CWS 2015: The Rosenblog
OMAHA—We're at the #BAHouse, our home for the duration of the 2015 College World Series, and it's a beautiful day for baseball so far in America's headquarters for college baseball.
We're excited to wrap up another season of college baseball coverage with the eight teams here for the Series, but no CWS would be complete without our picks. We're triple-teaming the Series this year with Jim Shonerd and Michael Lananna here for the duration, with John Manuel out for the opening weekend to help set the scene. We'll make our predictions day by day for every game; winner gets dinner at his choice of restaurant either next year in Omaha or back at BA HQ in Durham, bought by the losers.
CWS FINALS, GAME THREE
The final act of the 2015 College World Series is here. Vanderbilt and Virginia will decide it all tonight, one game for the national championship. Can Virginia defy the odds one more time? Or does Vandy complete the repeat? Here are our picks.
Mike: 12-3 John: 11-4 Jim: 7-8
Mike: All throughout the postseason, Virginia has done the unexpected. The Cavaliers have won the games they shouldn’t have won—that no one picked them to win. They’ve proved me wrong a couple of times now, and they’ll have to prove me wrong again to win a national championship. Next to deciding which steak I should order at The Drover, this has been the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in Omaha. But I’m picking Vanderbilt.
John: A couple of quick thoughts on tonight's final college baseball game of the season:
• I'll hearken back to the column I wrote before the Series, What It Means for each program ... Vanderbilt is on the precipice of being a dynasty and one of the best three-year runs in college baseball history, non-USC Dynasty division. The 2013 Commodores went 54-12, 26-3 in the Southeastern Conference (the best league record in SEC history) and were upset in a super regional by Louisville. The 'Dores won the national title last year, and if they repeat, it's a three-year stretch as good as any, with South Carolina's 2010-2012 stretch (two titles, one runner-up finish) as the biggest obstacle. Vanderbilt's three straight 50-plus win seasons and abundance of high draft picks may be a separating factor. That's a debate for another show, if Vanderbilt wins it. In fact, it will probably be my next column. That will be fun research to do.
Jim: I've been out of the race for the picks title for some time, so I'm just trying for a respectable finish. Vanderbilt is the logical pick, so that's where I'm going to go. This UVa. team has been defying logic for a month now, so I'm not going to be surprised at all if they win tonight. But Walker Buehler against Brandon Waddell making his second straight start on short rest? I have to go Vandy.
CWS FINALS, GAME TWO
Vanderbilt will try to close things out tonight after taking game one behind Carson Fulmer's dominance. The Commodores get to start a fully rested Philip Pfeifer, while Virginia is having to resort to freshman Adam Haseley, Do the Commodores close out the title, and does Mike Lananna close out a sparkling picks debut?
Mike: 12-2 John: 10-4 Jim: 7-7
Mike: I truly thought we’d be seeing Josh Sborz or Nathan Kirby on the mound today. Instead, the Cavaliers opted to go with freshman outfielder/lefthander Adam Haseley, who has been serviceable in four starts this year but isn’t the overpowering force you’d hope to see on the mound in an elimination game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sborz get into the game early. Any sign of trouble, and I bet he starts warming up. In a do-or-die game, I’d expect the whole staff to be on standby. That said, this—again—is Vanderbilt’s game to lose. Phil Pfieifer was outstanding in a 1-0 duel with TCU’s Alex Young. It would be unrealistic to expect a performance that dominant again tonight, but even if he isn’t, Vanderbilt’s bullpen is fresh with Jordan Sheffield and John Kilichowski likely available for multi-inning stints. And Vanderbilt’s offense remains a difficult one to pitch to, especially with Dansby Swanson finally showing signs of life at the plate. I think the College World Series ends tonight—with Vanderbilt hoisting the trophy for the second straight year.
John: John's been occupied and had to send in his pick for tonight, but he's feeling the Cavs' chances of pulling the upset and forcing a game three.
