy.
Marsh (FoW): I want to say Luken Baker. Just because that dude can probably knock a baseball to South Dakota. But overall I think I'm looking at players like Evan Skoug and Elliott Barzilli--guys who're going to beat you at the plate and with their glove. Pitcher Brian Howard after that A&M game also deserves to be in the conversation as well.
What is your team's greatest strength? Greatest weakness?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): Gutierrez is part of the Red Raiders biggest strength, their deep and experienced lineup. Starters Gutierrez, Tyler Neslony, and Stephen Smith all played in the 2014 CWS, gaining valuable experience they will bring to the table this time around. The greatest weakness is a direct opposite of that, in that our pitching staff, while deep, uses some very inexperienced starters. In all 3 games of the super regional against Eastern Carolina, we had a freshman start, and have announced a freshman will start the first game of the CWS against TCU.
Jason (Arizona Desert Swarm): Playing small ball is the greatest strength. I'm really hoping they get a shot at showing the country the two-run suicide squeeze play they've run so often this year. The greatest weakness is pitching depth. If they're forced to go more than five-deep into the pitching staff, it'll get interesting quickly.
Cam (State of the U):
The biggest strengths are:
1. Team defense. Miami has the best defense in America, fielding the ball at a .983 clip.
2. Consistent offense. Miami is dangerous 1-9 in the order, and they grind at-bats better than anyone. With a nearly .400 on-base percentage AS A TEAM, the Canes will work counts, draw walks, and get teams into their bullpen with great ease.
3. Overall talent. There are few teams in America as talented as Miami.
The biggest weaknesses are:
1. waiting until late to wake up the bats. This team gets on base a lot, but to do that they take A LOT of pitches. Sometimes they can be too passive and let the opposing pitcher get into a groove.
2. The depth of the bullpen. Miami lost a key reliever (RHP Cooper Hammond) early in the year. After going through this season, there are 2 reliable relievers: RHPs Frankie Bartow and Bryan Garcia. The other guys in the pen (LHP Thomas Woodrey [a former starter who got demoted], RHPs Keven Pimentel, Ryan Guerra, and Andrew Cabezas [a potential starter]) can be good, or they can get shelled, with no real in-between. To win in Omaha, Miami is going to need more than 2 relievers they can trust. But, right now, that's kind of how things look.
Marsh (FoW): Strength would be momentum, talent, and coaching. Weakness would be youth. As well as this team's played over the past three or so weeks, being so young, sports logic tells you that they're going to hit a wall. Maybe not against Texas Tech, but should they win that game, Florida will certainly be a tough test, and potentially losing that and thus having to crawl back is a very difficult thing to do.
What team are you most afraid to play and why?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): The easy answer is Florida. They are a typical powerhouse that knows how to play in big games, and have been a juggernaut all season. With 2 All-American pitchers and a 1st baseman, they are the team to beat this year. I also fear TCU due to the rivalry that has started building between the 2 schools, the "Watergate" scandal that wasn't, and the fact we knocked them out of contention for the regular season title. They will be looking for payback, and will get a chance immediately.
Jason (Arizona Desert Swarm): UCSB in an elimination game because it means one of the two West Coast teams will be going home. The obvious answers are Florida and Miami probably, but Arizona's already gone on the road and beaten Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette. There's no time to be scared of anyone.
Cam (State of the U): Florida. The whole team. They've owned Miami over the last 5 years(maybe longer), and absolutely demolished us twice in Omaha last year. Back that up with a series win in Coral Gables against the Canes earlier this year, and you'll see why that's my answer.
On our side of the bracket, Miami is the best team and should make it to the CWS final series. But the one team that scares me in this CWS field is Florida. Definitely.
Marsh (FoW): Florida. No question. Mainly because they're on TCU's side of the bracket. So there's a better chance of us playing them than the other team I'm really scared to play, Miami. They're not terribly flashy on offense, but as amazing as their pitching is, as well coached as they are, I think the Gators are the team to beat in the Tournament.
How does your team win in Omaha? What leads to their destruction?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): For Tech to win in Omaha, they need to limit mistakes on the base path, get a strong start from the freshman pitchers, and pile on the base hits. We can't afford for any of our hitters to get in a slump, and we need to be patient like we have been all season. The team cannot afford to relax or get caught up in the moment or the surroundings.
