Breaking Down the CWS: Bracket Two

Burnt Orange Beat takes a look at the Texas Longhorns' bracket for this week's College World Series, which includes three of the very best pitching staffs in the nation and one incredibly hot team.

Arizona State Sun Devils (49-12)


College World Series appearances: 20.

National Championships: 5.

Last College World Series appearance: 2007.

Conference record: 21-6 (1st - Pac 10).

Record versus top-50 RPI opponents: 16-9.

How They Got Here

Without much of a challenge.

As a national seed, the Sun Devils hosted by the Regional and Super Regional and went 5-0 over the two weeks.

They defeated Kent State, 17-6, in the Regional opener before taking two from Oral Roberts by a combined 12-4 score.

ASU then overmatched Clemson in the Super Regional, sweeping the best-of-three series, 7-4 and 8-2, respectively.

Drafted Players

1. Mike Leake, RHP (Reds)
2. Jason Kipnis, OF (Indians)
3. Josh Spence, LHP (Angels)
8. Carlos Ramirez, C (Angels)
21. Jared McDonald, SS (White Sox)
32. Raoul Torrez, 2B (Angels)

Pitching and Defense

Team ERA: 2.78 (1st in NCAA)
Team Fielding: .969 (T-55th)

Pat Murphy's Arizona State clubs have historically been heavy-hitting, but this year's team relies on its arms.

While the Texas Longhorns are often credited with having the nation's top pitching staff, the Sun Devil's actually have the best team earned-run average in college baseball, checking in at 2.78.

Their ace is Mike Leake, the eighth overall pick in this week's MLB Draft. Despite standing just 6-foot-0 and lacking overpowering stuff, Leake's pinpoint command and athleticism intrigued big league clubs. The right-hander has a four-pitch mix that includes an 88-92 mph fastball with excellent life.

On the season, Leake is 16-1 with a 1.36 ERA. He is limiting opposing hitters to a .175 batting average, and he has racked up 150 strikeouts [versus just 21 walks] in 132.2 innings. The workhorse has racked up seven complete games in 16 starts this season.

ASU's second starter—Australian lefty Josh Spence—is one of the most intriguing, quirky pitchers in all of collegiate baseball. The Angels' third-round selection, Spence only throws in the mid-80s, but he has a wide assortment of pitches, all of which have wicked movement. He is a very difficult task and—as his 9-1 record and 2.33 ERA show—Spence may be the best number two pitcher in the CWS.

Sophomore hurler Seth Blair is perhaps the Sun Devils' most improved pitcher, and he gives the club a viable option in their third game. A right-hander, Blair has touched the mid-90s in the past, but he works most comfortably with a low-90s sinking fastball.

Like the Longhorns, Arizona State has outstanding starting pitching, but their bullpen is not particularly deep.

The ‘pen is led by Jason Franzblau (3-2, 2.40 ERA), Mitchell Lambson (8-3, 2.77 ERA) and Jordan Swagerty (4-1, 4.55 ERA).

Lambson and Swagerty are particularly intriguing because they are both freshmen. Swagerty is a product of Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano. Lambson, a lefty, fanned 12 in 5.2 relief innings against Kansas earlier in the season.

Offense

Team Batting: .305 (T-124th)
Team Scoring: 8.0 (42nd)

The ASU offense isn't quite as powerful as usual, but they are still very effective.

The Sun Devils crushed 71 home runs and walked 358 times this season. They were led in both categories by slugging outfielder Jason Kipnis, who batted .385 with 20 doubles, 16 home runs, 71 RBIs, and 48 walks. He also swiped a team-leading 26 bases in 30 attempts and played errorless ball all season.

In terms of production, Kipnis is likely the best outfielder in Omaha this week.

Arizona State is also very solid behind the plate, with junior catcher Carlos Ramirez. The junior college transfer batted .349 with a team-leading 18 home runs and a team-best 72 runs batted in this year. He also finished second on the club with 42 walks. Ramirez was rewarded for the excellent campaign by being drafted in the eighth round by the Angels.

