So, you have to go with Aaron Nola in game one versus the Bruins, right?
No doubt about it. Eades or Glenn in Game Two is the more interesting question, but we'll burn that bridge when we get there. But come Omaha, everybody is good and playing well. You cannot overlook a team and play for the next game. You must avoid the loser's bracket at all costs, and that means throwing out your ace in the first game. Don't get cute. The two most "valuable" game are the first two, and you need to pull out all the stops to win both of those games.
Even thinking longterm, Nola is the best choice. LSU plays on Sunday and Tuesday for sure, and the championship series starts on Monday. If LSU makes it that far, pitching Nola on Sunday gives him a full week's rest for Game One, and a full week rest for whoever Mainieri decides is the #2 starter. I don't want to start monkeying around with the rotation so that Nola won't be able to go on the possible first game of the final series.
You definitely start Nola against the Bruins. He matches up very favorably against UCLA's, well, let's call it a below average offense. As a team, UCLA is batting 0.251 and has only scored 293 runs for the entire season. I know season totals might not tell the story about how well UCLA is swinging the bat now, but Nola's ability to limit scoring opportunities and get big pitches when he needs them could frustrate UCLA to no end. Nola could conceivably throw another complete game against UCLA, which would save the bullpen for the rest of the CWS. Having a fresh bullpen for later games could be huge for making a deep run.
Thinking back to 2009, LSU was actually able to throw Anthony Ranaudo three times. He started Game 1, Game 3 and then Game 3 of the Championship series. However, LSU jumped all over Arkansas early in Game 3, and Maineri was able to pull Ranaudo after six innings and 77 pitches. I'm sure that helped. But I wonder if we could potentially throw Nola three times. That would require starting on Sunday, the following Friday, and then the following Wednesday. That's a lot of work. Having the Sunday start this weekend, instead of Saturday, seems like it makes that less likely.
The other option is what Poseur said which is to start Game 1, then have either Eades/Glenn (whoever doesn't start Game 2) start Game 3 and then throw Nola first in the Championship series. And that's all of course assuming things go to plan.
That's the long way to answer the question, which is there is no doubt that Nola gets the ball first. Winning the first two are so important, and you can't get to the second one without winning the first one. It's a no brainer.
Mainieri confirmed as much to the media on Monday, saying he'd start Nola no matter who UCLA decides to start. We are all in agreement, Pitching Nola first and getting that first win is a giant confidence boost for any team, not to mention giving him full rest time for the championship, assuming things go according to plan.
It's not too much of an issue to look ahead to game 2 from a pitching perspective, and that may be where the most interesting question of the first rounds lies. Despite a shaky start, Eades more than held his own in the Super GM2 and I think is the leading candidate for the start. But you have to wonder how long Mainieri is willing to wait before letting Glenn see some action. With Nola getting game 1, it will have been at least 26 days since the last time Glenn took the mound. He's been doing simulated games in BR this week ahead of the team's travel to Omaha, but no amount of simulation is going to prepare him for a live fire offense. I'm still not sure I wouldn't start Eades game 2, but I wouldn't be surprised if Glenn gets the nod instead.
So how much does UCLA concern you?
I was mulling back and forth to whether this matchup has me more concerned than OU did in the super regional. UCLA has starting pitching on par with OU and a better bullpen, but a sometimes anemic offense. In the end, I'm more concerned than I was for the super regional because of the superior pitching, but I believe we should win.
This game resembles Game 1 of the super regional in a lot of ways that benefit LSU, and it resembles the SEC tournament in a way that could hurt our offense. Nola again faces an offense that has struggled to generate runs this season, and our lineup faces a sturdy test going up against Adam Plutko. We saw in the OU game that Aaron Nola can carry this team to a win with a dominant performance when the offense gives him just enough cushion. I expect a similar type of game where one big hit can decide the outcome. With our offense, I imagine we will eventually get to Plutko and give Nola the cushion he needs to go after UCLA's lineup.
What has me most concerned is TD Ameritrade Park. It is a large ballpark like the Hoover Met, and LSU hit very poorly in Hoover going 0.259 during the SEC Tournament with only 6 doubles and 15 runs scored in 5 games. LSU tends to rely on extra base hits and home runs to generate offense instead of playing small ball or taking chances on the base paths. I imagine if UCLA's keeps the ball in front of them and limits the offense to singles and few extra base hits (which is probably going to happen), it could be a long day and frustrating day. That is a worst case scenario though.
I agree about the ballpark. The new park just saps power, and it favors small ball teams like UCLA. They are used to scratching and clawing for every run, and won't get frustrated by balls dying on the warning track. I also agree this is a lot like playing OU, only in a ballpark more favorable to the pitching and defense team and less cozy than Alex Box. This game could look a lot like Game One of the Supers.
Of course, we won that game. Is there anyone in the country you'd rather have on the mound in a big game than Aaron Nola? He was absolutely brilliant against Gray, and we need him to have a repeat performance in Omaha. I have the utmost confidence in him to deliver the goods. Strictly speaking, UCLA did not eliminate LSU in 2010, but UCLA did beat LSU and sent them on the road to elimination. So I have noting but the utmost respect for the Bruins' program. We know first hand that they have a team good enough to send you home. LSU has a better team this year, but UCLA is an Omaha regular now. They arent going to lay down and should be a real tough out.
If Glenn weren't suspended, I'd much rather see him in Game 2, for the simple reason that he was much, much better than Eades over the second half of the season. In his last six starts, Glenn's ERA was barely over 1. But with him missing so much time, he's now a question mark. I think Eades is the safe pick there.
I feel pretty confident against UCLA, and Aaron Nola is the biggest reason. Plutko is awfully good, but he doesn't quite have the numbers as someone like Nola, nor does he have the stuff like Jonathan Gray. The ballpark does concern me, and it does compare to Hoover. But LSU won the tournament in Hoover. A park that favors pitching like that can be an asset for LSU because it just makes LSU's staff that much better, which has to be scary for a team like UCLA who honestly doesn't have a single hitter that scares you. They'll certainly steal and bunt and try to manufacture runs as best they can, and it will probably be frustrating at times during the game. I'm hoping Ty Ross can help neutralize some of that foolishness. But at the end of the day, LSU has the better starting pitcher and the better lineup. They should win.