College World Series Primer
When I first started writing for C&M, I prayed that I would have to write one of these this week. Little did I know that it would only take two short seasons to make that pray a reality. The Auburn Tigers are currently in Omaha, Nebraska. My dad used to respond, when I would say Auburn was going somewhere (the SEC Championship, National Championship, anything of that sort), “Oh, did they get a group rate on tickets?” No Big Dave, tonight Auburn will be a part of the Opening Ceremonies in Omaha and will take the field Sunday against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Auburn’s first game in the College World Series since Stanford back in 1997. It will be a surreal moment for a lot of Auburn baseball fans, but one that could start to be a trend. Not every year, mind you, but one that definitely happens more often than every 22 years. So, who are the other 3 teams we get to take the field with this week? We know two of them better than most, and one is a fresh face.
#6 MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS 51-13 (20-10 SEC)
Well, we all know what to expect from our SEC West mates from Stark-vegas. State has been dominant since Auburn saw them in the second weekend of the season and even more so this post season. State was awarded the #6 National Seed and went undefeated in their regional, downing Souther, Central Michigan and Miami in that order and then hosting a highly regarded Stanford team in two games last weekend. As for their starting pitching, if its possible, Ethan Small has become even more overpowering as the season went along, compiling a 10-2 record with an insane 1.77 ERA along with 168 strikeouts to just 29 free passes. This is the man Auburn will see on the bump Sunday night and it won’t be easy. Auburn will need to work pitch counts and exploit any mistake he makes and make any scoring opportunities cash in as quickly as possible. If there is any weakness to Mississippi State’s game, it’s on defense. Don’t get me wrong, they are insanely athletic, especially in the outfield but Dustin Skelton has been an extra coach on the field for the Bulldogs behind the plate. Another thing to watch out for with State is their bullpen. They started to hit their stride late in the season but there are only three or four arms that they really trust, including Jared Leibelt (2.79 ERA in 51.2 innings) and Cole Gordon (3.76 ERA in 40.2 innings). Last but not least, where do you begin with the State offense? I guess you go with the SEC’s all time hits leader Jake Mangum and his .355 BA until you realize that a total of five guys in their lineup hit for better than .300. In fact, the most embarrassing BA for the Bulldogs is Elijah MacNamee’s .288. Just for reference, that would lead Auburn for the team this season. Auburn does however know that they have won a game this season in which Ethan Small started and the added fact that State has never seen Jack Owen throw in a live game. That could prove huge if Jack is set for the bright lights of TD Ameritrade.
#7 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS 49-16 (21-7 ACC)
HURRAY!! AN ACC TEAM!! Although, this one is a little different than Tech and the Tar Heels, the Cardinals are still playing while their other ACC brethren, except for FSU, are watching them play right now. Louisville is a rare breed as they really do everything well, except they have an exceptional bullpen. You are almost better off keeping the starter in as long as you can and have one big inning instead of working him out of the game. Reid Detmers will be the opening starter for the Cards and Vandy will can have fun with him. Detmers has a 2.85 ERA and holds a 12-4 record on the year. Game 2 for Louisville will more than likely see Nick Bennett go and the Junior lefty has been a solid two for Dan McDonald. Bennett has a 4.4 ERA with a 7-3 record on the season. The biggest storyline for the Cardinals is that their closer will be serving out his 4 game suspension with the first 2 games of the College World Series. Michael McAvene was tossed in the top of the 9th with a 2 out 2-2 count to an Illinois State batter for ‘arguing’ balls and strikes…you be the judge
Don’t feel too terrible for Louisville though, Michael Kirian has stepped in an filled the role just fine in the interim. At the plate, watchout for Tyler Fitzgerald, who leads the U of L with a .331 BA along with Zeke Pinkham, Alex Binelas (who also has 14 bombs on the year), Lucas Dunn and Danny Oriente who all have averages over .300. Louisville would be the Swiss Army Knife of this bracket because they can beat you in many different ways. They would be that is, if the final team in this bracket weren’t…
#2 VANDERBILT COMMODORES 53-11 (23-7 SEC)
Offa…the only team Auburn has played that the Tigers don’t have at least one win on this season. We all know how dangerous this team is. Pitching that would give the Nashville Sounds a run for their money and a line-up that is just as scary. Should the Tigers see Vandy this week, the best news is that we won’t have to play them on that slip-n-slide they call a baseball field with actual real dirt on the field. If games were played on paper, this would be the paper champion going away, and I mean that with all the respect in the world. Tim Corbin has done a fantastic job building this program into a winner and they are the odds on favorite to hoist the trophy again and it would be a huge disappointment on West End if they don’t. Some names to hold on to, JJ Bleday who led the country in home runs this season with 26. Austin Martin who has a jaw dropping .414 BA coming into this weekend. Kumar Rocker, who will pitch in game 2 of the World Series just threw a 127 pitch No-No against Duke to keep Vandy’s season alive last Saturday. Patrick Raby is Vandy’s all-time wins leader as a pitcher. Those are just four names that could start on any one of the 7 other teams and be the star, yet they are on one team and dominating the scene. My orange and blue heart wants Auburn to run through this bracket, but this is the team that is the bully in this yard, if not in the whole tournament.
I sent a text to some buddies of mine last Monday morning about the CWS field before the Auburn-North Carolina game. I will adapt it knowing what we know now. “On one side of the bracket, there are two top 8 seed and two 3 seeds. In the other bracket, there are three top 8 seeds and Auburn. Don’t get me wrong, Michigan and FSU have their own troubles with Arkansas and Texas Tech but Auburn is all alone among 3 monsters. The odds are long and the task is very very tall. There is no place to run and no room for error. That said, there is no way anyone on this planet could doubt this team any more. As I said on the Orange and True podcast, 4 weeks ago Tuesday, this team went to extra innings to down the North Alabama Lions. In a touch over 48 hours, they will take the field against Mississippi State in the College World Series. The turn-around is remarkable. The results are unprecedented. However, the one thing that this team has given to the fans and supporters of this program and this school, needed relief and distraction from the events of our 2 weeks in May and the storms this year, that is one thing that will never be measured. So let’s go and get lost in the most brilliant game ever invented. The pure game, the game we played as kids. And let’s watch it in the most perfect place to watch College Baseball, Omaha, Nebraska. Let’s go watch. The Auburn Tigers are back in the College World Series.