Thursday Thoughts - An Expedition Into Gorilla Ball

Get ready for an offensive CWS. And yes, that could be a dual meaning of the word "offensive."

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Welcome back Gorilla Ball. Where ya' been?

Enough of this bunting business. Who cares about stealing a base? No more run-and-hit offenses. This is old school mash-and-jog, junior. Where hot, humid days lead to baseballs flying out like a hole in the aviary. Hell, we may not even care about pitching and defense this week at the College World Series.

And sacrifices? Phhewwww! we'd rather see Fay Wray, Jessica Lange or Naomi Watts tied up in ritual fashion for our Gorilla Ball gods to come storming through the home run jungle to snap them up. THAT kind of sacrifice. Not a freakin' squeeze bunt!

Seven of the eight teams come to Omaha with offenses that score over seven runs per game, led by Florida State, who steamrolls to 9.9 runs per game. In fact, Fresno State is the only team under seven runs (6.8 per game) and under .300 for a team average (.297). Pfft, softies.

In the Super Regionals, 12 of the 20 games saw the winning team score double digits and there wasn't a single shutout on the weekend. It got even more ridiculous when it came to series-clinching games, where five of the eight series-winners scored double digits, led by LSU's 21-run barrage over UC Irvine.

Six of the nation's top 10 hit-producers will be in Omaha this weekend, with Florida State's Buster Posey topping that list (114 hits), followed by Tim Fedroff (105) and Dustin Ackley (104) of North Carolina and Alan Ahmady and Erik Wetzel of Fresno State being tied with Gordon Beckham of Georgia, all with 101 hits.

And just what about this expected home run barrage? Get this. Posey, Beckham and LSU's Matt Clark are all tied for the national lead in home runs at 26. Welcome to Home Run Derby college baseball style. Rosenblatt Stadium is the proving grounds once again. I keep having to pinch myself, is this 1996 all over again? Where's Eddie Furniss? Doug Mientkiewicz? Pat Burrell? Or for that matter, where's the tee that they used to hit off of?

If you like pitching and defense, this may not be the CWS for you. But don't worry, there will probably be a lot of 15-12 games with multiple home runs that gets a lot of negative national attention and who knows, maybe there'll be more calls for bat restrictions again.

Just don't look for any restraint coming in the next week or so.

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HERE'S THE FIELD OF EIGHT.
And a little word or two about their chances of bringing home the big prize.

* Bracket One *

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- FLORIDA STATE: 53-12, No. 3 RPI

Team Batting: .354, 101HRs, 66SBs
Team Pitching: 4.10ERA, 495Ks, 255BBs
Team Fielding: .960
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 424.
Patience. Patience. Patience. They've drawn an amazing 424 walks as a team this year.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Buster Posey. Buster Posey. Buster Posey.
It's true. This guy is the prime mover here. (And by the way, don't you hate when writers repeat something three times for emphasis? Sorry 'bout that.)
2- When backed into a corner, they hit on all cylinders.
FSU lost both opening games in the Regionals (to Bucknell? Gah!) and Super Regionals (to Wichita State), but was nearly unstoppable after each loss, scoring 99 runs in six elimination games.
3- Tired of being bride's maids.
FSU has been in the CWS more times than anyone else (19) without winning a title. The odds have to even out sometime. Why not now?

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- That defense is BAD, and we're not talking "bad" in a Huggy Bear-kind of way.
You'll probably hear this a lot this week, but the 'Noles defense is pretty awful, an ACC 2nd-to-last fielding percentage. And remember, SS Tony Delmonico got injured vs. Wichita and didn't play the last two games. His being 100% or not will play big.
2- Jekyll & Hyde pitching.
All of their starters are capable, no doubt. But when I saw them vs. Miami and during the Supers vs. the Shockers, FSU's pitchers had some hairy moments. If that continues in Omaha, it's not a good sign.
3- Really now, when's the last time a national player of the year won it all?
Maybe Mark Kotsay of Fullerton in '95? Then again, consider this, the winner of the Dick Howser Award has NEVER been on the national championship team.