Outfielders Kole Calhoun (9 HR) and Matt Newman (7 HR) also did some slugging for the Sun Devils this season. Both players hit 15 doubles.

In addition to hitting for power and being patient, Pat Murphy's club took advantage of its opportunities on the basepaths. Arizona State swiped 111 bases in 147 attempts this year, and they have five players with double-digit steal totals.

Outlook

They say pitching and defense wins championships, and the Sun Devils certainly have that, to go along with a formidable lineup. They have arguably the best starting rotation from top-to-bottom in the CWS, but they may not have the depth required to come through the loser's bracket. Of course, the same could be said about almost every team.

One thing is certain: a game-one win in this bracket is going to be of extreme importance. Three of the teams have outstanding pitching talent [and one team is incredibly hot], so getting out of a hole will not be easy.

North Carolina Tar Heels (47-16)


College World Series appearances: 7.

National Championships: 0.

Last College World Series appearance: 2008.

Conference record: 19-10 (2nd - ACC).

Record versus top-50 RPI opponents: 20-10.

How They Got Here

The Tar Heels have had a very similar postseason to the Sun Devils—except theirs has been even more of a breeze.

Of the five total games UNC played in its Regional and Super Regional, just one was decided by fewer than six runs. They've trailed for a grand total of 1.5 innings since the postseason began.

Additionally, UNC's starting pitcher has worked at least into the seventh inning of all but one game.

Drafted Players

1. Dustin Ackley, OF (Mariners)
1. Alex White, RHP (Indians)
3. Kyle Seager, 2B (Mariners)
4. Mark Fleury, C (Reds)
4. Adam Warren, RHP (Yankees)
7. Brian Moran, LHP (Mariners)
37. Colin Bates, RHP (Athletics)

Pitching and Defense

Team ERA: 3.61 (5th in NCAA)
Team Fielding: .970 (T-45th)

While the results haven't been quite as dominant, UNC probably has even more raw pitching talent than the Longhorns and Sun Devils do. It's a scary thought, but the Tar Heels' pitching staff may have underachieved its way to the fifth-best team ERA in the nation. Having said that, they have been pitching extremely well lately.

Just like ASU and Texas, the Tar Heels go three-deep in a dominant rotation.

Junior right Alex White—the 15th overall pick in the draft—is North Carolina's ace, but he hasn't always been the staff's best performer this season. White's fastball can reach the mid-90s and he has a good slider, but he's been somewhat inconsistent. The right-hander is 8-4 with a 4.13 ERA, striking out 109 batters in 98 innings.

Senior Adam Warren, who went in the fourth round, is every bit as good as White—if not better—at the collegiate level. Another righty, Warren was 9-2 with a 3.23 earned-run average this season.

Their third starter, Matt Harvey, has been a bit hittable this season [86 hits in 70.2 innings], but he has legitimate first-round talent and has gone 7-2 with a 5.35 ERA this year.

The club can bring five pitchers out of the bullpen with at least 20 innings and an earned-run average below 3.42.

Offense

Team Batting: .310 (T-100th)
Team Scoring: 7.4 (T-82nd)

When talking about North Carolina's offense, it all begins with Dustin Ackley, who is perhaps better known as ‘the guy who was drafted right after Stephen Stasburg.'

In terms of overall talent, Ackley is probably the best position player in college baseball. While he will play in the outfield in professional ball, he works as the Tar Heels' first baseman for now.

?Ackley has a plus hit tool [.412 average], great power [.776 slugging percentage], outstanding discipline [50 walks in 63 games], athleticism, and good speed [13 stolen bases].

But he isn't all the UNC lineup has. The club batted .310, hit 68 home runs as a team, and drew 304 walks.

Second baseman Kyle Seager, a third-round pick, batted .386 with excellent gap power [24 doubles]. He also walked 42 times while striking out only 36.

Five members of the UNC lineup hit at least 15 doubles this season.