Jason (Arizona Desert Swarm): Starting pitchers are able to go at least seven innings and keep Arizona in front late in the game. This will allow the pitching staff to be set up perfectly for not only that game, but the games in the future. They will be destroyed if two pitchers that take the mound in a certain game do not have their best stuff.
Cam (State of the U): Miami wins by getting timely hitting, a couple HRs from Zack Collins and RF Willie Abreu or LF Jacob Heyward, last year's CWS star, the same great defense we've seen all season long, a couple great starts from Michael Mediavilla and Danny Garcia, Bartow being the late-inning bridge to the closer, the other Garcia locking things down in the 9th.
Miami loses if the bats continue to be silent, Garcia and Mediavilla's starts are less than 6 innings each, Jim Morris micromanages his way out of big innings, the freshmen relievers are pressed into longer outings than they're ready for, and
For me, it comes down to this: does Miami continue to be the team we've seen this whole year.
Are there any teams or players (from other schools) you're just generally intrigued by?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): After playing ECU in the super regional, I want to follow them more closely the next few seasons. They have some fantastic young pitchers and an established lineup that may have had a breakout season this year. Also, their use of armbands is intriguing, even though it's something that I don't like to see in baseball.
Jason (Arizona Desert Swarm): I guess Miami's Edgar Michelangeli just to see if he starts another basebrawl with some kind of home run celebration.
Cam (State of the U): Florida. They're the #1 team in America for a reason. I saw them play Miami 3 times in Coral Gables earlier in the year, and have watched them throughout the post-season. I'm interested to see if they continue to play at such a high level.
Outside of that, Bobby Dalbec for Arizona intrigues me. He's a dynamic 2 way player at 3B and on hill with All-American talent.
Last, and not least, the pair of Coastal Carolina and UC Santa Barbara have my attention. Everybody loves an underdog story, and these teams fit that bill perfectly. I'm obviously not rooting for them to win, but I'd enjoy it if they wreaked a little havoc, other than beating Miami, that is.
Do you like the college game as it is now? Do you miss more offense? Did you like the really stingy game that it was the first part of this decade?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): I generally do like how the college game is currently played right now. I don't feel there is too much offense, or too little. My main beef with the current setup is how meaningless the postseason conference championship has become. The past 2 years, the regular season Big 12 champ has been eliminated early, yet hosted a super regional and made it to Omaha. I also don't agree with how the double elimination format is used in the conference tournament and then a single knockout game can eliminate you in the championship.
Jason (Arizona Desert Swarm): I think this year the offense has come back a pretty decent amount, and the games are pretty entertaining as a whole. I think the perception issue about college baseball and its lack of offense is that the most high-profile games are played in a massive stadium. Since TD Ameritrade is similar to Arizona's Hi Corbett Field in dimensions, I didn't really notice anything out of the ordinary in the CWS. I don't enjoy 15-11 baseball games though.
Cam (State of the U): I miss the game from the late 90s/early 2000s. Apart from that being the last time that Miami won the CWS (1999 and 2001, respectively), but was just fun. Everybody remembers that *PING* that rang out early and often in games, and the ball flew around old Rosenblatt stadium all day long.
I do think, however, that this current version of College Baseball is more realistic. The stingy game of the recent past was atrocious to watch, and that's coming from someone who was a pitcher in my youth, so low scoring games don't bother me. But, what the change to the seams on the ball and deadening the bat did was make the game homogenous; nobody could hit homeruns, and everybody was forced to play small ball. It's one thing to play that way if you so choose, but being forced to play like that was the worst. Now, I think there's a balance to the game, and a greater variety to the way teams are built and play. And I think that's a good thing for College Baseball.
Who wins the College World Series? In how many games and who do they beat?
Jonathan (Viva the Matadors): Obviously the Texas Tech Red Raiders are going to win the College World Series. It will take 3 games, but they will knock out Miami in the championship.
Jason (Arizona Desert Swarm): Miami wins it over Texas Tech in two games.
Cam (State of the U): I'm going to be a homer here. The Miami Hurricanes will win the College World Series, capturing their 5th National Championship in School History. They'll beat the Florida Gators in 3 games to do so.
Marsh (FoW): I think TCU can win it all. If they beat Tech and beat Florida in the first two games, I'll all but guarantee it. Should that scenario happen, I think TCU in three against Miami.
If they lose to Florida, I like the Gators in three against Miami. THE SUNSHINE STATE!