With the College World Series starting today, we thought it would be cool to get some of the blogs together to chat about their thoughts pertaining to the field this season.
So, without further ado, here’s reps from five of the eight teams in the CWS, with their thoughts on how things will play out. (If others respond, I’ll update the post with their answers).
Let's begin with some introductions. Please let us know who you are and which blog you are representing.
My name is Adam Henderson and I am the lead baseball writer for And The Valley Shook!, SB Nation’s LSU affiliate blog.
My name is Jamie Plunkett, and I do sports stuff at Frogs O’ War.
I’m Andy Hutchins. I do Alligator Army and stuff. Go Gators or what have you.
My name is Matt Nesloney, and I am the lead baseball nerd for Good Bull Hunting. I like stats.
My name is David Wright and I write quite a bit of the content for the Fullerton site on the Scout network.
My name is Joe Londergan, and I’m a contributor for Building the Dam, SB Nation’s Oregon State affiliate blog.
My name is Andrew Miller and I am a beat writer for Tomahawk Nation, Florida State’s SB Nation affiliate.
What is your overall perception of this year's College World Series field? Are any of the eight teams a surprise to you? Are there any teams that didn't advance that you thought would for sure be competing in Omaha this week?
AH: Well, six of the eight teams are one seeds and five of those teams are national seeds so for the most part it’s not surprising at all. But the two teams that were not one seeds to make in Omaha ended up having an easy road there. Texas A&M beat a Baylor team I wasn’t really sold on and nearly duffed it against Houston. And then Davidson...poor Davidson man. So I can’t really say that I’m surprised they made it to Omaha given how manageable their route here was, I’d say only Florida had an easier route and they were in elimination games in both Regionals and Super Regionals. I don’t know how North Carolina getting bounced by Davidson isn’t the surprise of the tournament though. I was banking on them bouncing Houston in the Supers, and neither team made it.
JP: It’s a pretty straightforward year as far as seeds to make the tournament go. Five national seeds are in, which is more than in 2016 (3), 2015 (4), or 2014 (2), which theoretically means this is a tougher field. Realistically, though, every field is tough because of what the eight teams have had to go through to get to this point. Texas A&M and Cal State Fullerton are both a bit of a surprise to me. A&M got so, so, so supremely lucky in their Super Regional matchup, after almost blowing it against Houston, and Cal State Fullerton made it past Stanford and Long Beach State, which is impressive. I was fairly certain we were going to see Texas Tech in the final eight, but I found great joy in watching Sam Houston knock them out of their own regional.
Andy: I think this is a loaded field, as the collective pedigree of these teams is significantly beyond what we often see when a Cinderella or two waltzes to Omaha. You know every team in attendance is making at least its fourth College World Series appearance? You will by the end of Sunday, if I know ESPN. And half of this field has been at least 11 times, too. When I look at the field, I see teams that are the natural outgrowth of powerhouse programs, not one-off miracles like we’ve seen from Coastal Carolina, Stony Brook, etc. in recent years.
None of these teams being here is that big a surprise given how the Super Regionals shook out, with Florida State and Texas A&M both getting to host overmatched teams, Cal State Fullerton knocking off a long-time rival, and the other five Super Regionals ultimately going to national seeds playing at home. But it’s worth noting the Titans were 0-4 against Long Beach State before winning two must-win games over the Dirtbags last weekend, I think, and also worth noting that North Carolina wrecking on what turned into Texas A&M’s road to Omaha was a true faceplant.
MN: I think this year’s field is pretty stout. There are a lot of big names in Omaha this year. I think I would be lying if I said that A&M wasn't a surprise, but that’s what makes this sport so fun. Whether it's a Cinderella participant or LSU making it again, there's always a good story line. In terms of teams not in Omaha, I definitely thought we’d see either Texas Tech or UNC, but nobody in Tallahassee or College Station are too upset about that, I'm sure.