Jim: Realistically, Virginia had to win last night with Connor Jones on the mound to have a chance to take home the title. Tonight's pitching matchup figured to be the most heavily tilted in Vandy's favor, regardless of who Virginia settled on as its starter. I'm sure we'll see Josh Sborz at some point tonight, and if the Cavs can be ahead or tied after four or five innings, then they've got a chance. But I just don't see it happening for Virginia tonight. Unless Philip Pfeifer simply doesn't have it, I think Vandy seals the deal.
CWS FINALS, GAME ONE
Vanderbilt vs. Virginia, Part II. The rematch of last year's CWS finals is here, but unlike last year, when the finals felt like a clash of titans, this time around there's a clear favorite and underdog. It would be a significant upset if Virginia dethrones the champs and breaks the ACC's 60-year title drought. Can they do it? We'll start to find out tonight, and we'll pick each game day by day.
Mike: 11-2 John: 9-4 Jim: 7-6
Mike: This could have the makings of quite the pitcher’s duel with both Carson Fulmer and Connor Jones possessing electric stuff. Of the two, I have a hard time picking against Fulmer. He has the pedigree, the experience, and he’s certainly better than what he showed against Cal State Fullerton. Jones is capable of greatness, but all too often he’ll run into an inning or two where his command betrays him, and this Vanderbilt lineup is locked in enough to take advantage. Virginia has defied expectations all throughout the postseason and could do so again, but Fulmer and the Commodores are the safer pick here.
John: I'mpicking Vandy because I see its stars, Fulmer & Swanson, playing better than they did in the early part of the series. I do look for Virginia to try to avoid using Josh Sborz if it trails and start him for Game Two if they lose.
Jim: If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it's that Virginia must not be underestimated. The Cavs are mentally tough and superbly coached. But now they're up against a team with just as many intangibles on its side as they have, not to mention all kinds of talent. The way each team's pitching lines up, it's just too hard to envision Virginia winning this series without winning tonight, when it'll have its only rested weekend starter, Connor Jones, on the mound. All signs point to Vanderbilt, and I think the Commodores win the series whether or not they win tonight. But tonight feels like a game where Jones will keep Virginia in it and the Cavs find a way to pull one more out.
DAY EIGHT PICKS
We've reached the final day of bracket play. Vanderbilt punched its ticked to the CWS finals with Friday's win against TCU. Florida and Virginia will battle it out one more time Saturday night for the right to face the defending champs. In our picks battle, Mike continued his blistering pace with another 2-0 day, opening the gap even more on John and Jim.
Mike: 11-1 John: 9-3 Jim: 7-5
Mike: Part of me wants to pick Virginia. The Cavaliers have gone on a magical postseason run. No one expected them in Omaha—very few expected them to get out of the Lake Elsinore regional, let alone win their first two CWS games. Brian O’Connor and co. have done an excellent job just to get them here, but I think this is where the road ends. Even though Brandon Waddell held the Gators to just two hits on Monday, it’s asking quite a lot for him to repeat that performance against an offense that has scored double-digit runs in five of its last six games. The Florida lineup is too deep, too experienced and too smart to not make an adjustment. Florida might be taking somewhat of a gamble not bringing back A.J. Puk, but even if Dane Dunning doesn’t last long, the Gators are much better equipped to win a Johnny Wholestaff game than, say, LSU. I won’t be stunned if Virginia wins, but the Gators are too good to not pick. Sorry, Hoos.
John: Congratulations to Vanderbilt. It's amazing how easy the Commodores have made it look in Omaha this year, at least ever since the rain ended Thomas Eshelman's day. Credit the Commodores for taking advantage of their break; it has been all Vanderbilt ever since, hasn't it? Phil Pfeifer and Walker Buehler had a lot to do with that, but so has an offense varied and powerful enough to win at TD Ameritrade no matter how much the ball travels.
