South Carolina and UCLA will square off in the best-of-three College World Series Finals starting Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Here’s how the two teams stack up with each other:
Both teams ranked in the nation’s top 10 in ERA entering the CWS, and both teams have pitched extremely well in Omaha. The Gamecocks have allowed just 14 runs in five games (2.8 runs per game), while the Bruins have surrendered 15 runs in four games (3.75 runs per game). But UCLA is in much better shape on the mound heading into the Finals, because it has played one fewer game than South Carolina.
The Bruins have three aces, really, and usual Friday starter Gerrit Cole will take the mound in Monday’s opener on full rest (he pitched last Monday against Texas Christian). Lefthander Rob Rasmussen threw 95 pitches Friday and seems like the most likely candidate to start the second game Tuesday, on three days’ rest. Righty Trevor Bauer would then start on three days’ rest Wednesday, if necessary.
All three pitchers are marquee talents. Cole’s three-pitch repertoire includes a 93-97 mph fastball, a devastating power slider and a quality changeup. Bauer pitches at 90-94 mph and has the deepest arsenal of pitches in college baseball. Rasmussen works at 89-92 and complements it with a sharp 12-to-6 curveball, a cutter/slider and a changeup.
“They have some arms, I’ll tell you that,” South Carolina center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said of the Bruins. “They can really pitch.”
South Carolina has one pitcher with the arm strength to rival UCLA’s big three: junior righthander Sam Dyson, who works at 92-96 and owns a power breaking ball and improved changeup. But Dyson threw on three days’ rest Saturday and shouldn’t be available until Wednesday at the earliest. South Carolina’s No. 1 starter, senior righty Blake Cooper, is a fierce competitor who attacks the strike zone with a quality four-pitch mix. But he threw 98 pitches on three days’ rest Thursday. South Carolina could elect to bring him back on three days’ rest again Monday, but considering the Finals are guaranteed to go at least two games, it makes more sense to hold him until Tuesday and try to piece together pitching Monday. Coach Ray Tanner mentioned freshman lefthander Tyler Webb and senior righty Jay Brown as other candidates to start Monday. Neither is overpowering but both are capable of giving the Gamecocks a few good innings, and South Carolina has been able to mix and match its way through Sundays all season.
“I see a lot of big arms, good pitching,” UCLA coach John Savage said of the Gamecocks’ staff. “They have a real good pitch plan—I like their pitch plan. I think they do a real good job of creating leverage on hitters.”
But even if both teams were fully rested, UCLA would have the advantage in this category. The Bruins’ added rest heading into the Finals just tips the scale further in their direction.
South Carolina’s deep, versatile bullpen is perhaps its greatest strength. In freshman righthander Matt Price, the Gamecocks have a power-armed closer who has been dominant in the postseason. Around him, South Carolina can present hitters with various different looks and arm slots from the right side (John Taylor, Jose Mata, Ethan Carter, Parker Bangs) as well as the left (Michael Roth, Steven Neff, Nolan Belcher). But Price has thrown 130 pitches over three outings in Omaha, and Roth threw a complete game in an emergency start Friday, so the bullpen is not at its freshest.
UCLA’s bullpen might be just as dominant as its starting pitching. Like the Gamecocks, the Bruins have a power-armed righthanded closer in Dan Klein, who tops out at 94 mph. Like the Gamecocks, they have quality options from the right side (Erik Goeddel, Garett Claypool) as well as the left (Matt Grace, Mitchell Beacom). But unlike South Carolina’s ‘pen, UCLA’s relievers have not been heavily taxed in Omaha thanks to the strong workloads shouldered by Bauer and Cole and the one fewer game the Bruins have had to play. Klein threw an inning Saturday and an inning Monday, Claypool threw 3 2/3 Friday, and Goeddel threw two innings last Saturday. That’s it.
Coming into the CWS, South Carolina and UCLA ranked sixth and seventh in the field in scoring. But the Bruins have had the hotter bats in Omaha, scoring in double digits twice, including Saturday against TCU. South Carolina scored in double figures once—Monday against Arizona State—but failed to score more than five runs in any of its other four games.
“They’re offensive, they’ve been putting it together this whole tournament and getting a lot of timely hits, putting runs up on the board,” Bradley said of the Bruins. “Sometimes we’ve been putting up runs on the board but then we’ll struggle. And they’ve been doing it all tournament long.”
South Carolina does have the more powerful offense. The Gamecocks ranked 25th in the nation in home runs per game coming into the Series, while UCLA ranked 113th. The Bruins have four home runs in four CWS games, showing the ability to hit the long ball when necessary, but South Carolina has seven homers in five games. Bradley and Christian Walker have been major forces in the middle of the lineup, and Whit Merrifield and Adrian Morales have each helped carry the load. The bottom third of South Carolina’s lineup is much more easily navigable, as Kyle Enders, Bobby Haney and Scott Wingo are in the lineup for their gloves more than their bats. But Enders did hit his third homer of the season in Omaha and has come up with a few timely hits. The electric Bradley, though, makes the offense go. He is riding a 21-game hitting streak into the Finals and is hitting .421 with nine runs scored and nine RBIs in the CWS.
“I told Jackie over there in the corner he’s my favorite player to watch,” said UCLA’s Niko Gallego, echoing the sentiments of many CWS observers.
UCLA hasn’t missed a beat even without injured regulars Tyler Rahmatulla (the usual No. 3 hole hitter) and Cody Keefer. Cody Regis has come on strong down the stretch—he had just one homer all season through May 14 but has slugged eight since, emerging as a capable cleanup man. The lineup is deep and versatile, and hitting coach Rick Vanderhook’s offense puts abundant pressure on opposing defenses through bunts, hit-and-runs and stolen bases. There are no easy outs anywhere in the lineup, and leadoff man Beau Amaral and No. 2 hitter Gallego are fine catalysts.
“Niko and Amaral have been on base about 50 percent of the time in this tournament,” Tanner said. “Regis has five home runs in the postseason. They’ve got a good balance, righthanded, lefthanded in their lineup . . . So if their guys at the top continue to be on base, it certainly makes them very difficult to beat.”
Slight Edge: UCLA.
South Carolina is rock-solid up the middle. Shortstop Haney and second baseman Wingo are a slick, reliable double-play tandem, and Enders controls the running game extremely well—he had thrown out 50 percent of basestealers coming into the CWS. Bradley and Merrifield have superb range in the outfield, and Adrian Morales is a standout at third base. It’s no wonder South Carolina has a .976 fielding percentage.
Regis has done a solid job since shifting from third base to second in place of Rahmatulla, and the Bruins have excellent athleticism at every position. Gallego is capable of making the spectacular play at short, but he also has 18 errors (by comparison, Haney has six). South Carolina is just more consistent on defense than the Bruins, who have a .970 fielding percentage.
Edge: South Carolina.
Both teams have proven their mental toughness over and over in 2010. Both were one out from elimination at different points in the postseason, and both survived. Neither team has any players with previous Omaha experience, but both teams are stocked with CWS veterans now, after 10 days in Omaha. Both teams are very well coached, and both teams are playing loose.
“We’re a bunch of boys having a great time,” Gallego said.
That struck a chord with Tanner.
“I really like Niko’s attitude—he’s got it figured out,” Tanner said. “We’re a group of guys trying to play baseball. Probably not comfortable on this (press conference) stage so much, but just trying to have some fun here and we’re down to the final two. They want to win, we want to win, and you go out and play, and I really believe that the makeup we have and the makeup I’ve seen from them, guys are going to be comfortable. We’re going to go out and strap it on and see who can come up with a big hit, a big play, and make some big pitches.”