DW: With five of the national seeds and a regional host making it to Omaha, there aren’t too many surprises and all eight of these teams are household names in college baseball. Fullerton was a two seed in their regional but they have been ranked in the top twenty all season and are a dangerous team with Colton Eastman back to full health. Texas A&M is the one major surprise among the eight teams in Omaha as a 3 seed in their regional that was one of the last teams chosen to make the field by the selection committee. The team that it is probably most surprising with their absence is North Carolina, the number two national seed, and the beneficiary of that ended up being Texas A&M, who hosted Davidson in their super regional.
JL: This College World Series is STACKED with some big-time college baseball programs. At the beginning of the tournament, I thought to myself that we probably wouldn’t have another Coastal Carolina situation with a much smaller program going really far. I was right for the most part. The biggest surprise for me was Florida State given their inconsistency in the regular season. Once it got to be between Long Beach and CSUF in that Super, it was pretty much a toss up so I don’t know if I’d call that a surprise really, but still. Also, everybody else has touched on it already, but UNC leaving in regionals is huge and (sorry TCU fans, but) I was pretty confident Virginia was going to win that regional when this all started.
AM: I think the field is perfectly scattered with nation seeds and a few of those non-national seed contender teams that could cause a big threat. It’s going to be an exciting World Series regardless of who advances. For me, the biggest surprise has to be Florida State. The Seminoles started the season 27-18 and 11-12 in the ACC with projections that they would completely miss out on the postseason festivities. The team did a complete 360 and head into the CWS winning 18 of its last 21 games, winning the ACC Tournament and outscoring opponents 169-74. Things were looking bleak again when FSU lost its opener of its regional, but won five straight to avoid elimination and were handed a gift via Sam Houston State who defeated the National Seed, Texas Tech, that Tallahassee Regional was paired up with.
There are a handful of intriguing first round matchups heading into the weekend, which one (besides the pairing that includes your team) are you most interested to watch?
AH: Oh man that Florida-TCU game. That’s just so juicy. It’s a team with pitching depth for days (Florida) against a team that every time I’ve tuned it they’ve found a way to either mash or get timely hitting (TCU). I haven’t seen who Florida is going to start for that game yet but if it’s Faedo or Singer going up against Austen Wade and Evan Skoug then it’s appointment television for me.
JP: Since I can’t say TCU-Florida, I’m going to go the other side of the bracket with LSU-Florida State game. The two teams combined to score 33 runs in their Omaha-clinching games, and the prospect of big time run scoring is appealing to me. But, I also love watching Poche’ and Lange pitch, and whoever is on the mound for LSU Saturday is gonna get me to stop down and watch.
Andy: I mean, it’s Florida-TCU, but LSU-Florida State is probably the other one that I would tune into as a neutral observer. The other two games seem like mismatches to me, and Oregon State weirds me out at the moment, but the Tigers and Seminoles have been potent at the dish and on the mound in recent weeks -- in FSU’s case, stunningly so -- and I think that’s a game that could be either a slugfest or a pitchers’ duel. (And I’m okay with either team losing!)
MN: It's hard not to say Florida-TCU. The matchup of Evan Skoug and Luken Baker vs. Alex Faedo, or really Skoug and Baker vs. any of that incredibly deep UF staff is must-see TV for us college baseball nerds. And don't discount the battles between Deacon Liput, JJ Schwarz and Co. against Jared Janczak and the Frogs’ own pretty deep pitching staff.
DW: I’m going to go with the rest of the field here and pick the only match-up of two national seeds - TCU and Florida. TCU doesn’t have Luken Baker but still has plenty of experience in their lineup and both teams have deep pitching staffs.
JL: I have to go with Florida-TCU as well. That Florida pitching staff with Faedo and company is just too fun to miss. Plus Evan Skoug has crushed it on offense for TCU this postseason so I have some high hopes for that Sunday afternoon game. Louisville’s also really fun to watch.
AM: In an effort to pick a game other than Florida-TCU, I’m going to go with Louisville vs. Texas A&M. Both teams ended the regular season on sour notes before ramping it up in the postseason. Louisville dropped its last three games and then lost in pool play of the ACC tournament. TAMU ended the regular season 2-8 before losing in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Since then, each team went a perfect 5-0 in the regionals and should be a fun matchup to watch.