On the other hand, we have today's game with Florida and Virginia. Connor Jones likely against either Dane Dunning or A.J. Puk. Either way, I will continue to pick the Gators. It's nothing against Virginia; I just think Florida is deeper, more athletic, more powerful and a bit more veteran. The Cavaliers have had an amzing postseason run; I think it ends tonight.
Jim: I foolishly picked against the Gators yesterday, even I'd been saying I wouldn't. Afraid I fell into the trap of trying to make up some ground in the picks standings rather than going with my gut feel on who would win. Well, I'm back on the Gator train today. I do think it's the right move for Virginia to throw Brandon Waddell, but I'm not counting on him duplicating what he did on Monday. Florida is simply too good and too deep. The Gators advance.
DAY SEVEN PICKS
It's another full day of action in Omaha. Vanderbilt and Virginia can advance to the CWS finals, creating a 2014 rematch, while Florida and TCU will look to force if-necessary games on Saturday. Here we go with today's picks:
Mike: 9-1. Picks: Florida, Vanderbilt.
John: 8-2. Picks: Florida, TCU.
Jim: 6-4. Picks: Virginia, Vanderbilt.
DAY SIX PICKS
Today's picks start off with a Google+ Hangout from #BAHouse aka #Omahouse with Mike and Jim joining John, who's back in red-hot Durham.
Mike: 8-1. Pick: TCU John: 7-2. Pick: TCU Jim: 5-4. Pick: TCU
DAY FIVE PICKS
Mr. Lananna is off to a pretty amazing start in his CWS picking debut after another 2-0 day Tuesday. Still a long way to go, starting with tonight's Florida-Miami elimination game.
Mike: 7-1 John: 6-2 Jim: 4-4
John: Florida and TCU have been on the wrong end of 1-0 losses here, but both teams strike me as having the depth on the mound to come out of the loser's bracket. I can still see a TCU/Florida finals.
That has to start today for the Gators with freshman Alex Faedo, who will be on a short leash even by Kevin O'Sullivan standards. The Hurricanes can hit and have not gotten their big guns (David Thompson, Zack Collins) going yet. I can see this going either way but favor the Gators because of their superior athleticism.
I am waiting until later in the event to catch Mike Lananna, who took the lead in our picks race. I am out of Omaha today and will miss it, especially the hospitality of our hosts at #BAHouse / #Omahouse. Larry and Carol Goldstrum made our first foray into renting a house a complete success. Mike and Jimmer will take you the rest of the way so enjoy the ride. I'll keep making picks ... And I predict a comeback.
Mike: The last time these two teams squared it off, it turned ugly quickly, with Florida taking advantage of two Brandon Lopez errors to score 11 runs in the fourth inning. I don’t think that’s going to happen again, but I do think the Gators are the favorites here. Neither Faedo nor Sosa might be particularly long for this game, but I give Florida’s bullpen an edge, and I still think the Florida offense—with its combination of power, speed and athleticism—plays well in this ballpark.
Jim: I have more faith in Florida's pitching depth than I do Miami's. And at what point is Florida simply in Miami's heads? The Canes have struggled with the Gators historically and are 1-3 against them this season, including Saturday's blowout 15-3 loss. If the Canes keep it close and make it a battle of the bullpens late, then I like their chances better, but I think Florida's bats come back to life today after they ran into a buzzsaw in Brandon Waddell.
DAY FOUR PICKS
Monday was a long but exciting day, as we saw two walk-offs, including the first walk-off homer in TD Ameritrade Park history, and a legitimate pitchers' duel between A.J. Puk and Brandon Waddell. We're back on schedule with a two-game slate on Tuesday, starting with an elimination game between LSU and Fullerton, followed by a TCU-Vandy winners bracket game. Here are the standings:
John: 5-1 Mike: 5-1 Jim: 3-3
John: Poor Fullerton. The Titans' bad luck with the rain cost them a shot at an upset. Now the Titans have to face a rested Alex Lange and a mad LSU. Sorry, that's a recipe for disaster for Fullerton.
