Thomas: Seeding, previewing the Omaha field
Aidan Thomas | Thursday, June 16, 2022
The eight teams in the College World Series, aren‘t the same teams originally seeded in the top-8 spots — the Irish made sure at least one would be different. Considering their regional and super regional performances, these are the College World Series teams reseeded with players to watch, strengths and weaknesses.
Out of the eight remaining teams, Arkansas entered the coldest as they went 3-7 in their final ten games. After starting 29-7, they’re 14-12 in their past 26 games. The Razorbacks got past seventh-seeded Oklahoma State in their regional and then swept No. 10 UNC.
X-Factor Player: Utility man Cayden Wallace is hitting .299 with 17 doubles and 15 home runs. In a sometimes-cold lineup, Wallace serves as a sparkplug. He’s also 12 for 13 in stolen base attempts. He’ll likely be the engineer behind any major Razorbacks run.
Why They’ll Win: Arkansas has found its mojo again. This is a team that was No. 1 in the nation all last year and started their season at a blistering rate. Outside of an extra-inning loss to Oklahoma State, the Razorbacks are unbeaten in the NCAA Tournament. There are holes in the roster and they face an uphill battle, but this team is scary when they’re right.
Why They Won’t: Obviously the form coming into the tournament was concerning, but a lack of depth may ultimately doom Arkansas. They have just two hitters hitting over .300 and a pair of regulars under .230. Their pitching depth is also questionable, with just one starter boasting an ERA under 4.
Ole Miss may have been the last team in the field this year, but they’re one of two remaining teams that are undefeated in the NCAA Tournament. And they’re fresh off a Super Regional shutout, as they didn’t allow a run in two games against Southern Miss. The Rebels also beat Arizona and No. 6 Miami en route to their Regional victory.
X-Factor Player: Tim Elko. There’s really no question about this. Elko is a fifth-year and the heart and soul of the Rebels. He’s the best bat in the lineup, hitting .302 with 22 home runs. In his final collegiate postseason run, Elko is hitting .500 with three home runs and 10 RBI.
Why They’ll Win: The last team in has won before. Oregon State did it most recently in 2019. It’s a combination of a dangerous team sneaking in and then getting really, really hot. Check and check for the Rebels. They’re also healthy, with Kevin Graham (.331 batting average) and Calvin Harris (.322) back from lengthy injuries.
Why They Won’t: Arguably, this team never should have made the field. A five-game winning streak doesn’t change the body of work the Rebels have put forth this season. They’re sixth in ERA and seventh in batting average among the remaining teams. By the numbers, Ole Miss’ magic should run out pretty soon.
The Sooners are similar to the Irish in the sense that many believed they were snubbed of a hosting spot. They were certainly in the conversation after sweeping the Big 12 tournament. But the Sooners came out and did the job on the road anyways. They beat Virginia Tech in three games in the Super Regional. The Sooners have not lost a series since April 8-10.
X-Factor Player: Trevin Michael must anchor the weaker part of the team: the pitching staff for the Sooners. Opponents are hitting .209 against the reliever, and with a day off between games at the onset of the tournament, Oklahoma can deploy their bullpen ace multiple times for multiple innings to get them through key situations.
Why They’ll Win: Their bats are really good. They’re averaging eight runs per game in this NCAA Tournament, and the Sooners hit .298 as a team. Four regulars hit above .310, and eight of nine regular starters check in above .260. Couple that with aggressive base stealing, and the Sooners provide a relentless attack that can bury opponents.
Why They Won’t: This is arguably the worst pitching staff in the field. They’ve been better in the postseason, giving up just four runs per game (on average), however, the Sooners have a team ERA of 5.41. Opponents hit .275 against Oklahoma, and one has to assume that the powerful offenses in Omaha will punish the Sooners at some point.
For every team that got snubbed for hosting a regional, there’s a more surprising selection. Auburn got in as the No. 14 national seed. While there was debate about whether they deserved it, the Tigers certainly took advantage. They outscored their opponents 51-18 in their regional. Then, they went on the road and took down No. 3 Oregon State in a thrilling three-game Super Regional.
X-Factor Player: Sonny DiChiara. Want to get him out? Good luck. His on-base percentage of .560 almost looks like a misprint, and he is hitting .392 with 22 home runs. He might be the best hitter in the field and can certainly turn a game on its head.
Why They’ll Win: If you have the best hitter in the field, you always have something going for you. Additionally, Auburn’s postseason run has shown they can win in multiple ways. They absolutely dominated their regional and then won a pair of thrillers in Corvalis. They’ve got an experienced closer for tight games and bats that can get rolling in a hurry.
Why They Won’t: Outside of DiChiara, it’s difficult to find a major difference-maker on this roster. The bats and arms are simply average when compared to the rest of the field. Nobody beyond DiChiara has more than nine home runs. Only three regularly-used pitchers have ERAs below 3. Depth usually shines through in Omaha, and Auburn doesn’t really have it.
