Thursday Thoughts - Teams dying off like mob hits

Welcome to Super Regional Weekend... otherwise known as the last episode of The Sopranos Weekend.

TonySoprano.jpg
(Tony Soprano isn't the only one worried about being vanquished this weekend.)

I guess it's sort of like Returns Day. Post-Christmas is usually a bummer. Nothing but better-than-you-paid before Christmas prices for all those bargain-seeking suckers out there and a bunch of returns for gifts from the Island of Misfit Toys.

But luckily in college baseball land, Christmas, which is what I call Regionals weekend, is always followed by Super Regionals weekend. We're about to coldly empty our revolver to get the field down from 16 to eight now as we inch toward Omaha.

And I have to say this before I start diving into the Super Regional matchups. This is also the time of the season where people on the fringe of college baseball start paying closer attention to what's going on. To those people out there, all I can say is, What the Hell took ya'? Man, did you ever miss out.

Okay, on to this weekend.

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The Super Regional matchups---
Those starting on Friday:
- Texas A&M at Rice.
Possibly the most intriguing of all the SRs. This matches the speed, intensity and excitement of the A&M offense against the stoic reputation of the Rice pitching staff. If the Aggies stay aggressive, get men on base and put pressure on the Owls staff, similar to what Prairie View did last year, this could be a down-to-the-wire series. But A&M will also have to have their stud pitchers (Kyle Nicholson and David Newmann) pitch better than when I saw them at the Big 12 Tournament.
. Key Matchup:
A&M's speed vs. Rice pitcher's mental makeup.
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
Rice in three. Unless A&M gets its first man on in seven of nine innings.

- Oklahoma State at Louisville.
Louisville hosting a Super Regional... wicked! Let's hear it for the mid-majors man. I'm down with the Cardinals for a couple of reasons too. 1) Their pitching has the potential to lock down anyone (led the NCAA in team ERA at 2.89 entering Regionals). And 2) They are one of those heavy-on-experience teams (12 seniors). Can't wait to see how their speed (141 SBs) matches up with OSU's bats (.327). But be careful Cards, if you let the Pokes get some confidence and start getting on a roll, this offense has a potentially demoralizing effect.
. Key Matchup:
(Obviously) Louisville's experienced arms vs. Oklahoma State's power bats.
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
Okie State in three. But the 'Ville will win game one.

- Clemson at Mississippi State.
Yes, John Manuel, I agree, State is hosting this weekend because of NCAA chairman Larry Tempelton. I don't think it's a big secret. But I also agree with Mark Etheridge that it's hard to deny a 10,000+ crowd and the charm of the Left Field Lounge. So let's just move on. And let me say this, if Clemson's offense continues their tear they were on vs. Coastal Carolina, State can throw the pulled-pork sandwich King from the Lounge slinging baseball's with a spatula and they still won't beat CU. That was an awesome display.
. Key Matchup:
Clean-up man Andy D'Allesio vs. MSU's starters.
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
Clemson in two. But both will be one-run games.

- South Carolina at North Carolina.
Okay, I have to admit, I grew a little tired of this matchup in the post-season being repeated time and again (2002-fhrough-2004), but this will be the first time since then that these two have met in the Big Dance. Difference this time? UNC gets to play at home. They also come in with the more dependable pitching (Woodard + White + Carignan in the pen = instant W). Harris Honeycutt has cooled like an extinct volcano since a 7-0 start. The Cocks have been too inconsistent in this topsy-turvy season to expect them to pull out two wins here. But then, if Gorilla Ball gets its banana...
. Key Matchup:
Carolina (South) power hitters vs. Carolina (North) experienced pitchers
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
Carolina in two. North that is. Unless SC can hit four home runs or more each game.


Starting Saturday:
- Michigan at Oregon State.
You have to start believing in two things... 1) That the RPI is full of crap and will ALWAYS under-estimate geographically isolated schools like OSU. and 2) Pat Casey is a coach that knows how to get his team playing with confidence in the post-season. The deep staff of the Beavers lead them out of the loser's bracket at UVa and should help them here against a good hitting Michigan team. But don't sell the now-confident Wolverines short, they have a lot of arms too (thanks to Big 10 four-game weekends), a wicked offense (.332) and Rich Maloney has done an incredible job.
. Key Matchup:
Mike Stutes vs. Zach Putnam. Making Game one huge (well, duh!).
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
OSU in three. Unless once again, another national writer has underestimated UMich.

- UCLA at Cal State Fullerton.
First of all, the Friday matchup of Roemer vs. Brummett will be a beauty. They make this game a toss-up at best, although Brummett threw a complete-game 5-hitter in beating the Titans earlier this year. The key is how improved the back of the UCLA starting pitching has improved. Although Tim Murphy (5-4, 5.68) and Gavin Brooks (6-6, 4.65) don't have sexy stats, they've improved down the stretch and made the Bruin rotation formidable. Fullerton bats just .279, but like the Bruin arms, have improved of late. And give the Titans some edge on the experience side. Super Regionals are second nature to them. But again, these two know each other too well. In fact, this is a toss-up.
. Key Matchup:
UCLA's No. 2 and 3 starters vs. Fullerton's 5-through-9 hitters.
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
Fullerton by the length of a fingernail in three games. It's just that close.

