There are 8 teams in Omaha and all of them have the same goal, and all that separates them from their goal of the big dogpile is 5 wins. Sun Tzu once wrote "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles". That's why I'm here, to learn you on some teams that don't wear purple and gold.
The Razorbacks (40-23) lost 10 of 12 in March before Andrew Benintendi decided to get hot and change Arkansas' luck. Arkansas shocked the world when they beat Texas A&M with the help of a 5 run 8th inning, the first series of the year the Aggies dropped. But as far as the SEC Tournament goes, Arkansas was stuck with a 5 seed and a play in game. LSU sailed past Arkansas 10-5 and then Florida eliminated the Hogs 10-0 in their revenge game. But a 5 seed and 2-2 record in Hoover is worth a 2 seed in the big tournament, and the Hogs ran the table in the Stillwater Regional. Since Missouri State rented out a minor league ball park, Arkansas got to host a Super Regional and beat the Bears in 3 games to advance to Omaha.
Arkansas is lead by Golden Spikes finalist Andrew Benintendi, who really may have the single biggest contribution to a team in the nation. Andrew doesn't look like he's a huge offensive threat, but the outfielder is .380/.715(!!!)/.489 line in addition to 19 home runs, which is decent I guess. In fact, every category except doubles and triples is lead by Benintendi and it isn't even really close. Tyler Spoon is the only other Razorback batting over .300, but that doesn't mean they're weak elsewhere. Quite the opposite, there are no Razorback starters batting under .280. But still, the best way to beat Arkansas is to push the issue on guys like Michael Bernal and Bobby Wernes and force them to beat you instead of them waiting on Benintendi do all the dirty work.
Arkansas' season will probably end with the Hogs falling into a hole Benintendi and Spoon can't climb out of. Keaton McKinney is considered Arkansas' ace with a 3.27 ERA. Taccolini and Killian balance out the rotation with a 4.32 and 5.74 ERA. The only Hog pitcher with an ERA under 2 is Zach Johnson with a 1.91, and that's only because he's their closer.
Virginia...oh man Virginia. In my projections I had the Cavaliers (39-22) out of the tournament. UVA had a stretch where they went 2-5 in conference. To make matters worse, they went 1-3 in the ACC tournament. But yet...the Cavaliers made the field the 64 as a three seed in the Lake Elsinore Regional and swept it playing USC twice and San Diego State. In their Super Regional that they hosted because UCLA was eliminated, the Hoos swept former ACC school and three seed Maryland. So maybe Virginia got hot at the right time. Maybe I'm an idiot. Maybe you can't predict ball.
Matt Thaiss is the big bat for the Cavaliers with a .332/.528/.424 slash in addition to leading the team in home runs with 9. Not exactly a big fly team with only 32 dingers. As a result of their struggles, UVA only really has 7 entrenched starters. To wit: 6 players have started over 10 but less than 30 games. A lot of turnover with this team and turnover leads to instability and O'Connor having to play the hot hand.
Connor Jones is the team rock with a 2.96 ERA and 103 innings pitched, with 105 K's to accompany that workload. Nathan Kirby does sport a 2.84, but he has 6 less starts than Jones and a good 43 innings less. Brandon Waddell (4.15) is the last wheel of the rotation. It's not all bleak for the Cavs, as closer Josh Sborz (1.95) has All-American stuff and 14 saves on 29 appearances with 52 strikeouts. But you need to have a lead in order to trot him out, and that bodes badly for Virginia but really good for the #CurseOf55.
The #CurseOf55 has TWO victims to claim next week, with the second being the Hurricanes. Miami University of Florida (FL) (49-15) did enough to earn a regional host bid. Thanks to national seed Dallas Baptist folding, the U got to host a regional against VCU, which they swept.
Miami has 9 players batting over .300. That's all nine positions for those keeping track at home. That impressive barrage is lead by George Iskenderian with his sterling .367/.479/.462 slash, but he's more of a contact guy. The real power for the Hurricanes is generated by David Thompson, who has 19 home runs which translates to 87 ribbies. Zack Collins also has 15 to his name, but outside of that Miami isn't really a deep threat. I really like the balance to the lineup here.
Andrew "Literally Luis" Suarez (2.96) is the staff ace although he only has 79 innings, but he does have 74 triple collections of swings and misses. Thomas Woodrey (3.06) is their pitch to contact guy, logging over 97 innings and .240 BAA. Here's a new one for you though: their best pitcher isn't their closer, Bryan Garcia (2.68). No, that's Michael Mediavilla, who doesn't have the lowest ERA on the team (1.89) but does have the most strikeouts in the bullpen (50) and a .178 BAA. Cooper Hammond (.185) is their second option in relief.
Florida's game against rival Miami will be the 6th straight game the Gators (49-16) will play against a Florida team in the NCAA postseason due to their regional being all domestic teams and their pairing with Florida State's regional. How's that for mildly interesting!?
Josh Tobais is the Gators' most productive swinger, and it shows in his .373/.557/.447 line. The man on the hot corner also has a glove to match, with only one error contributing to a .992 fielding percentage. The deep threat for Florida is JJ Schwarz, who shows it with his .332/.651/.393 line. Where Tobias has 5 home runs to his name, Schwarz has 18. For a heavy swinger, JJ does an excellent job keeping his strikeout numbers down to 44.