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- STANFORD: 39-22-2, No. 20 RPI

Team Batting: .299, 76HRs, 47SBs
Team Pitching: 4.37ERA, 402Ks, 232BBs
Team Fielding: .974
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 1.64.
That's the number of points that Stanford lowered its team ERA from last year's school worst 6.01.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- The hurlers are healthy again.
The return of Jeremy Bleich (who threw 10 innings of 5-hit ball the last two weeks) and the good recent starts of Danny Sandbrink (complete-game five hitter vs. Pepperdine) mean the SU mound corps may be the best they've been this season.
2- They have the most intimidating lineup at the CWS.
And I mean in stature, not stats. But really, the middle of their lineup looks like an NFL defensive front four going up to the plate. And they're skilled. Castro, Milleville, Molina and Ratliff are mean mothers to get out.
3- It's Stanford. They're smarter than everybody else.
It's the Harvard of the West. 'Nuff said.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Inconsistency.
The Cardinal went just 7-8-2 in mid-week games. Probably more a sign of their lack of pitching depth and injuries. So if their arms aren't quite up to snuff, you'll notice it in game three or four.
2- Too much offense.
It just so happens that SU got placed in the same bracket with FSU, Miami and Georgia, possibly the three best offenses in the field of eight. The pressure could eventually wear them down here.
3- Coach Marquess has lost his mojo.
Since the '87-'88 back-to-backers, the Trees have been the Buffalo Bills of college baseball, getting the runners-up tags three different times.


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- MIAMI: 51-9, No. 1 RPI

Team Batting: .322, 100HRs, 99SBs
Team Pitching: 3.93ERA, 532Ks, 175BBs
Team Fielding: .975
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 74.
The much-feared Yonder Alonso has an insane total of 74 walks on the year, the national high.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- They're the best balanced team here.
Despite the game one loss to Arizona, this team is still awesome in all areas of the game. They have the best defense in the field of eight, the 2nd-best Ks-per-9-innings, the 2nd-best offense and the 2nd-best coach (winning percentage wise) in CWS games.
2- Just too much offense.
There are no breaks in the lineup. Blake Tekotte, Jemile Weeks, Yonder Alonso, Mark Sobolewski, Dennis Raben... somewhere along the way a pitcher is going to make a mistake. It just happens. And nobody in their bracket can pitch like Arizona did most of the weekend.

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(Dennis Raben and his mates will make life hell on any pitching staff)

3- The pitching has improved.
After I saw them play at Florida State in April, I thought there were some questions about the arms staff, but after what I've seen the last two weeks, I think their pitching has started to come around. Scary to think about.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Not playing on an uptick.
The Canes may have gone 5-1 in the Regional and Super Regional rounds, but most of those wins were tight games. So unlike a lot of teams here in Omaha, they haven't been absolute runaway wins.
2- Because, despite what the stats say, their offense can be held in check.
I'm sure every team in their bracket is watching the tapes of games one and three of the Arizona Super Regional. And for good reason.
3- Because a No. 1 seed NEVER wins the pot of gold.
C'mon, it's been since way back in 1999 since a No. 1 seed won it all. And that was done by... ummmm... well, by Miami. So never mind.


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- GEORGIA: 40-23-1, No. 17 RPI

Team Batting: .309, 92HRs, 71SBs
Team Pitching: 4.82ERA, 486Ks, 222BBs
Team Fielding: .971
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 77
That's the number of runs the Bulldogs scored in their six wins over the past two weeks.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Gordon Beckham. Gordon Beckham. Gordon Beckham.
Just like Posey above, he's a menacing force. But it's not a one-man show as he's got some mashing mates with him too. Rich Poythress (a name I find awkward to say), Bryce Massanari and Ryan Piesel are capable long-ballers too.
2- Joshua Fields.
"Effectively wild" is a good way to describe his early-season work. But now he's been even more locked-in and is a certain W if the Dogs take a lead into the 8th.
3- The emergence of Nick Montgomery.
Though he rarely started during the season, Montgomery came on to win a pair of post-season games and give coach Dave Perno another option in what has been an inconsistent rotation of starters.


Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Messin' with fire.
Like FSU, the Bulldogs lost the opening game of both the Regionals and Super Regionals. Do that here and, in the words of Al McGuire, it's Taps City.
2- Starting pitching.
Despite some talented arms in the rotation, UGa has been hither-and-yon in the starting arms department almost all season.
3- Florida State, Miami and Stanford.
Being matched up with those three teams assures there are no breaks in their bracket (I know, at this time of the season there never are, right? Well I disagree, but you get the gist here.)


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* Bracket Two *
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- RICE: 47-13, No. 5 RPI

Team Batting: .307, 52HRs, 58SBs
Team Pitching: 3.63ERA, 538Ks, 202BBs
Team Fielding: .963
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 5
It's Rice. It's about pitching with a deep pen. Five different guys had saves this year.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- The 'Pen.
Bobby Bell's Super Regional performance officially gave notice that he's back and that is a huge shot in the arm. Cole St. Clair is still a MAN, at 10-2, 2.61, 5svs.
2- Wise ol' Owls.
They don't have the most intimidating offense, but names like Padron, Seastrunk, Luna, Zornes, Dodson and Buenger have made playing in Rosenblatt old hat. That's an immeasurable advantage. They won't be freaked out on the big stage.
3- The Owls never disappoint anymore.
After going 1-6 in their first three appearances ('97, '99, '02), the Owls have gone 9-5 since and have won the title, then finished third the last two times ('03, '06, '07). Wayne Graham has done a better job once here in The O.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- That damn Sky Blue team is here again.
After starting out 2-0 last year in Omaha, UNC was the team that held the Owls to just four runs in two games and eliminated them. They're back in their bracket again.
2- Starting pitching.
Hard to believe we're saying this about Rice, but the starters haven't gone into the 7th inning yet in the post-season. Only one has gone beyond the fifth.
3- That defense is far from error-free.
The second-worst defense in the field of eight has to allow for better infield play. Poor defense has plagued this team in the post-season (17 errors), so this is a change from the rock-solid club we usually see in The O.


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- FRESNO STATE: 42-29, No. 89 RPI

Team Batting: .298, 72HRs, 56BBs
Team Pitching: 4.69ERA, 517Ks, 273BBs
Team Fielding: .970
The "Don't Forget" Stat: Two-and-two.
With this team it's all about being clutch. Coach Batesole says he's never had a team hit better with two strikes and two outs. Timing people.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Because they don't care.
Unlike the teams above, they could give a rat's arse if you think they deserve respect or if they're viewed as a national power. They're just going to go out there, give you a beat-down and take your lunch money.
2- They're mentally tough.
In the Regionals, 3B Tommy Mendonca separated some fingers and Steve Detwiler pulled a ligament in his thumb. A few weeks before that they lost their 1st round draftee ace on the mound, Tanner Scheppers, and yet this team keeps on winning.
3- They're road ready.
Fresno hasn't been in the comfy confines of Beiden Field since May 11th. So unlike all these pansy teams here, they don't need no stinkin' home field advantage to play their best ball.

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(Mike Batesole, right, was named the National Coach of the Year by the NCBWA)

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- Obviously, the pitching.
They lost ace Scheppers six weeks ago and to be honest, they've gotten by the last two weeks on inspired performances. What if Clayton Allison and Justin Wilson finally go South? And is Brandon Burke out of gas? That 9th inning at ASU didn't look so hot.
2- The wide-eyed factor.
The other seven teams are post-season vets, especially on the big stage in Omaha. Fresno is making its first appearance since 1991 and it's also the first time for head coach Mike Batesole.
3- Because that's what 4-seeds from mid-major conferences normally do.
No one would be shocked to see this 29-loss team go out in two. Sure they're good, but their rabbit's foot factor can only play a part for so long.


