John Manuel: Seems like every year I get a little bittersweet taste coming to Omaha and then leaving, but I suppose by now I enjoy the grind of two games a day and seeing all eight clubs in four days. This job and this trip are a treat and don’t get old. I’ve been coming to the CWS since 1998 with one exception, and the game has changed a lot in that span, but two great games in one day at the Series is still special.
We had two great ones Monday night, with Kent State’s gritty win against a game but ultimately flawed Florida team, and then Arkansas edging South Carolina to end the Gamecocks’ streak. If you follow my Twitter feed you know I thought Florida played tight, but Kent State deserves credit for being able to take advantage. Scott Stricklin has a good, veteran club and is an excellent coach. His past “big school” experience as an assistant at Georgia Tech, plus this trip, make him the most attractive mid-major coach in the country. If I were an AD at an ACC or SEC school and needed a head coach, his name would be tops on my list. That may have been true anyway before this CWS trip, but it’s doubly the case now.
The Gators also deserve credit for not disintegrating, not folding, and Mike Zunino, Preston Tucker and coach Kevin O’Sullivan handled the press conference with a lot of class and dignity. None of them thought they were going 2-and-‘cue here in Omaha, but they were adults about it. That matters, and it’s appreciated.
This is nominally a picks blog, but when you’ve missed four straight games you start to wonder why you’re making picks . . . I believe the phrase is “for entertainment purposes only.” It definitely seems to entertain when we pick against South Carolina, and now Aaron and I both picked them and they lose. We’ll take the blame.
I won’t take the blame if UCLA loses today; I’m picking the Bruins because even if starting pitcher Zack Weiss falters, look for freshmen Grant Watson and/or David Berg to come in early and hold down the fort. I have less faith in Florida State’s bullpen, but I did love the energy the Seminoles played with against Stony Brook the other day. If they can get Jayce Boyd’s bat going a bit, it would help their cause a great deal.
John’s Pick: UCLA.
Aaron FItt: “For entertainment purposes only”—I like that disclaimer. Making picks in Omaha feels like a futile endeavor just about every year, because as coaches love to say, “It’s baseball,” and anything can happen in a given day. Once you get to the College World Series, every team is good, and every team can win. This year, in particular, we felt for much of the season like there was not a clear-cut national championship favorite, and the first four days of the CWS have certainly supported that notion.
This Florida State-UCLA game feels like a toss-up to me—both teams are very good and very experienced. I don’t expect either starter—Weiss or Scott Sitz—to work into the late innings today, which means it should come down to a battle of the bullpens. Beating Stony Brook in blowout fashion Sunday was huge for FSU because it allowed the key bullpen arms—especially Robert Benincasa—to rest up. As much as I like Berg and Watson, I still have a little more trust in Benincasa at the back of the bullpen than I do in Scott Griggs, who has yet to pitch here for UCLA. And like John, I thought Florida State looked great against Stony Brook, and I expect that momentum to carry over. Weiss has a good arm, but he does not have pinpoint command, and the patient Seminoles have a history of exploiting pitchers who fit that description. I expect FSU to grab an early lead against Weiss and win the battle of the bullpens late.
Aaron’s Pick: Florida State.
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