View Full Version : Pitching depth key in wide-open CWS

06-18-2004, 12:02 AM
The College World Series is a baseball lover's dream. The action starts Friday in Omaha, Neb. -- where it's been played since 1950 -- with the final championship-series game on either Sunday, June 27 or Monday, June 28. There will be up to 17 games, all on ESPN2 or ESPN, and I'll be in Omaha broadcasting most of the games throughout the week-plus.

Here's how the College World Series works: There are eight teams -- two brackets with four teams each -- and within the brackets the teams play each other in a double-elimination format.

Then the winner of Bracket 1 and the winner of Bracket 2 play a best-of-three for the national championship.

In recent years, the championship was just one game after the double-elimination rounds, but a best-of-three is how it should be.

In Bracket 1, the first-round matchups are Arkansas (44-20) vs. Texas (55-13) and Georgia (43-21) vs. Arizona (35-25-1). In Bracket 2, the first-round matchups are LSU (46-17) vs. Miami (49-11) and South Carolina (50-15) vs. Cal State Fullerton (42-21). You'll notice that four SEC schools are in the College World Series: Arkansas, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina.

Bracket 2 Looks Tough
On paper, it looks like Bracket 2 is tougher than Bracket 1. The NCAA baseball tournament started with 64 teams and eight national seeds -- the top eight teams in the nation, according to the tourney committee. Bracket 2 has the No. 2 national seed (South Carolina) and the No. 3 national seed (Miami). Some observers thought LSU should have been a national seed, and Cal State Fullerton has won 23 of 25 games.

In Bracket 1, Texas is the No. 1 national seed and therefore will be the favorite. But as we've seen earlier in the tournament and in past years, anybody can step up and win. Arizona has the fewest wins of any team left (35), but the Wildcats upset Long Beach State -- which featured one of the nation's best pitchers, Jered Weaver -- to get to Omaha.

Texas has the most wins (55) of the eight teams in Omaha. The Longhorns are the only team in the College World Series that my San Diego State team played this year. We played them three times in Austin, Texas -- and yes, those were three of their 55 wins (but we took them to extra innings once before losing 3-2).

Without question, Texas is a tough, solid ballclub. Texas is the most balanced team, but South Carolina is a good hitting club. Arizona is fundamentally solid. Arkansas' numbers don't look great, but the Razorbacks play great baseball. Miami is a perennial power, and LSU can hit with the best of them. Cal State Fullerton can score in bunches, and Georgia plays a blue-collar game.

Really, paper comparisons aside, any of these teams can win. The key in this tournament is pitching and timely hitting. The team that gets good starting pitching and good bullpen work will have the best chance to win the College World Series.

Players to Watch
South Carolina C Landon Powell has great power and does a great job behind the plate.

Texas CF Drew Stubbs, only a freshman, is a polished hitter and fielder. His teammate, catcher/first baseman Curtis Thigpen, is a good hitter. Texas closer Huston Street is tremendous, and he's tournament-tested.

Miami third baseman Gabby Sanchez is a solid hitter, as is LSU right fielder Jon Zeringue.

Georgia pitcher Sean Ruthven, the son of former major-league pitcher Dick Ruthven, has thrown well in the tournament.

Remember, pitching staffs in college baseball aren't like major-league rotations. Each of these teams has about two strong starters, so to win the College World Series a team really needs its No. 3 and No. 4 guys to step up. Also, during the year coaches tend to be careful about pitch counts, with perhaps a 110- or 120-pitch limit. During the College World Series coaches probably will need to go with their starters longer.

06-18-2004, 12:03 AM
Editor's note: Baseball America contacted professional area scouts and college assistant coaches familiar with the College World Series teams for analysis.

An in-depth look at the Arizona Wildcats, one of the eight teams competing in the College World Series, which starts Friday at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.

