PodKATT: LSU and Vandy have danced around each other all year and now seem to be destined for a clash of the superpowers in Omaha. For LSU fans who haven’t seen anything of Vandy, what’s the season been like?
Christian D'Andrea: It's been a bit of a roller coaster - and somewhat similar to last season. Last year, the 'Dores dropped a handful of winnable series before advancing (and failing) in the SEC title game and then sweeping their competition en route to Omaha. This year, the 'Dores dropped a handful of winnable series before advancing (and failing) in the SEC title game and then sweeping their competition en route to Omaha. A shaky bullpen cost Vandy series wins over Florida and Ole Miss, but the strength of their offense has carried them to some big weekday, Saturday, and Sunday wins (Carson Fulmer pretty much had Friday on lockdown).
PK: I want you to make an argument you cannot possibly win with the readers of this website: Convince me Dansby Swanson is a better SS than Alex Bregman.
CD: Here's what Swanson brings aside from his superior old-money name: More power, clutch batting (game winning HR vs. Indiana in the Regional, a monster shot off #6 overall pick Tyler Jay in Champaign), an uncanny skill at chasing down pitches and making contact, and exceptional defense at shortstop after playing second base his first two seasons with Vandy. But it's not really a case of who is better (Dansby is), it's more like choosing between the primest burgers you've ever had and the juiciest fried chicken you'll ever see. There's no wrong answer here, just different ones.
PK: What’s it like as a fan of Vandy, a sports fan life fraught with disappointment and general malaise, to have finally reached the mountain top of a big team sport championship, and to now be within 5 games of defending that championship?
CD: We never think we will win. It's been conditioned into us like starving Russian dogs. Up 21-0 against Radford? Don't even check the Super Regional schedule because this game isn't over yet. Winning last year's national title was like the scene in The Blind Side where Michael Oher gets a bed for the first time. All the rest of you dicks in the SEC just have trophies lying around, meanwhile we had to stare wistfully at the Music City Bowl Championship hardware (MVP? A punter) and hope for better days.
Well, Tim Corbin brought those days, and the transition from hapless loser to smug asshole is coming along slowly (fortunately, since smug assholery is a freshman pre-req at Vandy, we should catch on shortly). After three innings with the whistler, you'll quickly change from "these guys are lovable losers, let's support them" to "Cornelius Vanderbilt was an asshole." (he was, but that's beside the point.)
PK: How awesome is Carson Fulmer and who are the other big arms Tim Corbin has grown in his secret, MLB funded, prospect gene laboratory?
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CD: Fulmer is incredible. Just nasty, nasty stuff - and the added bonus of a pitching motion that looks like he's actually trying to throw his own arm from his body. With big league speed and two other pro pitches - including a gravity-taunting breaking ball that he can pinpoint on the corner of the plate - he'd be a nightmare should LSU have to face him.
Let's look at that potential game two matchup, though. The Tigers are more likely to see Saturday starter Philip Pfeifer, who occasionally struggles with his command but also throws a ton of strikeouts (105 in 83.2 innings). He's had trouble early in postseason games against Indiana and Illinois, but getting away from those Big Ten slaughterhouse offenses should help. He actually calmed down after a wild first three frames in Champaign to hold the Illini to 2 ER in 6.1 innings, and if he could do the same against LSU we'd all consider that a big win. You'd also likely be looking at relief options like Jordan Sheffield, John Kilichowski, and Ryan Johnson. All three have held their own as starters this season - with Sheffield as the most impressive - and each could get the call for longer relief outings in Omaha.
The big question mark is how ice-blooded freshman Kyle Wright will perform in his new role as the team's closer. Vanderbilt's bullpen struggled to protect leads throughout the regular season, but Wright has stepped up to shut the door late in the season. He came into a 4-2 game with the bases loaded and one out against the Illini...and preserved a 4-2 win to send Vandy to Omaha. He's got a nasty strike-three breaking ball and he seems capable of shaking off the pressure of the CWS to deliver for the 'Dores.
PK: Bottom 9, 2 outs, 1 man on. Who do you want at the plate?
CD: Dansby Swanson. It's always Dansby Swanson. This will be my answer until Roy Hobbs and Wonder Woman have a child and he decides to come to Vanderbilt to play left field.