2011 College World Series
Saturday, June 18 – Wednesday, June 29, 2011, TV: ESPN, ESPN2
TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Nebraska
Defending Champion: South Carolina
Though the College World Series is still played in Omaha in mid-June as it always has, two important changes could make this year’s event different than any other. First, after more than 50 years at historic Rosenblatt Stadium, the CWS moves to brand new TD Ameritrade Park.The dimensions of the new park are roughly the same as Rosenblatt.
The second change is a new bat. It is still aluminum but it is a different alloy that performs more like a wooden bat. Teams have had to adjust as offensive numbers are down across the country. Some teams that used to depend on home runs for offense have had to learn to play small ball to compensate. Though the change in bats is significant, I personally think it isn’t as dramatic as some people are saying. What I mean is good offensive teams will be able to hit no matter what style of bat they use. For instance, in one game in last weekend’s super regionals Florida St beat Texas A&M 23-9.
Here is a look at the 8 teams that made it to Omaha, and their odds to win the event courtesy of Bodog. They also offer wagering on winning the two brackets. The tournament is divided into two brackets of 4 teams each, and it is double elimination. The winners of each bracket will face off in a best of 3 series starting June 27, and the winner of that series will be the National Champion. Sixty four teams made the tournament and were divided into 16 groups of 4, with 8 national seeds. The 16 regional winners advanced to the super regionals which were best of 3 series. Six of the eight national seeds made it to Omaha, with the exception of #5 Florida St and #8 Rice. For a complete schedule of the games, click here.
#1 Virginia Cavaliers ( Bracket #2 odds +140, CWS odds 7/2)
Virginia is the #1 overall seed in the tournament and is slight favorite over #2 Florida and #6 Vanderbilt. Virginia and North Carolina both made it to Omaha from the ACC. Surprisingly, no ACC team has won the CWS since 1955. That is amazing when you consider teams like Florida St, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, and Virginia are among college baseball’s traditional powers. Miami did win several championships before joining the ACC.
Virginia made it to the CWS in 2009, and was a national seed last year. However, they were upset by Oklahoma in the super regionals. This year Virgina played a tough UC-Irvine team in the super regional. The Cavaliers won but were stretched to 3 games. Every game was close and somewhat low scoring. The Cavs won the first game 3-0, before losing game 2 6-4. In game 3, Virginia was down 2-1 in the 9th inning before sophomore shortstop Chris Taylor hit a walk-off 2 run double to give UVA a 3-2 win.
Virginia is led by Junior left handed pitcher Danny Hultzen who was the second overall pick in this month’s MLB draft. He is 2-0 in the post-season with an 0.73 ERA, and has 15 strikeouts and 4 walks in 12 innings pitched. He is also the teams DH and has 6 RBI’s in the post season and is batting .400. Junior righty Will Roberts is 1-0 with a 0.55 ERA in the postseason. Taylor is batting .462 and also has 6 RBI’s. Overall, Virginia had 8 players drafted.
Virginia is a great overall team with dominant pitching, hitting, and defense. They have a great shot of winning the whole thing. I think they make it to the championship series and will win bracket #2. Virginia takes on unseeded California in the first round Sunday.
#2 Florida Gators (Bracket #1 odds +185, CWS odds 4/1)
Florida is one of 3 teams from the SEC to make the CWS along with Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
Florida met conference rival Mississippi St in the Super Regionals. Florida won game 1 11-3, and lost game 2 4-3. In game 3, the Gators advanced to Omaha 8-6 on the strength of 5 homers.
Florida is probably the most talented team in Omaha but has injuries to 2 key players. Number 2 starter/DH Brian Johnson missed the super regional with a concussion and first baseman/closer Austin Maddux missed as well with a sprained foot. Both could return for the CWS. If not Florida’s depth becomes a question mark. The Gators had 11 players drafted into MLB this month.
Florida is a team that lives by the long ball. Junior outfielder Preston Tucker is batting .375 in the post season with 4 homers and 14 RBI’s. Junior outfielder Daniel Pigott is batting .417 with 3 homers and 8 RBI’s this post season. Sophomore catcher Mike Zunino is batting .458 with 3 HR’s and and 7 RBI’s. He has 18 homers for the season, which more than the Gator’s first round opponent Texas has total. The Longhorns only hit 17 home runs as a team this season.
Even if Johnson can’t go, Florida still has 2 dominant pitchers in ace Hudson Randall and freshman righty Karsten Whitson. In fact, last year’s #1 starter Alex Pantiliodis was demoted to the bottom of the rotation because the Gators have so much depth.
If Johnson and Maddux can play, Florida is my pick to win the CWS. Otherwise, the Gators are ripe for an upset by North Carolina or Vanderbilt.
#3 North Carolina Tarheels (Bracket #1 odds +300, CWS odds 7/1)
The Tarheels probably shouldn’t be seeded this high, as they were only ranked #13 at the end of the season. However, they were #1 in the RPI and thus they are the #3 national seed.
North Carolina has not lost a game in the postseason. They beat Stanford in the Super Regional 5-2 in game 1 and 7-5 in game 2.
North Carolina has gotten this far mainly on pitching and defense. Senior righty Patrick Johnson is the ace of the staff. He is 2-0 in the postseason with a 0.57 ERA, and 18 strikeouts with only 2 walks in 16 innings pitched. Freshman lefty Kent Emmanuel is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA in the postseason. The problem for the Tarheels is the quality of starters drops off considerably after Johnson and Emmanuel. They need to stay in the winners bracket because they don’t have the pitching depth of Florida or Vanderbilt.
UNC has a team batting average of only .289 but they are 19th in scoring with 7 runs a game. Freshman 3B Colin Moran is a first team All-American but has struggled in the post season with only one RBI and he is only batting .250. Junior shortstop Levi Michael and senior first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki also contribute to the offense. However, they have struggled as well in the postseason. All three will have to hit much better they ahve so far, or it could be a short stay in Omaha. Carolina plays Vanderbilt in the first round. UNC might be able to beat Texas in the elimination game but they can’t beat Florida or Vandy.
#4 South Carolina Gamecocks (Bracket #2 odds 2/1, CWS odds 6/1)
The Gamecocks are the defending champions at the CWS. Despite battling injuries all season and replacing their top three starting pitchers from a year ago, South Carolina won the SEC regular season title and beat Florida and Vanderbilt 2 out of 3 ties they played each team.
Like their neighbors to the north, South Carolina is undefeated in the postseason. They beat UConn in the super regional 5-2 and 8-2.
South Carolina had 11 players drafted. Junior lefty Michael Roth is 2-0 this postseason and hasn’t allowed a run in 15 innings pitched. Young righthanders Forrest Koumas and Colby Holmes are solid to complete the rotation. Senior closer Matt Price also hasn’t allowed a run in 6 innings pitched. He has 3 saves in the postseason.
Junior OF Jackie Bradley has missed significant with a wrist tendon injury but he could return for the CWS. That will give the Gamecocks another boost to a team that is only hitting .296 collectively. The Gamecocks rely on timely hitting and moving the runner into scoring position.
South Carolina doesn’t have the depth of Virginia but could pull the upset if things go their way. South Carolina plays unseeded Texas A&M in the first round.
Those are the top 4 seeds. In another article, I will discuss the other 4 teams in the field.