TEAM: University of California Irvine
CONFERENCE: Big West (3rd place)
RECORD: 41-16 (14-10)
Expected W-L: 41-16
Don’t sleep on UC-Irvine. The Big West is one of the toughest conferences in the country, so it’s not like they were playing a bunch of chumps all year. They rank 13th in the RPI, and 4th in Boyd World’s ISR ratings. They have a recent history of winning tournament games on the road, and they have one of the top coaches in the game. They aren’t lucky to be here and they aren’t just happy to show up. UCI was in Omaha last year, where was LSU? So let’s not pretend we’re some massively superior program right now.
Even more fun, UCI is completely different than LSU. They don’t win games with their bats, they win it with their arms. The rotation is ridiculously good, and the bullpen is pretty effective as well. I’m critical of their offense, as it doesn’t generate nearly the amount of scoring LSU does, but they put a lot of runners in motion and they get a lot of baserunners on. They don’t hit for power, but they draw walks and then put the ball in play. That puts pressure on the defense, never a bad thing in a college game. Look, it might not be the best way to score runs, but it sure is a lot of fun to watch. The theory is that LSU’s defense will be under constant pressure and will have to make plays. And, hey, they did score 53 unearned runs. Of course, LSU scored 92 unearned runs.
So, let’s talk about the bad news first. The pitching is for real awesome. Just look at the three likely starters:
Scott Gorgen – 2.31 ERA, 11-3, 109 IP, 115 K, 36 BB
Bryce Stowell – 2.77 ERA, 8-2, 87.2 IP, 101 K, 35 BB
Daniel Bibona – 3.03 ERA, 9-3, 95 IP, 89 K, 20 BB
There’s not a whole lot encouraging there for LSU fans. The worst starter has an ERA of 3.03, while LSU’s top starter (Ryan Verdugo) has an ERA of 3.81. And he’s a lefty, which gives him an advantage against LSU’s lefty heavy lineup.
Even worse, they aren’t doing it with mirrors. Look at those K to BB ratios. All of them are over 3 to 1. Which means they strike out a lot of batters and don’t give up many baserunners. Hell, it seems like a lot of times the defense can just go to the dugout and take a nap. Speaking of defense, teams have attempted 81 steals against UCI. Only 36 times have they succeeded. That’s over a fifty percent rate of gunning down runners. That’s amazing.
And then they go to the pen where they have Eric Pettis and his 17 saves, 1.65 ERA, and 50/17 K/BB ratio ready to close the door. Admittedly, the pen isn’t as awesome as the starters, but they are pretty darn good. Besides, saying they aren’t as awesome as the starters is not an insult. As a team, has an ERA of 2.88 and allowed 215 runs in 57 games (3.77 runs per game). The Eaters are a terrific defensive team. Their starters are great, the bullpen is very good, and the defense is good enough behind that pitching. Oh, and don’t think about running.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that UC-Irvine fans must be looking at our hitting they way we’re looking at their pitching. It’s not like the hitting sucks, it’s just that LSU averages about 2.5 more runs per game. That’s a lot. LSU wins slugfests, UCI wins pitcher’s duels. Which means for UCI, every run counts. They play in an artificial low-scoring environment. They play as if runs are scarce and that the first run wins.
The team hits 306/389/430. So they hit for the same average as LSU, get on base at a slightly better clip, and then have an almost complete lack of power. We’re not just talking about no home runs (UCI has hit 35, Matt Clark hit 25), but also low doubles and triples totals. They just nickel and dime you to death. Oh, and they sacrificed 85 times. The result? 153 less runs than the Tigers, despite playing only four less games. Lesson: don’t bunt.
Don’t think though that UCI lacks talent, though. Lowenstein might be the worst hitter in college (194/273/273), but he earns his slot through his incredible defense. The team does have two players with some power: Tony Asaro (326/383/568) and Francis Larson (320/373/500). And Jeff Cusick is probably the most well-rounded hitter (347/446/456). So there are some troublesome spots in the lineup.
The Anteaters stole 98 bases in 139 attempts (compared to LSU at 90 for 114). They have more steals but at a slightly worse rate, so it’s pretty much a wash. But looking behind that number, it’s not that they are a running team. Ben Orloff went 19 for 27 and Ollie Linton went 39 for 47. Those two players are account for 58 steals and 74 attempts. OK, both get on at over a 400 clip so they will get on and they will steal some bases in this series, but the rest of the Eaters stole 40 bases in 65 attempts, a far more manageable running team all of a sudden. Still a threat, but not as scary.
We’re in for a fun series. The old expression is that good pitching beats good hitting. If that’s true, LSU is completely screwed.