It's a wide-open field in Omaha
OMAHA, Neb. -- What? Did you expect everything to go as expected?
Well, welcome to college baseball in 2013. Welcome to the College World Series in the new park. Parity. Yep, there's that P-word, rearing its head here in Omaha.
In the first four games, all four of the perceived "favorites" lost their openers. National seeds Oregon State, North Carolina and LSU were knocked off their pedestals by Mississippi State, North Carolina State and UCLA, respectively.
The other favorite to fall was Louisville, which, like Indiana, was a No. 1 seed but came into the CWS on an uptick after beating No. 2 overall seed Vanderbilt in the Nashville Super Regional.
This isn't necessarily the Upset CWS, but let's call it the Anyone Can Win CWS. This is an even field of teams. MSU, Indiana, North Carolina State and UCLA got the jump in their first games, but none of these teams have dominant second and third starters, although Nick Vander Tuig could repeat Adam Plutko's performance for UCLA.
And as usual, the loser's bracket elimination games and the winner's bracket games both tend to be heavier on the scoring side. Not that scoring is at a premium already. Through the first four games of the College World Series, the offenses have combined to hit .219.
So here's how things stack up for the next two days: On Monday, Lousiville faces Oregon State in an elimination game, and Mississippi State plays Indiana in the winner's bracket. On Tuesday, North Carolina and LSU play to stay alive, and UCLA takes on North Carolina State to stay unbeaten.
Let's quickly break down who has the best chances of winning the next set of games, from best to worst.
1. Louisville Cardinals: The Cardinals have the best pitcher going in their second game in 6-foot-6 right-hander Jeff Thompson (11-1, 2.00 ERA) and have the best chance to win their second game. They still haven't used 100 mph fireballer Nick Burdi. Those two should give the Cards plenty of quality swing-and-miss pitches. It's important for Louisville to get the running game going. The Cards did not have a single stolen base against Indiana, getting only seven runners on base in all.
2. Mississippi State Bulldogs: These guys may be a bit high on this list, but you have to think their confidence is pretty high. Although their starting pitching isn't knock-your-socks-off great, relievers Chad Girodo and Ross Mitchell have combined to go 21-1 with sub-1.50 ERAs. If the Bulldogs take a lead into the fifth or sixth inning, they have a significant advantage, as their bullpen is deep and possibly the best in Omaha. The offense needs a shot in the arm, though.
3. UCLA Bruins: Experience gives the Bruins a good shot at a win in Round 2. Nick Vander Tuig has appeared in eight postseason games in his career, posting a 2.78 ERA. He's a veteran who started the Bruins' second game in Omaha last year. If the Bruins get an early lead, they can ride Vander Tuig, who has pitched into the sixth inning in every start this season, to stopper of the year David Berg, which means leads are safe.
4. LSU Tigers: Normally, having a second-round draft pick on the mound is a great thing. But the only thing that makes the Tigers' odds longer is the recent history of Ryan Eades. In his past two starts, Eades has pitched just 6 1/3 innings and given up seven hits and five walks. This makes it even more imperative for LSU's offense to put up some runs -- perhaps they should all drink some of Mason Katz's home run juice. Katz jumped on an Adam Plutko offering and sent it screaming to the bullpen for a home run Sunday evening. If his hitting gets contagious, this team becomes dangerous.
5. North Carolina State: Likewise, these guys might be a little low, especially considering Ethan Ogburn and Logan Jernigan have been the Pack's best starters, numberswise. But it's doubtful anyone will live up to Carlos Rodon's lofty effort against North Carolina. NC State is in good shape if the Wolfpack bullpen lives up to billing. The starters have been a little hither and yon, but guys like Grant Sasser, Chris Overman and Josh Easley all have sub-1.44 ERAs and are effective.
6. Oregon State Beavers: The Beavers have to overcome their mental mountain of losing that first game to the Bulldogs. But what puts them so far against the odds is having to face Louisville's Thompson. Ben Wetzler gives the Beavs a legit chance, but that offense can't keep flipping bats on shots to the warning track. If Oregon State's offense can outhit the Cards, it can survive. The Beavers had 10 hits against MSU compared with Louisville's four against Indiana.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels: This team is a hot mess right now. The arms are taxed, the offense got clamped up and it's not playing like a No. 1 team. Add in a showdown with an angry LSU team, and it means Colin Moran and Cody Stubbs need to wake up the offense -- make that wake up the team. The key for North Carolina will be throwing strikes. Starter Hobbs Johnson has been walk-happy this season with 49 free passes. That won't fly against the disciplined Tigers.
8. Indiana Hoosiers: Typical, right? Everyone keeps doubting Tracy Smith's team, but it keeps on winning and proving points. So ranking the Hoosiers last probably wouldn't mean anything to them. If their offense keeps cranking, they can beat the Bulldogs. TD Ameritrade is not an offensive park, but Kyle Schwarber, Sam Travis and Scott Donley can certainly prove otherwise.
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