How appropriate that the SEC’s two best baseball teams should meet in the College World Series finals? Florida has thrived on shutdown pitching and defense, LSU on shutdown pitching and power hitting. The former wins with arms, the latter with bats.
And now we get them again for the whole CWS shebang. This is how it should be.
Perhaps no two teams have lasted through more dramatic survival scenarios into the CWS finals than LSU and Florida. The Tigers benefited from a friendly call on a foul ball that should’ve been called fair, while the Gators benefited from a friendly review that ruled their shot to deep left fair. Those calls happened on the same day, some hours apart, and college baseball definitely needs mandatory review, like now.
Florida’s team ERA is 3.49, an impressively low mark for a cohort of college baseball throwers — though it’s no Oregon State, which sported a team ERA of 1.86 for the year and still got bounced by the Tigers. LSU’s staff ERA was 3.57, no less impressive. Especially given Alex Lange and Jared Poche’s collective work on the mound, which nearly mirrors Florida’s Alex Faedo and Brady Singer: Faedo threw 2.26 for the season, Singer 3.18; Lange hurled a 2.97, Poche 3.33. Too bad that Faedo pitched on Saturday and he’s likely out of commission for the duration.
We’ll undoubtedly see the Gators’ go with Singer to start Game 1 in the final week of work — Faedo’s done for a while, if not the rest of the CWS going. He threw 113 pitches on Saturday — 74 for strikes, mind — and the only capacity in which he may see mound from here on out is in middle or late relief, if that.
That’s what Omaha does to pitching staffs. Reduces you to relievers, even your starters. Everyone throws late innings out here.
LSU thus holds the staffing advantage of having thrown Lange, Poche, and shutdown man Zack Hess 24 hours earlier than Saturday’s bouts, and they should be ready to go when the dogfights of late inning work needs to be dealt with. Florida’s bullpen ain’t that deep beyond the big time arms of Michael Byrne and Garrett Milchin, and that’s been a liability for the Gators all season. This is where the real separation should be monitored, since Florida’s late innings staff may not be able to carry the load into the barn.
The problem here for the Gators will be matching up arms with LSU’s rested pen, especially in deep innings. Also, LSU’s big bats will push runners around the bases with happy abandon. Florida’s staff needs to prevent base runners if they have a hope in this series.
About those bats, though. LSU’s first five hitters in the lineup are batting over .300 on the season. Skipper Paul Mainieri has fiddled with the order in Omaha, sending a surprisingly struggling Kramer Robertson to bat leadoff a few times, but they’re still manufacturing runs. Catcher Michael Papierski has come alive in the CWS, most recently knocking out two home runs from both sides of the plate in the elimination game win over Oregon State Saturday. He’s a terror, and he’s difficult to pitch around.
Florida, on the other hand, features just one batter currently averaging above .300, Nelson Maldonado at .303; his on base percentage is an impressive .449, however. The Gators don’t necessarily play small ball — they’ve bashed in a handful of home runs in the super regionals and CWS so far — but they house nowhere near the power as LSU. Their most trustworthy bat, JJ Schwarz, has a tendency to fall dead asleep at times, forcing guys up and down the lineup to handle run duties. Deacon Liput, Dalton Guthrie, Ryan Larson, and Austin Langworthy have all broken out as separate game heroes, with last season’s star, Jonathan India, virtually disappearing from discussion.
Both clubs have put together solid seasons of work, fought their way through a shredder of a postseason, and earned their spots in the College World Series best of three final. They’ve met already this season, with Florida taking a 2-1 series win in Gainesville.
But still, the power stats don’t really matter at all. This series will be won or lost at the plate, but we shouldn’t expect an abundance of scoring.