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- NORTH CAROLINA: 51-12, No. 2 RPI

Team Batting: .324, 56HRs, 66SBs
Team Pitching: 2.83ERA, 640Ks, 275BBs
Team Fielding: .972
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 24.
That's the number of games that Tim Federowicz, Chad Flack, Garrett Gore, Seth Williams, Alex White, Adam Warren and Rob Wooten have played in the CWS.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Been there, done that vs. the best.
UNC already owns weekend series wins over both Miami and Florida State. So they have already beaten the two other top three teams in the field. Confidence won't be a problem if they play one of those two.
2- The pitching is mean. Like, Jake "The Snake" Roberts-mean.
Unlike everybody else in the field, UNC only allowed a team more than four runs once in the Regional and Super Regional rounds. They're still leading the nation in ERA and that's immeasurably important once on this grand stage.
3- They're due, man. They're due.
Two times to the brink and no title yet? Ouch. That's motivation enough. And I even said in my "64 Things" column from before the season, if they make it to the title round, I have to cheer for them. Every red blooded American should.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- If their pitching rehashes last year's CWS performance.
Heel pitchers had a rough go in their three CWS losses (24 runs). And Alex White, though a frosh, was hit pretty hard all week. They can't let that happen again.
2- The Rice Revenge factor.
The last two trips to Omaha has seen Rice get eliminated after starting out 2-0, last year to UNC. The Owls are angry and looking to make amends. And it's not like there's a large talent gap between the two. This should be good.
3- C'mon, Carolina ALWAYS comes up short, right?
Now that I think of it, that's a pretty stupid reason, so disregard that I wrote that and let's just move on.

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(Considering the 100-degree temps in Cary, I don't think Coach Fox minded this water cooler dumping)


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- LSU: 48-17-1, No. 9 RPI

Team Batting: .309, 97HRs, 92SBs
Team Pitching: 4.02ERA, 524Ks, 193BBs
Team Fielding: .972
The "Don't Forget" Stat: 28
Not all Gorilla ball here. Tigers led the SEC in triples with 28, including seven by Ryan Schimpf and five by Leon Landry.

Three reasons they could win it all:
1- Old Mo'
Obviously, no team is on a bigger tear than these Tigers, having won 25 of 26 coming in. And as Oregon State has proven, it's all about timing. Not having the best team, per se.
2- Dare I say, pitching and defense?
With Louis Coleman, Blake Martin and Jared Bradford having a solid Super Regional and Leon Landry, Jared Mitchell and D.J. LeMahieu all having highlight-worthy plays on defense, that bodes well for the Bengal Tigers.
3- "Home" field advantage.
When LSU makes the CWS, the purple and gold nation makes the trek and turns Rosenblatt into a home away from home. Nobody travels better to The O than do LSU fans.

Three reasons they could go belly-up:
1- UCI did prove one thing here.
The Anteaters shut LSU down for 17 innings with great pitching and incredibly smart defense. It was only after starters Scott Gorgen and Daniel Bibona exited that the bats broke out. UNC, Rice and Fresno all have Gorgon/Bibon-type arms.
2- No dominant pitcher.
LSU is obviously offense-based, but it's mostly because they have no dominant go-to guy on the mound that can shut people down completely.
3- The SEC has a bad habit they're trying to break.
Six of the last 10 to be sent home in two games from Omaha have been SECers. Although that may have more to do with the fact that pitching and defense have been so heavy the last five-to-six years, so if this becomes Arena-ball again...

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VARIOUS NOTES OF NOTE---

- Weather is a big issue.
Perhaps no stadium in the country plays to weather more than Rosenblatt. It sits on a hill and is very susceptible to the winds. If it's hot and humid, and the winds are blowing from the South, it pushes baseballs over the wall with ease. I.e.: Gorilla Ball weather.

If it's a cooler day, with winds coming in from the outfield, the park plays big and tends to knock everything down in the outfield. I.e.: pitching and defense.

Right now, the forecast is mid-80s temps on Saturday and Sunday and then with highs dipping into the upper 70s for Monday and Tuesday. So there won't be any scorchers forecast for now. But if you know Omaha weather, it never stays the same for long. So keep an eye on that.

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(At least there are no triple digits in the forecast... yet.)