When it comes to the team that you cover, who are the players to watch? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your team? What is something about your team that you think the rest of the field should know?
AH: If you’ve been following college baseball even a little bit you know about LSU’s “Fab Four”, the four seniors that spurned major league offers to come back: Kramer Robertson (hey did you know that his mom is the head coach of women’s basketball at Baylor?), Cole Freeman, Greg Deichmann, and Jared Poche’. And then there are the super juniors Alex Lange, the all-everything pitcher that passed Ben McDonald for career strikeouts at LSU and The Polish God Of Walks himself, Michael Papierski.
But that’s just the veteran nucleus. Josh Smith is just a freshman but he has been that dude for LSU at third all year long. Kramer Robertson is the emotional leader of this team and all you have to do is to look over one position to see how well that has worked for LSU. Smith is so smooth at third it’s kinda become absurd that he’s only a freshman. Earlier in the season he was a little streaky but now he’s just solid all-around and pushing a line of .289/.413/.419 which as a freshman the SEC is something to salivate over about. Zach Watson was flat out unconscious for the SEC Tournament and Regionals, but I just have a gut feeling that Josh Smith is ready to explode and go Super Saiyan if LSU can make a run in Omaha.
As far as weaknesses...there is no real weakness for LSU. They’re incredibly well-rounded. The bullpen was a concern coming into the season with closer Hunter Newman being the only know, but Zack Hess and Caleb Gilbert have locked it down. But I’ll say LSU’s true weakness is the same as it ever was with Paul Mainieri: if you can get a jump on LSU early you can force them to start pressing, and more often than not bad things happen when you press in Omaha. LSU’s starting pitching has kinda been faltering post-SEC Tournament, with freshman Eric Walker providing the lone great outing in the five games for LSU over the stretch. Of course, that’s easier said than done and the fact that LSU is in Omaha without a postseason loss to their credit speaks volume about the offense’s ability to make up nearly any gap.
JP: TCU has had a strange season, to say the least. Coming in as the preseason consensus No. 1, TCU fans were somewhat disappointed with how the season had turned out as we moved into Big 12 Tournament time. The bullpen wasn’t performing, the bats were streaky, and TCU’s power hitting monster sophomore, Luken Baker, had been lost for the season due to an arm injury. But then the starting pitching stepped up. Names to know: Jared Janczak, Brian Howard, and Mitchell Traver, who, through to this point in the tournament have a combined 1.78 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. All three have gone into the 7th inning at a minimum thus far in the postseason. While most of the bullpen is shaky, two guys stand out as holding their own: Sean Wymer and Dubrin Feltman. Wymer is a durable, multiple-inning guy, who has, for all intents and purposes, become the setup man, while Feltman is the flamethrowing closer. Together, they have allowed just one run on three hits in eight innings pitched this postseason.
As for bats, keep an eye on Nolan Brown, Cam Warner, and, of course, Evan Skoug. TCU is great at taking extra bases, and if you give them a chance, they’ll run on you. Guys like Brown, Austen Wade, and Ryan Merrill are all insanely fast, and they pretty much always have a green light.
If TCU has a weakness, it’s the general lack of hitting power outside of Skoug. Without Baker in the lineup, this team has to work extra hard to get on base and move people around (and yet, TCU has only sac. bunted three times all season, praise Jesus). Another weakness would be bullpen depth. Once you get past Feltman, Wymer, and Cal Coughlin, you’re never sure what you’re going to get. Any of those kids has the potential to come in and be lights out, but they also may come in and give up three runs in an inning. Getting leads and having starters go deep in games will be essential for TCU in Omaha.
