Baseball Beat/WTNYJune 03, 2005
One on One: The 64-Team Question
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

This week's One on One ventures into the College World Serious. Most students are on summer break but there are 1,600 collegians trying to extend their spring semester for another week or two. We take you around the country--well, at least everywhere except the Northeast--while discussing each of the 16 Regionals set to begin play this afternoon.

Rich: Well, Bryan, if it's June, it must be time for the college baseball playoffs.

Bryan: Yep, just as all the tension of the draft is building, it's time for college coaches to overuse their bonus babies in the College World Series. This season will be no exception, I imagine.

Rich: It's too bad there won't be more bonus babies from the West playing in this year's postseason. Do you realize that only nine of the 64 teams are from the western part of the country? You know, the one that produces the best amateur baseball year in and year out?

Bryan: Wow, that is a small number for such a good year. But who are you making a case for...who got snubbed?

Rich: Two teams from California got totally jobbed. Cal Berkeley and Cal Poly both deserved spots in this field. California (33-22, fifth in the Pac-10) won series from fellow conference invitees Arizona, Arizona State, and Stanford and also swept Long Beach State in a rain-soaked series in February. Cal Poly (35-20, third in the Big West) had the same conference record as Long Beach, yet failed to get a bid. Heck, you can even make a good case for San Francisco, UC Irvine, and Washington.

Bryan: Well, that definitely is convincing, especially for California considering the strength of the Pac-10. I mean, those are certainly four good teams to finish behind, as none figured to be worse than a two seed. It seems like the West is always given its due with solid high rankings, but the RPI doesn't give the area enough credit for its depth.

Rich: The Ratings Percentage Index carries too much weight with the selection committee, which, by the way, has just one representative from the West and none from the Pac-10 or Big West, two of the strongest conferences in the country. Let's face it, the RPI favors teams in the Southeast. Boyd Nation's Iterative Strength Ratings are much better indicators than the RPI because they do a better job of measuring teams from dissimilar geographic regions.

Bryan: Interestingly enough, Boyd's ISR rankings currently have both Cal Poly and California in the top 25, ahead of number one seeds like Florida State and Coastal Carolina. I guess this goes to show that even if college football turns to a playoff system, we will never see the best 32 matchups possible.

Rich: I wouldn't have a problem with leaving the two Cal schools out if the tournament was limited to 32 teams. But when I see the ACC and SEC get four number ones, the Big-12 three, and the third-place team from the Big West and the fifth-place team from the Pac-10 get left out, then I gotta think something's wrong.

Bryan: I can agree with that. But, what do you think about the teams that did get in? Any problems with the actual seeding of the tournament? I felt as though one of the better number ones, Oregon State, has too tough a road.

Rich: Too tough of a road? Man, I thought OSU was treated overly kind, especially in comparison to the other number ones in the West. Virginia (#24 RPI, #51 ISR), St. John's (#55 and 100), and Ohio State (#64 and 69) are about as easy of a threesome as there is. Remember, we're playing baseball here, not basketball or football.

Bryan: I guess I'm guilty of associating good draft prospects with good teams. I guess that isn't too bad, though I consider OSU to be one of the teams to beat, and it just seems like Florida State and Georgia Tech both have easier roads to Omaha.

Rich: I can't argue with you there, Bryan. Florida State is no better than a number two, yet gets Auburn (the 8th place team from the SEC), South Alabama, (74th in ISR), and Army (127th) in its Regional. Why not just give them a Pass Go card and $200 and send them directly to the Super Regional?

Bryan: I think we can agree the ease of the FSU bracket will get them a spot in the Super Regional. Who else do you have going? Any surprises?

Rich: The surprises out West might be who doesn't go. The Long Beach Regional pits the host Dirtbags along with USC and Pepperdine, arguably the best second and third seeds in the entire country. Long Beach has the advantage as the number one seed there. But the Trojans (#5) and Waves (#10) both rank in the top ten in ISR. Forget the ISR, these three teams are among the top 34 in RPI. C'mon now. That's just not right.

Bryan: Assuming USC takes care of Pepperdine -- no easy task I know -- the SC-LBSU battle could be one of the best second round matchups in the country. Two very solid, if undertalked about, Friday night pitchers in Ian Kennedy and Cesar Ramos. Two top ten hitting talents in Troy Tulowitzki and Jeff Clement. Unfortunately this is a matchup we should see in the Super Regional, not the second round.

Rich: You said it, not me. You're talking about my alma mater (USC) and hometown (LB) teams. I've got my weekend tickets right here on my desk. I'll be there for each and every game. The question I have is whether Mike Gillespie feels as if he is forced to start Kennedy today or if he will take a chance and hold him back in anticipation of facing the 49ers tomorrow?