- Mississippi at Arizona State.
Are we really supposed to believe that this will be competitive? Will Ole Miss' season end in another Super Regional disappointment? Can the SEC actually win on the road in a S.R.? I'm going to NOT go out on a limb and say ASU has to like its position here and its road to Omaha. With the possible exception of UCLA, no teams' pitching has improved as much as the Devils have in the back half of this season. Mike Leake (13-1) has grown up as a freshman and Jason Jarvis getting cleared to play in mid-April (already has 11 saves) is a huge addition.
. Key Matchup:
Ole Miss' right hand starters vs ASU's left handed bashers. Devils have to like that matchup.
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
ASU in two. Unless Will Kline pitches the best game of his career.

- UC Irvine at Wichita State.
Well no team seemed to impress the nation more (besides Michigan) than the Anteaters. They Zot'd Texas in front of 9,000+ in Round Rock by playing with poise, confidence and discipline. Dave Serrano is from that Augie Garrido school of coaching, so it rubbed off on his '07 team. This team is hot. But Wichita is Wichita. Though this team has made Coach Stephenson's blood boil at times, they put it together last week in overcoming Arizona in two straight. Problem is, now they're going to face a better pitching staff in UCI. Should be as much fun as any Super Regional out there.
. Key Matchup:
UCI's on-again/off-again reliever Blair Erickson vs. WSU's suddenly on-again offense.
. My Pick (though I shouldn't):
UCI, because after Texas, this will be much easier. But don't forget, WSU might have a better staff than UT, if that's possible.


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I take back what I said about...---
- The West.
I had made the statement earlier this year that this was going to be another "down" year for the teams in the West (I thought next year was the year the West makes more of an impact nationally). Aichee-mama, I guess this post-season has proven me wrong. They've been road warriors while doing it too:

. Oregon State, winning at Virginia twice in a row. And to think, when I was in Corvallis three weeks ago, OSU fans thought they wouldn't make the field of 64.

. UC Irvine beating Texas (my national title pick) twice in Round Rock. Coach Serrano, I promise to come to more games from now on.

. UCLA won at Long Beach State. Like OSU, the Bruin faithful were worried about inclusion into the Big Dance to begin with. Tsk-tsk.

. And Cal State Fullerton won the San Diego Regional. So everybody can just settle down now, that three-game sweep at East Carolina is way, way in the rear view mirror.

- The Mississippi schools.
I have had my doubts about both Ole Miss and Mississippi State throughout this season. The Rebels losing a series to Wright State and the Bulldogs doing the same to Austin Peay while also having a bad team ERA. But you can't argue the results now as both are Super Regional-bound. Especially MSU, with going on the road and handing Florida State a pair of losses. Man, that's huge!

- The Big 10 and the Big East.
Okay, I admit, I thought both these conferences were stronger than people thought, but I never expected two Super Regional teams out of them. Michigan was bad-ass going into Nashville and beating the nation's top team two out of three times (and yes, SEC types, they deserved it). And Louisville may have turned a corner in its program by winning the Columbia Regional and hosting the Supers at their joint. Strong work on both fronts.


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The Field of 64 vs. Field of 48---
The Regionals, the Super Regionals, the CWS, I like the progression that the baseball post-season has taken since 1999 when the new format was introduced (I know Glenn Tanner, I can hear you bitchin' from here). Plus, there is a lot to like about how it's easier on the teams and the pitching arms now as opposed to the old days. Thankfully, long gone are the days of:
- 6 team double-elimination play and the mind-bending brackets that accompanied it.
- 6 teams and all their fans trying to find hotels over Memorial Day (and, for example, while schools like Texas are holding graduation ceremonies).
- Worn out pitching staffs that lead to 15-to-20-run games in the championship round (thus giving college baseball a worse reputation).
- Spending the entire day watching three games in the 95-degree heat of Baton Rouge.
- Shoehorning 11 or 12 games into a four-day period which usually involved at least one day to be rained out in its entirety.
- Every regional being awarded to a team that, no matter how mediocre or over-rated, got the regional because of money. Despite Mark Etheridge's protests, I like Regionals awarded on performance like Pepperdine, Coastal Carolina, Minnesota and Missouri.


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"Super" Regional---
Isn't there a better name they could've come up with?


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The best part of this year's post-season---
The use of Gametracker.
If I recall correctly, in past years, the NCAAsports.com site ran its own version of updated scores and scoreboards. Gametracker, a brilliant technological move, was not used once the post-season arrived. And to be honest with you, the NCAA's version was pretty lame, usually way, way behind the action and updated only often enough to make you wonder if the sum'bitch was broken. But correct me if I'm wrong, this seems to be the first year (maybe the second, now that I think of it) in which Gametracker's live updates were able to be used by fans everywhere during the Regionals and Super Regionals. And frankly, it's a huge improvement in keeping track with what's going on around the country. Thank you Gametracker... and the boys at the NCAA for allowing Gametracker.