Andy: Florida’s strength is its pitching, which is really mostly its trio of top-shelf starters and a leather-tough closer. Alex Faedo, Brady Singer, and Jackson Kowar are those starters, and Michael Byrne is the fireman, and all four have been nails for at least some stretch of this season for the Gators. Faedo and Singer, especially, have electric stuff, and are likely Florida’s first two starters in that order in this event; they will also, no doubt, be eager to pitch full, uninterrupted starts after having their Super Regional action curtailed by rain. Kowar is probably a half-step down from either Faedo or Singer in terms of repertoire, and he’s got a spotless record less because of his brilliant performances than a fair bit of Sunday run support, but as No. 3 starters go, he’s solid. If those guys can go deep into games and hand leads over to Byrne, who set Florida’s single-season record for saves, I like the Gators’ chances of winning games in Omaha -- but it bears mentioning that Byrne got lit up a bit by Wake Forest’s bats last weekend, and compensates for a lack of velocity and movement with control and mentality, things that might be insubstantial defenses against the best bats left in this field.
Florida’s offense, though, is somehow still a work in progress in June. The Gators thought they had a fine lineup set up by Deacon Liput and Dalton Guthrie with power from JJ Schwarz and Mike Rivera, but all four of those juniors have been less impressive than they were in previous years this season, with injuries partly to blame for some of their steps backward. Schwarz has come up with some timely homers this year, and Kevin O’Sulllivan does have a variety of options if he needs pinch hitters, but Florida simply doesn’t have an offense that can be expected to compete in slugfests, a departure from power-suffuse Gators teams of yore.
MN: For the Aggies you have to keep an eye on Braden Shewmake and Corbin Martin. Shewmake was named the SEC Freshman of the Year, National Freshman of the Year by multiple of the big name publications, led the team in almost every offensive category, and finished in the top 20 nationally in RBIs and hits. He's the key to A&M’s offense. Martin is the X-factor of Rob Childress’ pitching staff. At his best, he's got some of the best pure stuff in the whole country. At his worst, he’ll walk the bases loaded and give up a walk-off grand slam. Rumor has it that he’ll start against Louisville, and if we see Good Corbin, watch out.
The strength of the 2017 Aggies 100% lies in the pitching staff. Brigham Hill is the ace of the staff, and he’s had a bit of a roller coaster year. But when he's doing Brigham things, he's one of the best in all of the SEC. Combine that with a bullpen that helped the Aggies post the best team ERA in the SEC, and you've got a pretty solid squad of arms. Their main weakness, however, comes offensively. They have this propensity to gift the opposing pitcher their career high in Ks (I don't know if that's actually true or not), and are frequently frustrating with RISP.
DW: The position players to watch for Fullerton are CF Scott Hurst, 2B Sahid Valenzuela and 1B Dillon Persinger, who are the first three hitters in the batting order and were the three position players who were first team all-conference selections. Hurst is the best all-around player on the team and hit 12 HR’s (the most for a Fullerton player since BBCOR bats started being used in 2011) and was a third round draft pick. Valenzuela was the freshman of the year in the Big West and does a great job of hitting and slashing the ball by infielders. Persinger leads the team in SB’s and does an excellent job of getting on base. When those three are getting on base, that is what makes Fullerton’s offense go.
Fullerton has three SP’s and two RP’s that can match up with anybody in the country and those guys are a big reason why the Titans are in Omaha after allowing only nine runs in six games at Stanford and Long Beach. Connor Seabold led the Big West in wins and strikeouts, was first team all-conference and a third round draft pick. John Gavin has been up and down but has been excellent over his last four starts, allowing only two runs, and was an eighth round pick. Connor Eastman is the most talented pitcher on the staff and he has allowed only three hits and two unearned runs in two post-season starts. Blake Workman has done most of the heavy lifting for the bullpen with 60 innings and Brett Conine was first team all-conference after leading the Big West with fifteen saves.
The strength of Fullerton’s team is run prevention. They play excellent defense and when one of those five pitchers are on the mound, the hitters for the other team are usually in for a long day. The weaknesses for Fullerton are pitching depth, which was an issue when they were trying to compensate for Eastman’s absence, and issues with hitting front line pitching that has often resulted in low scoring games.
