College World Series Finals previewBy
Yes, I know this is a Yankees blog, but we’re not just Yankee fans here at RAB, we’re baseball fans (well, at least I am), and you’d be hard pressed to find a better brand of the game than in Omaha. The players aren’t a bunchÂ ofÂ egomaniac millionaires who think all of humanity owes them something; they’re a group of guys trying to achieve a commonÂ goal while inÂ a key phase of life. There’s no pay check to play for, in factÂ many ofÂ the playersÂ are paying out of their pocket to play (NCAA limits the number of scholarships available for baseball to 11.7 per year, compared to 15 for women’s basketball and 85 for football).
Quick note -Â if you’ve ever wondered why so many high school kids drafted in the lower rounds of the draft sign pro contracts instead of going to school, remember the scholarship bit – some families just don’t have the means to send their kid to school if he doesn’t get a scholarship.
As I noted yesterday, this year’s CWS Finals matchup is a rematch of last year’s Championship series, with Oregon State set to take on UNC. The 2 teams got here by taking very different paths though; Oregon State went 4-8 in their final 12 regular season games before ripping off 9 wins in 10 games in the postseason. When they were down 2-1 to Rice in the bottom of the 3rd inning in yesterday’s game, it was theÂ first time they’ve been behind since the 9th inning of their last loss on June 2nd. You could have constructed a 64 team postseason fieldÂ that didn’t include OSU, and no one would have called you crazy. It’s very impressive that they made it all the way back to the Finals.
UNC on the other hand was a beast all year, entrenched in theÂ top 25, mostly somewhere in the top 10. They scuffled a bit in the postseason because their starting pitcher faultered, and they had to come from behind in nearly all of their games. After losing to Rice in the Winner’s Bracket earlier in the week, UNC beat Louisville in an elimination game to pit a rematch against the Owls. Just like last year, Rice needed to win one game to head to the Title Series, but instead lost 2 straight and were sent packing.
Both clubs lost their 3 most important pitchers from last year to the pros (Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard and Jon Hovis [seriously, he was a huge part of that team, I'm not just saying it since he's with the Yanks now] for UNC; Dallas Buck, Jonah Nickerson and Kevin Gunderson for OSU), but after that, the matchup isn’t close at all on paper – UNC should win in a landslide. They’ve got a better lineup and better pitching, your basic recipe for winning. However, dig a little deeper and OSU doesn’t match up all that bad. UNC has a lefty heavy lineup with the likes of Tim Federoff, Reid Fronk and Josh Horton (left), but OSU has a nice core of LHP to matchup, led by Kyle Foster, Anton Maxwell and especially Joe Patterson. OSU’s also gota Â much better defense, particularly up the middle (have you been watching Darwin Barney and Joey Wong turn 2?). Coach Pat Casey knows his team will make all theÂ plays they’re supposed too; Mike Fox…not so much.
UNC’s pitching staff has some sexy names, but they’ve been pretty bad in the postseason after very good, if not stellar regular seasons. Alex White and Luke Putkonen have been especially dreadful (although Putkonen turned in a solid effort in his last time out), and Rob Woodard’s track record in Omaha is consistently inconsistent (he threw a complete game gem, then followed it up by blowing a five run lead last year, then lasted 1.1 IP in his first start this year before going 6+ strong in his next outing). OSU’s staff is quite the opposite, as Mike Stutes, Danny Turpen and Jorge Reyes have been outstanding even though they aren’t exactly top tier arms.
UNC’s offense is a little deeper and has a little more firepower, although they had hit only 1 HR in the postseason before launching 4 yesterday. OSU’s big thumper is Mitch Canham, but otherwise they’re a team that’s going to need to execute and play that fun-to-watch West Coast brand of college baseball to win (steal like madmen, bunt like crazy and put pressure on the opposing pitcher and his defense). They’re very fundamentally sound and won’t beat themselves.
The one chief disadvantage for OSU in this matchup is in the bullpen. Joe Patterson has been great, but he’s been taxed a bit and maybe a little overexposed. Eddie Kunz has great stuff but can make the 9th inning interesting at times.
Another quick aside: It’s funny, Kunz was the 42nd overall pick in the draft while last year’s closer, Kevin Gunderson, was a 5th round pick – Kunz clearly has better stuff and better body to pitch (aka scout’s love’em), but I don’t think there’s a person in Beaver Nation that would rather have Kunz out their closing games than Gunderson (right), the intangibles make that much of a difference. Kunz can be a bit timid out there, Gundy throws everything with conviction and has that “I’m gonna come in this game and rip your heart out” killer mentality that separates the Mariano Riveras from the Jorge Julios.
Andrew Carignan for UNC is just the truth, he’s able to come in for 3 or 4 innings to hold a 1 run lead then bounce back to pitch the next day. Adam Warren has emerged as a force in the middle innings,Â but he made the start yesterday over White in a must-win game, so his availablity is in question. Then again, this is the CWS Finals, so availability pretty much goes out the window (just as Jason Windsor).Â
I already made my pick, taking UNC in a sweep (against UC Irivine, but that’s irrelevant now). I’m not rooting for anyone and I’ll stick with my pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if OSU repeats, they’re on that kind of roll. It should be a great weekend of baseball, hopefully it goes 3 and we get an extra game Monday.
Photo Credits: CWS logo via westwoodone.com; Josh Horton via USA Today; Kevin Gunderson via BA