Notre Dame missed out on hosting and then got stuck in one of two regions with three ranked teams. However, they have posted five wins over top-25 teams, including two over No. 1 Tennessee. The Irish are feeling it right now. This is a team with separate 9-game and 10-game winning streaks this season. When they get hot, they get really hot.
X-Factor Player: Jack Findlay. After the lefty freshman got kicked around in the regular-season finale by Miami, this idea would have seemed crazy. But the southpaw found a new role as a leverage reliever for the Irish and has thrived. He’s got three saves and a win, factoring into four of five Notre Dame victories. He can provide a short stint to close out a game, or at least five dominant innings as he did in the Super Regional finale. He has a 1.99 ERA on the season, so this isn’t a lucky streak either. This is talent that’s been there all season.
Why They’ll Win: Notre Dame might have the best pitching staff remaining. They held Tennessee to six and three runs in their two victorious, a pretty momentous feat. That came after surrendering just seven runs total in their regional. All-American John Michael Bertrand leads the way as the team’s ace, and the Irish run out some strong and versatile bullpen arms.
Why They Won’t: The bats have gone cold for long stretches. Against Tennessee, the Irish scored eight runs in the first four innings of game 1, then they notched six runs in the final three frames. In between? Notre Dame scored five total runs in 20 innings. They scored just 11 runs in their Regional. The clutch home runs have been huge, but if they get overly reliant on that, the Irish can get themselves in trouble.
The other unbeaten team in the NCAA Tournament, the Aggies have every right to be considered one of the favorites. They’ve exceeded expectations all year, haven’t lost a series since the first weekend of April, and they enter as the second-highest remaining seed. They swept through the College Station Regional with ease, and they edged out a strong Louisville team in consecutive contests to reach Omaha.
X-Factor Player: Reliever Jacob Palisch is critical to Texas A&M’s success. The Aggies don’t boast the strongest starting rotation, and they need to minimize its damage. Palisch can serve as a bridge to the later innings, or he can close out tough battles. With a 2.65 ERA, Palisch has given up just five extra-base hits all season. He is the best pitcher on this roster, and a key to Texas A&M bringing home a championship.
Why They’ll Win: The heart of this lineup is absolutely monstrous. They have three lineup regulars with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) over 1.000. That’s elite, and the Aggies have three additional players beyond that trio hitting over .300. They can produce a lot of damage in very little time.
Why They Won’t: Quite simply, it’s the pitching. The Aggies have three main starters, none with an ERA below 4.75. Opponents are hitting .259, .270 and .291 against the three hurlers. Beyond Palisch in the bullpen, the options are limited. Will Johnston is the only other reliever with an ERA below 4.5 and more than five appearances.
The Longhorns are Notre Dame’s first matchup, and it’s a doozy. The Longhorns are averaging just a touch under nine runs per game in the NCAA Tournament. They can hit with the best of them, and they can make big-time rallies. With their backs against the wall, Texas came from down 7-2 to topple East Carolina. Then, they jumped to a 9-0 lead in Game 3 and didn’t look back.
X-Factor Player: Ivan Melendez is nearly unstoppable. Nicknamed the “Hispanic Titanic,” Melendez lives up to the moniker. He blasted 32 home runs this season to go with a .396 batting average. His OPS is an otherworldly 1.404. If Melendez is mashing, Texas is loving life.
Why They’ll Win: Moving beyond Melendez, this whole Texas lineup is extremely talented. They have seven players with at least 10 home runs. Eight of their nine lineup regulars boast a batting average over .265 and a whopping three players are hitting over .370. They’re going to score a lot, so it’s a matter of whether other teams can catch up.
Why They Won’t: A big concern for Texas is their slow starts. They got blown out fast in Game 1 against East Carolina and were very close to letting Game 2 slip away. Clutch hits are amazing, but getting too reliant on them is dangerous. If Texas’s offense takes a turn through the order to get going, and the Longhorns are digging themselves into early holes, they’re going to put themselves in trouble.
Stanford has beaten an opponent twice while facing elimination, doing so in their Regional and Super Regional against Texas State and UConn. And now, the nation’s No. 2 seed is ready to roll. They’re talented, battle-tested and playing great baseball heading into Omaha.
X-Factor Player: Quinn Mathews has been Stanford’s main closer. He has nine saves on the year, but he’s also made nine starts. That’s a dangerous combination because he can lock down games and simultaneously provide length. With opponents hitting .204 against Mathews, Stanford is feeling pretty good if they get through six innings with a lead.
Why They’ll Win: They are the best, most well-rounded team remaining. It’s that simple. All nine lineup regulars are hitting .297 or better. Three have an OPS of 1.000. Four have 18+ home runs. On the mound, the Cardinal boasts a bona fide ace, a strong closer and a host of pitchers that make it difficult to hit.
Why They Won’t: If anything, you can argue this team may have peaked just slightly too soon. They won 16 straight games entering the NCAA Tournament and it’s hard to sustain that kind of momentum in baseball. They’ve faced elimination twice against lower-seeded teams. It’s nitpicky because, by the numbers, Stanford is the best team remaining. But they do look more beatable than they did a month ago.