Brendan McKay is really good at baseball. Everything we expect Luken Baker to become, McKay already is, and has remained injury free to boot - allowing him to be one of the Cardinal’s best pitchers as well as the most feared hitter in their lineup. But it’s not just one man that makes this Louisville team tick, in fact, the people that know things in Vegas, has them as the betting favorite (2.6-1 odds) despite their status as the lowest National Seed left in the bracket (though that doesn’t account for the unseeded teams, of course).
Much like TCU, Louisville has seen a resurgence under a singular coach, as Dan McConnell came in 2007 and led the Cards to their only three College World Series appearances - in 2007, 2013, and 2014. They advanced to the Super Regional round the last two seasons and have yet to win a National title.
How They Got Here:
Well, 52 wins, ousting your most hated rival in the Supers, having an impossibly small ERA and an impossibly large team batting average, it’s easy to see why they’re the favorites. Coming in with the fifth best RPI in the country and fourth highest of the remaining teams, the Cards recovered from an absolute garbage preseason schedule to earn their place among the nation’s elite. They will be a tough draw for A&M in round one, for sure.
2.85. That’s not the ERA of their ace, it’s the ERA of their TEAM. That’s good enough for third best in the country this year.
They have struck out 584 batters while walking just 197, a ratio good enough to put them in the top 20 (TCU is five spots better, btw). They have nine shutouts on the year, to boot.
The Cards are led by Brendan McKay, a top ten draft pick in this week’s MLB Draft, who sports a 2.34 ERA in 104.0 innings pitched. He has a 10-3 record, five shutouts, 140 Ks, and just 33 BB. He could get the call game one, but that is more likely to go to Kade McClure, who is 8-3 with a 3.43 ERA, 102 strikeouts, and 32 walks in 97.0 innings of work. Louisville could also turn to Nick Bennett, the least experienced of the three with 12 starts, but who has a 2.70 ERA and three shutouts across 63.1 innings in 2017.
Behind a very good rotation is a strong bullpen, led by closer Lincoln Henzmen, who has 16 saves and 36 strikeouts in 35.2 innings. Sam Bordner, Adam Elliott, and Adam Wolf are all excellent relievers as well. It’s a stacked group, but very right-hand dominant overall.
McKay is obviously the big name in the group, but he’s not the only dangerous bat in a loaded lineup. Drew Ellis has the highest BA of the group at 3.67, and leads the team in RBI (61), runs (55), and home runs (20). He has a perfect 1:1 strikeout to walk ration (38 each). He generally hits behind McKay, so bringing him up with no one on base will be key. For McKay, who hits .343, has 17 home runs and 56 RBI, hoping that he has run down a bit from playing and pitching isn’t a bad strategy.
In all, four Cards hit .300 or above, eight players have scored 35 runs or more, seven have double digit double counts, and five have at least six home runs. Their biggest deficiency is speed - they have only 43 stolen bases on the season and have been thrown out 20 times.
There aren’t a lot of holes in the lineup that scores over seven runs a game, so it will be key that opponents take advantage of scoring opportunities of their own.
Louisville is the team to beat in Bracket Two, and they should have no problem dispatching of the Aggies in round one. Their round two opponent, either TCU or Florida, will have pitching that can go toe-to-toe with the Cardinals, and should make for a tension-filled but entertaining game. I don’t think the Cardinals sweep through the bracket, but they will be one of the final teams standing in their group of four. From there... Go Frogs. Because, of course.