TCU was my pick coming into the field of 64, and facing a lefthander again in Phil Pfeifer. I like Pfeifer but TCU faces lots of lefthanders and beats them. I think Vandy is the better team but I am picking TCU.
Picks: LSU, TCU
Mike: I can’t pick against Alex Lange. I just can’t. After the year he’s had—and the postseason he’s had—excellence has become the expectation. I think he carries the Tigers to a win over the Titans, who fought valiantly to get here and likely wouldn’t be in the loser’s bracket if not for Sunday night’s rain suspension. Connor Seabold has quality stuff and is a solid freshman righthander in his own right, but the LSU lineup is a tough one to navigate, and Lange is difficult to hit in general.
Jim: Simply put, LSU isn't getting knocked out with Alex Lange on the mound. The Titans will do their thing, forcing him to throw strikes and trying to piece together what they can, but even if they're able to scratch out a run or two, I can't see Connor Seabold and the rest of Fullerton's non-Eshelman pitchers shuttind down the Tigers enough to win. Not to mention the fact Fullerton has only had 24 hours to get over the hangover from yesterday's heartbreaking loss against Vandy.The second game feels like a coin flip. Both teams are bursting with confidence. But I'm going to go with TCU and Alex Young, who was really good in super regionals against a good offensive team in Texas A&M. Of course, the real battle in this one is The Whistler vs. The Woo Birds.Picks: LSU, TCU.
DAY THREE PICKS
Not much went according to plan Sunday, as the game between national seeds Louisiana State and Texas Christian turned into a rout, and the Thomas Eshelman-Carson Fulmer showdown in the nightcap was truncated by rain. Cal State Fullerton held a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning when play was suspended. We'll stick with our respective picks in the Fullerton-Vanderbilt game, and with that, here's how things stand going into Monday:
John: 3-0 Jim: 2-1 Mike: 2-1
Jim: I think Miami bounces back against Arkansas, the nature of their opening loss being easier to flush than what Arkansas dealt with against Virginia. Granted, Thomas Woodrey wasn't great in super regionals, but I'd take my chances with him over a freshman in Keaton McKinney, assuming that's who Arkansas is throwing, even though McKinney does have good stuff. And the Canes didn't hit the ball that poorly against Florida, so I think they put together enough to get it done today.
Brandon Waddell has started pitching more like his old self in the postseason, putting an underwhelming regular season behind him. He'll keep Virginia in it against Florida. But as I wrote the other day, I'm taking the Gators until further notice. I'm certainly not going to pick against A.J. Puk, not today.
Picks: Cal State Fullerton, Miami, Florida
John: John's working on another story but sent in his picks of Miami and Florida. He's expecting Miami to be able to hit against Arkansas, and Puk's power arm to overpower Virginia's young lineup.
Picks: Fullerton, Miami, Florida
Mike: Does Arkansas have the pitching to shut down the Miami lineup? I don’t think so. I think the Hurricanes bounce back from Saturday’s blowout loss to rival Florida, and maybe they let out a little frustration in the process. So far, the ballpark hasn’t hindered offense in this College World Series, which was #inevitaball. Arkansas can swing it—Andrew Benintendi, especially—but not many offenses can keep pace with Miami’s.
The result of Florida-Virginia might depend on which A.J. Puk Florida gets. More often than not in the last few weeks it’s been the dominant version. If Puk comes out firing in the high-90s, the Cavaliers will have a tough go of it. That said, Virginia hasn’t been flustered against premium pitching in the postseason. The Cavaliers rallied Saturday against fearsome Arkansas closer Zach Jackson. Meanwhile, lefthander Brandon Waddell has done his best pitching in the postseason. John and Jim are going with Florida, but I’m behind in the pick standings, and I need to make up ground somehow. So against my better instincts, I’m going with the Cavaliers. Maybe their postseason magic continues.