Arizona Wildcats
Record: 35-25-1
Coach: Andy Lopez (third season at Arizona; four trips to Omaha, two with Florida, one with Pepperdine, where he won the 1992 CWS title)

How Arizona Got Here: Won the South Bend Regional, beating host Notre Dame; went on the road to knock off Long Beach State in three games in a Super Regional, with its victories coming in a four-run ninth-inning rally and an 11-inning affair.

CWS History: Arizona ranks eighth all time with 15 appearances, though this is the Wildcats' first trip to Omaha since 1986. Arizona won three titles under Jerry Kindall, in 1976, 1980 and 1986. Lopez isn't quite as decorated, but he does have one title and is the third coach to lead three schools to the CWS in earning his first berth since 1998.

Players To Watch: So. OF Trevor Crowe (.341-5-33 with 24 steals); Fr. SS Jason Donald (.324-8-43); So. 1B Jordan Brown (.313-11-53); Jr. RHP Koley Kolberg (9-6, 4.56 with 117 strikeouts and 61 walks in 140 innings); Sr. 2B Moises Duran (.318-6-47); So. RHP John Meloan (9-0, 4.96 with 64 strikeouts and 37 walks in 78 innings).

Wild on Arizona
Arizona has only 35 wins this season. The last team to reach Omaha with fewer than 40 wins was Arizona State (38-22) in 1998, and the Sun Devils made it all the way to the national championship game that year. The last team to arrive at the College World Series with as few as 35 wins was California (35-26) in 1992.

In the six years of the 64-team field, Arizona is the sixth team to reach Omaha by winning both a regional and Super Regional on the road. Two of the first five to do it were regional No. 1 seeds. The three that weren't No. 1 seeds all failed to win a CWS game after getting there.

The Wildcats reached Omaha by finally learning how to win without scoring in double figures. Arizona has won 8 of its last 9 games by four runs or fewer, including a 5-0 mark in such games in the NCAA tourney.

Arizona extends the Pac-10's streak to eight straight years with a team in Omaha.

Scouts on the Wildcats
"There are some great athletes; they have that freshman shortstop (Jason Donald) and he's going to be pretty good. (Trevor) Crowe can hit and he can run. Offensively they are very difficult to pitch to because they don't strike out a lot and run deep counts.

"You have to play good defense because you won't get nine, 10, 11 strikeouts. If you get the first guy out it strips their game plan in terms of bunting and hit-and-run. They can put one or two (runs) on the board any time because they are so feisty and have good at-bats, but don't have the thunder to get a bunch at once.

"They have good flexibility left and right and they can run, but there's no big power. The addition of (Jordan) Brown into the lineup in the middle of the year has added a middle-of-the-order threat. He hit 11 home runs in like half a season. One through nine, they can hit.

"(Koley) Kolberg without question has the stuff to be a No. 1 guy. The whole staff turns on him. He will stay in the game a long time because there's not a lot of confidence in the bullpen. If you get in that bullpen, you can really get to them. Be patient with Kolberg. He's thrown a lot of pitches this year

Omaha outlook
Arizona enters the College World Series with the fewest wins since 1992, when California was 35-26. The Golden Bears were 0-2 that year. A similar result might have been expected of the Wildcats against Long Beach State, especially considering the Dirtbags had swept Arizona earlier in the year with Jered Weaver on the mound. But a scrappy, resilient Wildcats team got just enough pitching to stay within striking distance for two late-inning comebacks. Arizona is the third No. 3 seed to reach the CWS since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, joining San Jose State (2000) and Southwest Missouri State (2003). But no Arizona pitcher has an ERA less than 4.00 entering Omaha, and the Wildcats have just one significant long ball threat. Every other CWS team has an offense at least superior to Long Beach State's. Arizona gave the Pac-10 a CWS team for the eighth straight year, but probably won't make much more noise.

06-18-2004, 12:05 AM
Georgia Bulldogs
Record: 43-21
Coach: Dave Perno (third season at Georgia, first trip to Omaha).

How Georgia Got Here: Won the Athens Regional in four games, beating Clemson in the final; Won two straight from cross-state rival Georgia Tech in the Atlanta Super Regional.