While Logan Shore (2.50) has the best numbers on the team, AJ Puk (3.96) has the best stuff on the team and he'll be on a longer leash than most freshman in Omaha have. The Gators turn to Taylor Lewis out of the pen, who has an unusually high IP in relation to his appearances, meaning while he is the closer he often pitches the 8th, which isn't unheard of, but isn't the standard. Florida has a lot of guys in the pen that are solid but are just kind of placeholders until they can get Lewis into the game.
Cal State Fullerton
Fullerton (38-23) was the other team I had on the bubble in my last round of projection. I'm talking a three seed. But for some reason the NCAA awarded the Titans a regional and it worked for them. In the Louisville Super Regional, CSF won on a much-disputed home run in the top of the 11th to knock off llvll and advance to Omaha.
The Titans are not a home run ball club. In fact, Davi Olmedo-Barrera has as many home runs as the rest of the team combined with...10. He's obviously the team long ball hitter (team high .571 slugging percent), but the most consistent bat is Josh Vargas (.340/.433/.403). Fullerton is your prototypical west coast small ball team, so the numbers are pretty easy to duplicate, and the Titans are not afraid to plug and play batters, 12 players for CSF have 100+ ABs, but only one to crack 200 mark.
Thomas Eschelman is a stud y'all. If it wasn't for some hack named "Carson", this guy would be the star of Omaha. With 131 IP (with the help of 5 count em 5 CGs), Eschelman has maintained a .158 ERA. Oh and he has 131 Ks to go with it, so you do the math. Freshman Josh Gavin (3.66) has the tough task of following that act and he's held his own in that regard.
Vanderbilt (47-19) is not as good as last year's national championship winning team, but they are still pretty damn good. They ended Illinois' 31-2 run in the Super Regionals, which I kind of hold against them because if LSU can't win it all I'd be on the Illini bandwagon.
I'm not sure if you heard, but Dansby Swanson is pretty good at baseball. Like .351/.661/.442 good. Like 15 home runs with 40 strikeouts good. Like #1 overall draft pick good. Personally I think as of now Swanson is better than Bregman, but Bregman has the much higher ceiling. What gets teams in trouble against Vandy is that they become focused on not letting Swanson beat them that they forget about Wiseman and Wiel, who are also good at baseballing. Were it not for LSU, the Commodores would have the most potent offensive attack.
And Vanderbilt has another Golden Spikes finalist in Carson Fulmer, in case you've been under a rock. Fulmer has accumulated a stupid number of strikeouts (154) on 114 innings. Opponents are swinging a malnourished .186 against Fulmer and his ERA is even lower (.182). In Fulmer's shadow, Buehler has had a solid season, throwing for a 2.97 ERA out of 78.2 innings.
The Big 12 has been down this year, very down. It was really just a two horse race all year, and one of the horses didn't even make it out of their regional. And then there was TCU (48-13), who's offense completely collapsed in game 3 of the supers before A&M quite literally threw the game away.
Cody Jones is a one man wrecking ball, going .371/.500/.474. TCU isn't a long ball team, but they're not exactly a small ball bunting team either. The Horned Frogs really just rely on playing baseball the old fashioned way, by stringing together singles and doubles. There are 4 Frogs with BAs over .300, but the rest of the lineup is questionable, like Keaton Jones who doesn't really have any pop in his bat and has seen some rough luck at the plate.
Mitchell Traver has the best numbers on the TCU staff, with a 1.60 ERA and 1.79 BAA, but with only 73 innings pitched (though he has recorded 73 K's in that time). But Preston Morrison has the experience, with 113 innings thrown and 86 strikes to go with it. Then there's Alex Young, who serves as the median between the two (2.31 ERA, 91 K, 89 IP). Out of the pen comes Riley Ferrell, who hits you with Kimbrel-esque overpowering stuff to close games out (14 saves) and has almost twice as many strikeouts as he does innings.
Hey that's us! LSU has been the undisputed #1 overall team since...April. Since the Kentucky game on March 29th, the Tigers have only lost 5 games. That's an unreal run.
The Tigers' run is propelled by the fact that oh, 8 of the 9 starters are swinging over .300. And even still, if LSU plays into the championship series, Foster can up his average (currently at .284) to over .300 as well. Everybody on the LSU roster has a different role: Stevenson and Laird are the fast contact hitters who specialize on getting on base, Bregman and Hale are the ones who have a knack for finding gaps and knocking in those on base, Scivicque and Chinea are the big bat throwbacks to the gorilla ball days who pitchers don't dare throw curveballs high to. Then there are guys like Sciambra, Fraley, and Foster who can do whatever you ask them to. LSU doesn't have the perfect lineups, but for all intents and purposes, they do have the ideal lineup.
Then there's Lange who was named the NCBWA Freshman of the Year, going 11-0 with a 1.89 ERA while recording 121 strikeouts in 105 innings. He's pretty good. Oh and then there's this Poché guy who has only walked 23 guys all year. The bullpen has been a question mark, but Hunter Newman has emerged as "the guy". Bullpen stats are always kinda skewed, but a sub 1 ERA with over 30 innings pitched is nothing to scoff at.
If LSU can find that elusive third starter who can go a solid 5 in Omaha, LSU definitely has the inside track to win the whole damn thing.