Picks: Vanderbilt, Miami, Virginia
DAY TWO PICKS
We got off to a great start as a group Saturday; we all picked Virginia, and we all picked Florida.
The Series also got off to a great start, as the UVa.-Arkansas game was a strong one. Both teams played well, both teams executed, both teams made plays. Virginia won the game, and the key hit was predicted in our CWS Preview (which you can download here). From our scouting report:
“And then the guy you don’t want up in a big situation, in my opinion, is Kenny Towns because he’s such a veteran guy, and he really pays attention to how he’s pitched, and he’s a coach’s son.”
Towns delivered, serving a 3-2 breaking ball down the line for the game-winning RBI. Florida then just destroyed Miami in the nightcap, with an 11-run inning that showed the full power of Florida’s armed and fully operational battle station.
Let’s see if we can do as well with today’s picks:
John: It’s a branding battle between two schools that don’t like it when we use the actual name of their schools. It’s LSU vs. TCU—happy boys?
TCU really is just happy to be here. It’s a national seed, but it benefitted from N.C. State’s collapse in the regional final, then had to survive a crazy finale against Texas A&M in the super. Is TCU playing with house money, or just not good enough to win the Series? The Horned Frogs were my pick when the 64-team field was announced, so against my better judgment—I think LSU is the better team—I’m sticking with my pick.
In the nightcap, I’ve got a sentimental favorite with Cal State Fullerton and Thomas Eshelman. We’ve had a hot streak with some BA College Preview covers of late, with the 2013 edition seeing North Carolina and N.C. State actually both reaching the Series and playing each other—twice!—here, and now our Remember The Titans retro cover with Eshelman and the now-injured Justin Garza, with the Titans getting to Omaha in their 40th anniversary season as a Division I program.
Fullerton is feeling it as the underdog. Their charter from Louisville was five hours late; their esteemed pitching coach, Jason Dietrich, is riding a Rascal this week after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the super regional celebration; coach Rick Vanderhook is fired up from the delayed flight and put his team through a full practice on Friday instead of schmoozing the crowd for media day. The Titans are set up for the upset.
So I’m doing it—I’m picking against defending national champion Vanderbilt and Carson Fulmer. If Fulmer is vulnerable, it’s when folks see his fastball and jump it, like Texas A&M did. Aggies coach Rob Childress clearly had picked up something from being around Fulmer last summer with Team USA and his hitters jumped Fulmer’s heater. I bet Garza and Eshelman did the same as Fulmer’s teammates.
Picks: TCU and Cal State Fullerton
Jim: Today is tough. My gut feel is to take Preston Morrison over Jared Poche’ in the first game, but I do like the matchup of the lefty Poche’ against the Frogs’ left-leaning lineup. I do still worry also about Riley Ferrell and his struggles in the postseason. Granted, LSU’s bullpen isn’t a sure thing either, and you otherwise feel better about TCU’s pitching, but Ferrell has become a question mark. I know, I know, good pitching beats good hitting, but I think LSU finds a way to win a 5-4, 4-3 type of game.
All that being said, we’re due for something unexpected. Vanderbilt is a more talented team than Fullerton. Better lineup. More athletic. Deeper on the mound. First-rounder starting in Carson Fulmer. But I’m feeling the Titans’ mojo with Thomas Eshelman on the mound. The Titans won’t get much with Fulmer out there, but I think they’ll be opportunistic enough to scratch out two or three runs, and their pitching and defense will do the rest. I certainly don’t feel comfortable picking against Vandy, and even a loss today would hardly rule them out from coming through the losers bracket, but I think the Titans’ momentum lasts at least one more game.
Picks: LSU and Cal State Fullerton
Mike: Preston Morrison is the most decorated pitcher in TCU history, and he’s put up gaudy statistics for four straight years. He’s a tough test for the LSU offense, but he’s not unbeatable. Morrison has seen his ERA swell from 1.87 to 2.55 after tough starts against Oklahoma and Texas Tech, and LSU’s lineup is a tick above those clubs. LSU lefthander Jared Poche’ has allowed a total of one earned run in two postseason starts, and he matches up well against a lefty-heavy TCU lineup. It could be a close contest—I’m not expecting what happened with Miami and Florida last night—but I think the Tigers have too much firepower to contain.