JL: As demonstrated by their 54-4 record, Oregon State doesn’t really have an obvious weakness. The pitching is phenomenal in particular. They have a team ERA of 1.80 (best in the country) which is a full run better than Louisville’s, who are third in D1. Saturday’s starter Jake Thompson (1.52 ERA) has dominated all year. He’s 14-0 in 17 starts. He and Alex Faedo are arguably the two best pitchers in Omaha. Other guys in that OSU bullpen to watch out for are Jake Mulholland and Max Engelbrekt and Drew Rasmussen has produced some quality starts coming off of Tommy John surgery.
Offensively, it’s sort of a next man up situation. The sophomore second baseman Nick Madrigal has been incredibly dependable batting .383 with a .451 on-base percentage. He even had a game towards the end of the regular season where he reached base four consecutive times...all on bunts. KJ Harrison is really turning it on in the postseason as well with three home runs in the past five games. Additionally, Madrigal, Thompson, and Mulholland were all named NCBWA All-Americans.
AM: The No. 1 player on FSU to watch has to be Game 1 starting pitcher Tyler Holton. Holton has been the only consistent pitcher on FSU, earning both second-team and first-team All-American honors. On the season, Holton is 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA and a K/9 over 11.
At the plate, Florida State leads the nation in walks with 380. A large portion of those belongs to leadoff hitter Taylor Walls who has been hurt by the curse of BABIP, but still owns a .421 OBP. Dylan Busby leads the squad with 14 home runs and a .315 batting average, second on the team to OF Jackson Lueck (.327). The ‘Noles aren’t the most powerful team, but they should come to their benefit in Omaha as the layout of TD Ameritrade Park is ideal for the line drive hitting that Florida State does.
The biggest weakness of Florida State is it’s fielding. The team .971 fielding percentage is worst among teams in the CWS field and has hurt the team earlier in the season. The other downfall is the FSU bullpen. With the exception of closer Drew Carlton and reliever Clayton Kwitowski, no FSU reliever has an ERA under 4.31.
Which team would you consider to be a darkhorse? Which team in the field do you think is capable of turning some heads?
AH: I don’t believe the darkhouse is anybody but A&M but I think the team with the most room to wow people and upset the apple cart is Florida State. For reasons I’ll explain later, I think it’s very possible that FSU eliminates Oregon State in the loser’s bracket and then beats Cal-State Fullerton to set up a LSU-FSU rematch for a berth in the CWS Finals.
JP: Give me Cal State Fullerton as the darkhorse. They made it through a tough regional against a very good Stanford team, and then beat Long Beach State in a Super Regional. They may make a trip to the losers bracket, but I have a weird feeling about what CSF could do this weekend.
Andy: Is “dark horse” just “a team that is not Oregon State, conqueror of all who stand before it” this year? I think the Beavers are still the favorite, even without Luke Heimlich, because they’ve mowed down all challengers and showed no substantial weaknesses. But to my eye, LSU is hotter than any other team in the field, with FSU a close second, and I think either one of those outfits would be a surprise coming out of that loaded pool. So call ‘em dark horses if you’d like.
MN: The true dark horse to me has to be Fullerton. A&M could continue their recent streak of luck/just-doing-enough-to-not-lose-like-dummies, but that doesn't seem sustainable. With the way Colton Eastman pitched for Fullerton in the last game of that super, and the way their offense exploded in game two, I think they're primed for a run at the title.
DW: The two dark horses are probably Fullerton and Texas A&M, the two teams that weren’t one seeds and regional hosts. Most people would be surprised if either of those two teams won their bracket and were left standing next Monday in the championship series.
JL: That’s a tough question. Like I said before, I’m the most surprised that FSU is here and they’re in a REALLY hard bracket with OSU, LSU, and Fullerton. I know a lot of people are counting out A&M and they definitely have their work cut out for them, but they’ve found ways to get it done up to this point so we’ll see.
AM: Short and sweet --- Cal State Fullerton due to its draw. I think it’s a lot more favorable than others think. Why? It’s just a feeling.
Finally, who do you see advancing to the Championship Series and who will ultimately be crowned National Champions?