CWS History: The Bulldogs make their fourth CWS appearance (1987, 1990, 2001). Perno was an assistant to Ron Polk on the '01 team and also was a player on Georgia's 1990 national championship team, though he never appeared in game action.

Players To Watch: Fr. 1B Josh Morris (.319-16-68); Jr. RHP Sean Ruthven (7-1, 2.94 with 86 strikeouts and 32 walks in 86 innings); So. RHP Michael Hyle (7-2, 3.10 with 50 strikeouts and 30 walks in 81 innings); So. LHP Will Startup (7-2, 2.34 with 10 saves, 61 strikeouts and 21 walks in 73 innings); So. RHP Bo Lanier (4-1, 2.61 with two saves, 38 strikeouts and 17 walks in 41 innings); Sr. SS Justin Holmes (.328-8-54)..

In the Dawg pound
Georgia is in the College World Series for the fourth time in only six NCAA Tournament appearances. The four CWS appearances have come under three head coaches. Current head coach David Perno was a player on Georgia's 1990 CWS championship team (although he didn't see action in Omaha) and was also an assistant coach on Georgia's 2001 CWS team.

Relief pitcher Will Startup has made his mark on the NCAA Tournament, earning regional MVP honors with a pair of wins, and then getting the save in both Super Regional games. In the tourney, he has made four appearances, allowed three runs (all earned) in 12.1 IP with 9 K and 2 BB.

Sean Ruthven has not allowed more than four runs (earned and unearned) in any of his 15 starts this season and has a 2.94 ERA. The last time he allowed more than four runs was May 10, 2003, against Mississippi State. He hasn't allowed four earned runs since April 11, 2003 against Tennessee.

Freshman outfielder Jonathan Wyatt hit his first collegiate home run against Georgia Tech to provide the winning margin in the clinching game of the Super Regional. Adding to the unlikely nature of Wyatt's long ball is the fact that he homered only four times in his high school career, including just once in his senior season.

Scouts on the Bulldogs
"This was a real surprise for me. I saw them in the fall and early spring and thought they were going to be in trouble. Their biggest star is (Josh) Morris. I think a lot of teams have just been pitching around him as the season went on. He's got great bat speed; don't test it. I couldn't tell you another name off the top of my head, but they're kind of like Arkansas because no one sticks out but anyone can get big hits. The lineup is OK. (Third baseman) Josh Smith is a singles guy and (second baseman Marshall) Szabo is a scrapper that will surprise you with pop every now and then. They play good team ball and can manufacture a run when they need it.

"(Paul) Lubrano, (Sean) Ruthven and (Michael) Hyle all stepped up and had a great year. They don't have the best stuff, but they really overachieved on the mound. Ruthven has been great on Friday night. He gets that big breaking ball in there for strikes and it throws you out of whack for the rest of the weekend. He's not lighting up radar guns (at 85 mph), but he's a real pitcher.

"Their bullpen is phenomenal. (Will) Startup is 92 (mph) and (Bo) Lanier is 90-95 and can just blow you away with that fastball. They can go lefty or righty, and they have a lot of confidence in their club if they get to one of them in the sixth or seventh inning. If they have a chance to win (at that point), they just put it in the hands of those guys."

Omaha outlook
Georgia's players don the same blue collars worn by Arkansas, the team it tied for the best regular-season SEC record. The Bulldogs went 13-2 over the second half of the SEC season, proving they can consistently beat anyone in the country -- or half of a CWS field that tied the 1998 record with four SEC entries. Perno's decision to start fourth outfielder Jonathan Wyatt in the second game against Georgia Tech looked like a brilliant coaching move as the freshman hit his first college homer to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning. Add the mystique of that kind of clutch hitting to a shut-'em-down bullpen, and there's hope for the Bulldogs to continue a postseason run few expected at the outset of the season.

06-18-2004, 06:16 AM
Great reads. thanks for the info!