Thomas Eshelman vs. Carson Fulmer is a duel for the ages. It’s a battle of two first-team All Americans, and for me, the two top college pitchers this year (Alex Lange is right there, too). For picking purposes, I’m looking at which team I think has the best chance to put up runs against a premium pitcher. I think that team, without a doubt, is Vanderbilt. Though Eshelman limited the damage in the Louisville super regional, he wasn’t fooling too many Cardinals at the plate. He left a few 89-91 mph fastballs up in the zone, and Louisville responded with eight hits against him. The Vanderbilt lineup has a bit more pop than Louisville. Eshelman can’t get away with those mistakes today. On the other side, the only major threat to Fulmer in that Cal State Fullerton lineup is David Olmedo-Barrera. The Titans are more of a scratch-and-claw offense, and maybe they can scratch and claw a few runs out of Fulmer, but with his velocity and nasty curveball, that’s much easier said than done. I’m going Vanderbilt. Either way, we could be talking about this game for quite some time.
Picks: LSU, Vanderbilt
DAY ONE PICKS
On to the picks for day one, which features Arkansas against Virginia and a rivalry game between Miami and Florida.
John: I started the file so I get to go first. Arkansas has well-documented pitching issues that include an injury to James Teague, who threw four quality innings in the super regional clincher against Missouri State, as well as a 4.08 team ERA that ranks last in the field.
Virginia has had its own issues as well, and at times Connor Jones' command can get squirrely. But when he's on, he's a stud, and he's the reason I'm picking the Cavaliers to win the opener.
Florida is the favorite on this side and opens with Miami. We'll see if Logan Shore and Andrew Suarez can last longer than they did in their regular-season matchup, when due to injuries neither made it out of the first inning. Thankfully neither injury proved serious, and both starters remained key elements of teams that have reached Omaha.
Shore's only weakness this year has been being home-prone at times, and Miami is a homer-prone offense. But call me doubting Thomas; until I see the ball fly out of TD Ameritrade Park in a game with my own eyes, I won't believe it. The Hurricanes depend too much on the long ball for me to foresee success here, so I'm picking the more athletic, more complete Gators.
Picks: Virginia, Florida.
Jim: On the whole, Arkansas is probably a better team than Virginia, and I'm doubtful about the Cavs' chances of making a deep run unless Nathan Kirby were to return to full strength. But in a one game situation, I like Connor Jones to get the job done. Both teams are playing with tons of confidence, but unlike Arkansas, Virginia does have some players that've been here before, Jones being one.
I'll be picking Florida until further notice. They're the solid favorite to come out of this side of the bracket. Andrew Suarez gives Miami a definite chance, but the Gators look like they're on a different level right now. And even though the new baseballs made a difference with the number of homers hit in Friday's practice day, you still have to wonder how Miami's power-hungry offense will translate in TD Ameritrade Park.
Picks: Virginia, Florida.
Mike: It might look like I'm copying John and Jim with my picks, but that's only because I'm picking last. Arkansas can score—and score quickly—and Andrew Benintendi, our player of the year, is always a threat. That said, I'm a Connor Jones believer. His power sinker should play well in this ballpark, and in a venue that traditionally swallows up homers, Virginia gets the edge for its pitching staff.
I also have a hard time picking against Florida, which may very well be the hottest team in the country right now. I don't think this is a slam dunk by any means. I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see Miami win. But the Hurricanes do rely quite a bit on power, while Florida's versatile offense seems slightly better suited for the ballpark. No one's touching Logan Shore right now, but Andrew Suarez is certainly capable of throwing a gem, too. With rivalry implications thrown in, this game has the potential to be a classic.
Picks: Virginia, Florida.