AH: Ok, so let me preface this by saying I have no stats to back this up. I’ve tried the stats thing before and it’s blown up in my face time and time again. So I’m going to fall all the way off this ladder.
Oregon State has been without a doubt the best team in the country all year. They have been absolutely crushing everything in their path. But that’s so hard to do throughout the postseason and especially in Omaha. That, coupled with the extra attention on Luke Heimlich, makes me see how the Beavers flames out of Bracket 1. That works in LSU’s favor as I believe they can outclass the rest of the bracket without even having to think about Oregon State.
On the other side of the bracket, postseason struggled aside I don’t see how Florida doesn’t clean up. We’re going to get a Florida-TCU rematch for the bracket final and the winner of game one will probably advance to the final.
So that puts me down for a LSU-Florida/TCU final, and if I had to give a name I’d probably say Florida. And that’s a matchup that I’d say is much too close to call right now. But Florida has had LSU’s number as of late so...pencil me in for Florida as national champions. But I’ll flip on that at the drop of a hat.
JP: Give me an LSU-TCU final pairing, with TCU finally getting their championship. I think the Tigers are the team to beat on the other side of the bracket, what with Oregon State’s best pitcher leaving the team. Florida and Louisville are big threats on TCU’s side of the bracket, but I think one of them gets eliminated in two games, and it’s a TCU vs. Louisville-Florida finale to get to the finals. Frankly, I don’t care who is on the mound for the other team, give me any of Janczak/Howard/Traver, and I’ll feel good about TCU’s chances. Besides, with all these CWS appearances, TCU’s gotta come away with one at some point, right?
Andy: I think Oregon State advances from a really tough side of the bracket by virtue of holding serve and forcing LSU or FSU to have to beat the Beavers twice, and … man, the other side of the bracket is hard to pick. Florida’s pitching stands out as an advantage -- I think Faedo-Singer is the best 1-2 punch on that side of the bracket -- but it’s not hard to envision the Gators missing the semifinal or even going two-and-’cue if either of those guys has a bad day, given the offense’s struggles. More likely, to my mind: Whichever team of Florida, Louisville, and TCU goes 2-0 makes the championship series, then falls to Oregon State.
MN: Picking the two in the championship series is hard… My gut says the relentless machine that is Oregon State and LSU, who is arguably the hottest team heading into the CWS, will fight it out for that side, while one of Florida and TCU take the other spot. So I guess give me Oregon State and TCU, with Oregon State breaking the stupid-high-win-percentage curse as your national champs.
DW: Tough call. Teams with a very high winning percentage haven’t tended to win it all, which isn’t good news for Oregon State. LSU hasn’t fared well at the new ballpark, losing four of their five games. FSU has made the most appearances (21 prior to this season) in the CWS without winning the national title. Fullerton has lost their last seven games in Omaha and Louisville has lost all six games they have played in Omaha. Texas A&M doesn’t look like they have enough to come out of their bracket. Florida and TCU look like the two most likely candidates to be playing in the championship series with TCU the pick to be there. If LSU can figure out how to overcome their issues at TD Ameritrade, they could be the team that ends up winning their bracket and winning the national championship.
JL: Early on I called an Oregon State-Louisville final. I feel like that’ll be the most entertaining matchup. We have the most complete team in the country in OSU and the most complete player in Brendan McKay of Louisville. Louisville’s had their shots to go far in Omaha in the past but this year feels different with them. They aren’t just happy to be here anymore. Plus, despite being down a few big pieces in Luke Heimlich and Christian Donahue, OSU seems to have the same mentality. If I had to bet my life savings on it (which is not much) I’d honestly go Oregon State to win it all. That being said, I’m definitely keeping an eye on two insanely talented teams in LSU and Florida as well.
AM: Oregon State vs. TCU will be the Championship Series with TCU winning in three games. It’s a baseball tournament with the best eight teams in the country in which you lose twice and you’re eliminated. I don’t think there’s truly an accurate way to predict or guess to last two teams standings. Let the baseball gods do their work.