- Big Money Dudes
This may be one of the more talented CWS fields in years as seven 1st round draft picks will be taking part (not to mention the numerous players that will be 1st rounders in the next two years). Here are the soon-to-be rich boys:
* Buster Posey, Florida State (5th pick, San Francisco)
* Yonder Alonso, Miami (7th pick, Cincinnati)
* Gordon Beckham, Georgia (8th pick, White Sox)
* Jason Castro, Stanford (10th pick, Houston)
* Jemile Weeks, Miami (12th pick, Oakland)
* Joshua Fields, Georgia (20th pick, Seattle)
* Carlos Gutierrez, Miami (27th pick, Minnesota)

- Old WAC mates.
Fresno State and Rice hook up in round one and the two used to be really familiar foes, playing six games a year in the WAC's old home-and-home format. But the Owls administration had them bolt for Conference-USA three years ago. The Owls owned the Dogs, going 18-6 against them in their last four years of WAC play.

- Two road warriors.
Of the eight teams still alive in this NCAA tournament, only two of them had to go on the road in the post-season. Fresno won a regional at Long Beach (beating the Dirtbags and San Diego along the way) and of course taking out Arizona State in Tempe. Also out West, Stanford came back from an opening round loss to UC Davis to win their home regional, but then beat another Big West team, Cal State Fullerton, at Goodwin Field.

- Not going to question these two.
While most everyone can agree that nine teams from one conference is way too many, and their performance proved it, I'm not going to question LSU and Georgia's abilities now. I made it known that if these two won their Super Regional rounds vs. two of the best pitching staffs in the country (UC Irvine and N.C. State respectively), they deserved their trip to Omaha. And they bludgeoned those arms too. No fluke.

- Georgia at home. Arizona on the road.
On the other side of the coin, Georgia got a pretty nice gift in getting assigned a national seeding and home field. If I'm Arizona, I've still got some cross words for the selection committee in not giving the Cats the last national seeding. Georgia's RPI was No. 17 going into the NCAA tournament, UofA's was No. 10. And on top of that, the more important factor should've been that the Cats beat Georgia two out of three in Athens already this season.

- Sports Weekly gives college baseball some pub again.
Thanks to fellow stitch-head Andrew for letting me know that college baseball actually made the front cover of this week's Sports Weekly, the very publication that once gave our beloved sport (and it's great writer Dana Heiss Grodin) the axe. There's a spread inside discussing the ACC's chances of winning a title and capsules on all eight teams. It was all written by USAToday sports writer Andy Gardiner, who is a regular in Omaha for the CWS.

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Unfortunately, just to prove they still don't have a total grasp on things, they put Jack Rye on the cover instead of Buster Posey for Florida State and they put Eric Erickson on the cover instead of Yonder Alonso or Jemile Weeks for Miami. Use the star power of the 1st round draft picks guys.

- Take heart, it's in a cheap place.
With $4.00+ gas out there, the one thing that people attending this year's College World Series can take heart in knowing is that at least this event is held in a rather inexpensive place. According to AAA Travel, Nebraska is the second-cheapest state to travel in, considering it costs an average of $160-a-day for lodging and meals. Here are the 10 cheapest states to travel in:
1- North Dakota
2- Nebraska
3- Kansas
4- Iowa
5- South Dakota
6- Oklahoma
7- Alabama
8- Arkansas
9- Mississippi
10- Kentucky.

According to the study, these are the most expensive states to travel in:
1- Hawai'i (average of $792-a-day for lodging and meals)
2- Washington D.C.
3- New York
4- Nevada
5- Florida
6- Massachusetts
7- Rhode Island
8- California
9- Delaware
10- New Jersey.

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Hope you all have a blast in college baseball nirvana. And for those of you who aren't planning to make the trek to Mecca with us, contact your nearest travel agent and meet us up there.

G'day.

Comments

"The last two trips to Omaha has seen Rice get eliminated by UNC."

Actually Rice was eliminated by OSU in 2006. UNC was in the other bracket.

You're right, thanks for the catch Pyle. You da' man. I made the change above.

Eric

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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