Outlook

If the Tar Heels continue pitching the way they have been lately, they may be the favorite to win this bracket. They have a relatively deep and talented bullpen that could possibly carry them through the loser's bracket if they drop a game, and they can also hit the ball a little bit. But UNC gets a tough matchup from the get-go, having to face 16-1 Mike Leake of Arizona State. The Tar Heels' pitching is good, but they don't have a hurler as successful as Leake.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (40-24)


College World Series appearances: 0.

National Championships: 0.

Last College World Series appearance: N/A.

Conference record: 12-12 (5th - CUSA).

Record versus top-50 RPI opponents: 9-10.

Drafted Players

8. James Dozier, SS (Twins)
11. Jimmy Ballinger, RHP (White Sox)
12. James Ewing, 2B (Mets)
24. Ben Davis, OF (Padres)

How They Got Here

The cinderella story of this year's College World Series, the Golden Eagles are making their first appearance in Omaha. In fact, last weekend, USM was making its first-ever appearance in a Super Regional.

Southern Mississippi didn't have an easy road to Omaha. They played their Regional at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, winning the first game against second-seeded Elon, 17-15.

Although the pitching was depleted, they came back to win two-of-three against the homestanding Yellow Jackets to take the Atlanta Regional.

The Golden Eagles then had to go on the road to face a top-eight national seed in the Florida Gators. The club played a pair of nailbiters, but in the end, they swept Florida and advanced to their first-ever College World Series.

Pitching and Defense

Team ERA: 5.01 (T-71st in NCAA)
Team Fielding: .966 (T-87th)

Southern Mississippi has two very solid starting pitchers, but they didn't get do Omaha with starting pitching. Which sounds odd.

However, USM has allowed 15, 7, 10, 8, 7, and 6 runs in its six NCAA postseason games. Their starter has finished the fourth inning just twice in those six games. In one of those contests, the pitcher went five innings.

The team will likely throw JR Ballinger in game one, a sophomore righty that is 6-3 with a 3.89 ERA this year. He's pitched 83.1 innings, giving up 86 hits, walking 35 and striking out 59.

However, the team could possibly go with redshirt sophomore Todd McInnis, who has posted better results lately despite being the team's second starter. McInnis has a 9-4 record on the season with a 3.61 ERA. He's giving up less than hit per inning and has struck out 86 in 94.2 frames.

In the bullpen, the USM has a steady closer in Collin Cargill, another redshirt sophomore. He's posted 13 saves and a 3.32 ERA in 38 frames this season, surrendering only 30 hits.

After Cargill, things get dicey for the USM staff. With the exception of McInnis, Ballinger, and Cargill, the staff has a 5.87 earned-run average for a season. They are deep, but most of the pitchers have not been extremely successful.

Offense

Team Batting: .307 (117th)
Team Scoring: 7.8 (T-53rd)

Southern Mississippi has simply been hot. They've been doing it by outhitting their opponents and getting the big hits at the right time. They've been good, and they've been clutch.

While they have allowed a number of runs in their six postseason games, USM has scored at least seven runs in all but one contest. And they may be getting stronger.

As the week progresses, it looks like Brian Dozier—the team's best hitter and top draft pick—should be available as a designated hitter. Dozier led the club with a .394 batting average this season, and he has been a team leader over the last few yeras.

Dozier's addition to the lineup gives the Golden Eagles seven hitters with at least a .300 batting average. They've slugged 71 home runs this season, led by Bo Davis, who hits .371 with 14 round-trippers and 53 RBIs.

Outlook

On paper, things don't look promising for Southern Mississippi. But the same could be said about Fresno State. The Golden Eagles are hot right now. They've defeated two of the best teams in the nation on the road to reach Omaha, and there's no reason they can't make some noise in the College World Series.

Because their pitching doesn't stack up to the rest of the bracket, Southern Mississippi is the most likely candidate to go ‘two-and-que' in bracket two. But counting them out may be a mistake. If a pitcher isn't on top of their game, the Golden Eagles could score runs in bunches.


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