Bryan: Well, Gillespie doesn't have the luxury of a team like North Carolina -- a two seed that I think ends up in the Super Regional -- of having a ton of pitching depth. My advice would be to focus on Pepperdine first, and then worry about LBSU. . .though Cal State Fullerton showed last year all you need to win a championship is one ace and some serviceable pitchers behind him. The Titans rode Jason Windsor hard last year, and I expect the winner of the Dirtbags/Trojans matchup to do the same with their ace.

Rich: Although Ramos is the headliner, Long Beach has three other capable starters, including Jared Hughes (8-3, 2.83 ERA, second-team all-Big West) and Marco Estrada (8-2, 2.27 ERA, third team)--both of whom struck out nearly a batter an inning--plus one of the best bullpens in the country, led by senior closer Neil Jamison (4-0, 0.00 ERA, 11 saves). Despite the loss of Jered Weaver, the Niners led the nation in team ERA (2.44).

Bryan: Cesar Ramos is a good ace, no doubt, but he's hardly the best southpaw in California. We've already hit on the defending champs, Cal State Fullerton, who will likely have to battle Arizona or Missouri in the second round. I like the Titans chances with Ricky Romero on the mound, but Missouri and Arizona are both worthy contenders.

Rich: Yes, Will Kimmey of Baseball America calls the Fullerton Regional the "Bracket of Death." I would hate to be Arizona and staring at the prospect of facing Max Scherzer (1.53 ERA, 11.5 K/9), one of the many outstanding sophomore pitchers in the tournament, in the first game. That is a tough, tough draw.

Bryan: No kidding, Scherzer and Romero are as tough a tandem as it gets. Call me crazy, but I'm not going to predict the Wildcats to come out on top. Look for Missouri and Arizona to wear themselves out, while the Titans yawn through Harvard. In my mind not choosing Fullerton to land in the CWS is crazy.

Rich: If Fullerton can make it out of its own Regional, Titan fans should begin making hotel reservations in Omaha because their team should sweep the winner of the Tempe Regional.

Bryan: Fullerton would in all likelihood play the winner of the Nebraska and Miami Regionals. Unless NC State goes on a hot streak, I have to think Nebraska comes out of that. In Coral Gables, it will either be Miami or Mississipi State. Who do you have down South?

Rich: The Hurricanes have lost five straight so playing Virginia Commonwealth should be a nice way to get things back on track. Mississippi State, on the other hand, has been on hot streak. I'm going to take a wild guess here and say MSU pulls off a mild upset and faces Nebraska in the Super the following week.

Bryan: Any other upset predictions? I've mentioned that I think North Carolina will go on to face fellow ACC team Florida State in the Super Regional. I really don't think that Notre Dame or Florida will be too hard a test for the North Carolina staff that has to be considered one of the best in the country. In fact, I think UNC has a good chance at going to Omaha.

Rich: Yes, you have been singing the praises of Andrew Miller all year long and some scouts apparently think Daniel Bard might be as good or better. That is one heckuva lefty and righty tandem. Speaking of great arms, I think the marquee matchup is between Luke Hochevar (14-2, 1.90 ERA with 131 Ks in 118.2 IP) and Mike Pelfrey (12-2, 1.91, 136 Ks in 131.2), assuming Tennessee and Wichita State can make it past Austin Peay State and Winthrop, respectively, in their first games. However, beating Winthrop's Kevin Slowey (13-2, 2.26) won't be a walk in the park.

Bryan: I agree, it doesn't get any better in the Super Regional than the top two draft pitching prospects in the nation. Expect both pitchers to go well into triple digits in pitch counts and rack up quite a few strikeouts. If only college baseball was more publicized, this would be a matchup that everyone across the country would be talking about.

Rich: I've never seen Hochevar pitch before although I had the privilege of watching his sister, Brittany, play volleyball at Long Beach State. She was an All-American who is the all-time leader in aces at a university that produced Misty May, the gold medalist in beach volleyball and perhaps the best women's volleyball player ever.

Bryan: Well, I'm even going to go out on a limb and say that Luke is a better athlete than his sister.

Rich: I'm not 100% sure about that but he will definitely be the richer of the two in short order.

Bryan: Didn't you see Pelfrey pitch last year vs. Long Beach State at Blair Field?

Rich: I did, Bryan. Although he didn't face Weaver, I was fortunate to see another tall right-hander dominate the opposition. He threw seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits and one walk. I could tell he was the real deal as a sophomore. He is going to make one of the GMs very happy come next week.

Bryan: Like Weaver, Pelfrey might be one to drop due to economic concerns. But I think he'll showcase this week--maybe even in upsetting Tennessee--that his size, durability, and three-pitch combination is top five worthy.

Rich: I think these pitchers all lost a bit of leverage this past week. The ceiling has been set and the teams know they can dig their heels and remain patient with their offers. I suspect these guys will sign much sooner than Weaver although there is never any hurry after logging 120 innings or so during the regular season and potentially another 20 or 30 in the playoffs.

Bryan: We saw with the Angels-Weaver negotiations that the balance is shifting towards the teams, who are now dictating the prices and forcing the agents to meet their demands. This year's negotiations should be interesting, too.

Rich: No doubt. Switching gears here, how do you see the Texas and Louisiana Regionals going?

Bryan: First of all, I expect Tulane to steamroll into the final eight. Not only is their regional very easy, but I don't expect a ton of pressure coming from the winner of the LSU-Rice battle. Tulane was ranked by the seeding committee as tops in the country, and they should at least live up to that billing for the next two weeks.

Rich: I'm not going to argue with you there. Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings should change their first names to "Two-Way Talents" because everytime I hear or read their names, that description comes up. Interestingly, Tulane, LSU, and Rice are three of the 12 teams in the country that have appeared in the tournament every year since 1999. Furthermore, LSU will be gunning for its third straight trip to the College World Series. You don't think they have much of a chance, huh?

Bryan: Nope, I think Tulane is a machine, and it seems like LSU has had just an OK year considering the normal strength of their program. I am also rooting for the Green Wave for sentimental reasons because I would love to see the Cinderella OSU Beavers take them down in Omaha. But, oh yes, I'm getting sidetracked, and you asked about Texas.

Rich: Yes, Texas as in the team from Austin as well as that Regional in Waco which sports three homies in Baylor, UT San Antonio, and Texas Christian, plus some unknown baseball school from California (Stanford).

Bryan: I think Baylor should win their regional out of depth, though head-to-head I think Texas Christian might be the better team. Texas should also win, but face a very tough team in the Super Regional in Mississippi. I think they are one of the best teams in the country, and while not my pick to win, I could see them in the final two or four.

Rich: Baylor and Texas are certainly the favorites. The Bears are a good, solid senior-laden team, the type that could easily wind up in Omaha. Texas? I've been following Augie Garrido since his days at Fullerton and his teams always seem to be right there, no matter what.

Bryan: Texas is an extremely young team, especially in the pitching staff, and I'm not sure how they will handle this type of pressure. Look out for the Longhorns in 2006, though, as I expect them, UNC and Missouri to be a few of the better teams in the nation. . .along with the usual bunch.

Rich: Let's not get ahead of ourselves here, Bryan. Do you have a weekend surprise in store for us?

Bryan: The weekend series I am anticipating the most is in Nebraska, where I actually think the number three seed in the entire country could fall. Not only has NC State caught fire at the right time, but my hometown UIC Flames are better than some people think and could give Nebraska a tough matchup. My shocking surprise is that Alex Gordon's season is done by the draft on Tuesday.

Rich: I wouldn't be shocked if Gordon is drafted by the Royals and is tutoring under George Brett before June is out. That said, I bet Alex hopes he can extend his collegiate career a bit longer than you are forecasting.

Bryan: Alright Rich, don't try to dodge out of your weekend surprise selection. Are you going to step out on the limb, too?

Rich: My surprise is that Arizona loses in three games and pays a steep price for not placing a bid to host a Regional, similar to what happened with Arizona State last year. ASU, on the other hand, shows the West's superiority by beating Coastal Carolina, the number one seed in the Tempe Regional.

Do you agree with Rich that the selection process is slanted against teams on the wrong coast? Do you have a draft sleeper for Bryan? Which teams do you see as the locks or surprises? We're no longer interested in questions. Just answers.


I think Rice is just too young this year to be a serious Omaha contender but you can never count out a Wayne Graham team. They may have a chance to win the LSU regional because they are deep in pitching albeit young and you don't know how the Red Stick crazies can affect young arms.

But you heard it here first, the Owls will be a top five team in 2006 (and maybe 2007 too) if the draft doesn't decimate their recruiting. Their freshman class this year rivals the 2001 class which included first-round picks Jeff Niemann, Phillip Humber and Wade Townsend.

Interesting comments, although Hochevar - Pelphrey isn't going to happen. Pelphrey is pitching as I type this and Hochevar is also starting tonight against the Govs.