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My view at the "Manhattan Regional" last weekend---
This is what the control room at the CSTV studios looks like, wall-to-wall TVs and every Regional that is televised. Downright heavenly.

CSTVcontrolRoom.jpg
(The CSTV control room in New York.)

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Why Eastern Time sucks---
I discovered this weekend that midnight strikes waaaaaay too soon out there on the East coast. I'm used to seeing all the scores before I go to bed on any normal night. But on Sunday night/Monday morning, I was trying to keep track of what was going on in the Arizona State-Nebraska game. It was getting near 1am, the game was in the 6th inning and I had to wake up at 5am to get to JFK for my flight home. I wasn't a happy camper.

Then there's also the story of Jeeves, my driver, who was in Philadelphia this weekend for a wedding reception. The bar was showing his beloved Titans on the TVs there. But at 2am, while the game was still just in the 5th inning, he and his entourage were kicked out because of closing time. He eventually got updates texted to his phone until the game ended at 4:30am Eastern time. Ouch.


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Another "Barry" ruins the game of baseball---
It was rainy and wet in the East because of tropical storm Barry, forcing many delays and postponements of games and also pushing the Charlottesville Regional until freakin' Tuesday. Elsewhere, it was broiling (mid-90s) and humid (ditto) in Texas and it was a Hellish 105 degrees on Sunday afternoon in Tempe. Best weather? Had to be in San Diego (surprise, surprise), which was the usual cool and temperate. Although, the players and coaches were wearing jackets during the Fresno-Fullerton night game. Of course, it's always better to be a little cool than to be boiling hot.


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Speaking of ruining the game, here's the RPI---
I've never been smart enough to explain why the RPI is so bad. Other than it's a basketball formula and the West gets screwed routinely. But I know what I see (Oregon State winning the title after being a No. 30 ranked team by the RPI) and I know what I read from Boyd Nation on the matter (www.boydsworld.com). And believe me, Boyd is much, much more intelligent than most of us. So that's why I was so relieved to find the quintessential article on why the RPI blow goats. Check this out:

http://www.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/stories/060707aau.html

Thank you Mr. Tanner. Now if only the Committee is smart enough to read about it.


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To the dogs---
I've got a solution to this Michael Vick dog fighting thing... let's not "punish" Captain Idiot with a monetary fine or suspension or probation or even a 10-day jail sentence. Let's get two dogs in a ring, just like he likes to see, then wrap his ass in bacon strips and put him in the pit with them. Good luck jerk.


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Hockey in SoCal---
Let me speak as a hockey purist for a moment. I know Anaheim won the Stanley Cup this past week. Woo-hoo, BFD, man! Look, people in SoCal don't give a rat's arse about winning the Stanley Cup. The Ducks beat Ontario four games to one this past week, but I'm not sure many people even know about it here. Hell, I play beer league ice hockey on Monday nights at the same facility that the L.A. Kings practice at, but I don't even care about pro hockey. This is NOT a hockey town. If you ask me, Stanley Cups belong in Canada, Minnesota or Massachusetts. That's it and that's all.


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Stomping on the plate---
Was it just me or did EVERY Vanderbilt player stomp on the plate when they scored a run this past weekend? And I mean even when they were running full sprint. They still managed to stomp hard as they were crossing it. Where did this fad come from? Look people, I know you're angry. I know you're wanting to find something that equivocates with the standard/expected/trite NBA scream after a slam dunk, but you're trying way too hard.


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Rod Delmonico fired at Tennessee?---
Coach Delmonico was 699-356 with the Big Orange over 18 years and led the Vols to three College World Series appearances. Okay, unless this guy was a colossal jerk to everyone in the athletics department (which I have no information about, by the way) or doing something unsavory that I shouldn't put in print, this is a pile of crap move. Nice going UT. Way to turn this into one of those shameful, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately situations. What is this, SEC football? Damn.


Okay, I've spewed enough piss and vinegar tonight. I shouldn't be so bitter, this is the second best weekend of the season coming up. Hope you all get a chance to check out some more of the post-season action that's going on around the country. It's a beauty man.

Like Tony Soprano, we'll see who survives this weekend.

G'night.

Comments

Re: The use of Gametracker

This is the second year that GameTracker has been used during post-season play.

The reason is pretty simple -- CBS Sportsline runs the NCAASports.com site. When CBS purchased CSTV last year it made sense to switch to the better platform.

Thanks Jeremy. I can always count on your input man. That's cool. And I thought I remembered Gametracker from last year, I just wanted to make sure and make note of it again, 'coz it rules.

Hope to see you in The O big daddy.

Eric

Thanks Jeremy. I can always count on your input man. That's cool. And I thought I remembered Gametracker from last year, I just wanted to make sure and make note of it again, 'coz it rules.

Hope to see you in The O big daddy.

Eric

E, the Stanley Cup also belongs in Michigan.

Oh, and the Ducks beat Ottawa -- Ontario's "other" team.

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert