“The Louisville Cardinals are Omaha bound!”

As if the immortal words of Sean Moth were not enough to convince you, the Cardinal Nine’s performance on the diamond certainly was. Greeting the #10 East Carolina Pirates (47-18) to 3rd & Central for the Louisville Super Regional, the Cardinals made a resounding statement to all of college baseball: Fear us. Kicking off the weekend with a 14-1 curb stomping of the AAC regular season champs, that was then promptly followed up by a 12-0 near no-hitter that sent the Pirates back to Greenville, NC.

After winning just 3 of their last 8 contests heading into the NCAA Tournament, Louisville seemingly flipped a switch yet again to re-elevate themselves into elite status. Ever since head coach Dan McDonnell made significant adjustments to the top half of the lineup following their loss to Illinois State in the Louisville Regional, the Cards’ offense is on another level. Not only are they averaging 10 runs a game in the 5 games since, the pitching staff has also re-found their mojo even after losing Michael McAvene due to suspension, allowing only 2.6 runs per game including the shutout that punched their ticket to Omaha.

Now that the Cards have found their way back to the center of the college baseball universe, the pressure is on them more so now than it has been all season. But even with such immense expectations, head coach Dan McDonnell thinks his squad is more than ready. “That’s why you come to Louisville. You’ve prepared for this”, Coach Mac said. Even as he and his players celebrated yet another trip to the hallowed grounds of TD Ameritrade Park, they were quick to refocus on the goals ahead. “We made it clear that we aren’t finished yet.”

News & Notes

  • Louisville’s trip to the College World Series is their fifth in program history (2007, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2019).
  • Junior RHP Michael McAvene’s 4 game suspension is up and he is eligible to pitch in the CWS.
  • Freshman third baseman Alex Binelas was awarded his second Freshman All-American honor, this time by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

The Week Ahead

Coming up this week, the Cards will embark to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series. Their first matchup will be against the SEC Champion #2 Vanderbilt Commodores (54-11). Also on Louisville’s side of the bracket are the Mississippi State Bulldogs (51-13) and the Auburn Tigers (38-26).

Vanderbilt is the only team that Louisville has played more than twice, as the Cards are 10-25 all time vs. the Commodores. However the Cards have won 6 of their last 9 contests against Vanderbilt. Louisville is 0-2 vs. Auburn, having been swept in a 2 game series at Auburn in February 1995. Finally, the Cards are 1-1 vs. Mississippi State, with their lone victory coming in the 2007 College World Series (12-4).

College World Series Schedule:

  • Sunday, June 16th
    • Game 3: Louisville vs. Vanderbilt – 2:00pm
      • ESPN
    • Game 4: Mississippi State vs. Auburn – 7:30pm
      • ESPN2
  • Tuesday, June 18th
    • Game 7: Game 3 Loser vs. Game 4 Loser – 2:00pm
      • ESPN
    • Game 8: Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner – 7:00pm
      • ESPN
  • Thursday, June 20th
    • Game 10: Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Loser – 8:00pm
      • ESPN2
  •  Friday, June 21st
    • Game 12: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner – 7:00pm
      • ESPN
  • Saturday, June 22nd (If necessary)
    • Game 12a: Game 12 Loser vs. Game 12 Winner – 7:00pm
      • ESPN

Tickets can be purchased here through the NCAA’s official website. In case you cannot make it to any of the games, the entire CWS will be broadcast on either ESPN or ESPN2. Louisville’s games will be broadcast on 93.9 The Ville.

Know The Foe

School: Vanderbilt University
Nickname: Vanderbilt Commodores
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
Total Enrollment: 12,592
Head Coach (school record): Tim Corbin (735-353-1)
2019 Record (conference record): 54-11 (23-7)
Team Leaders:

  • Avg: Austin Martin (.410)
  • RBI: Ethan Paul (71)
  • HR: J.J. Bleday (26)
  • ERA: Mason Hickman (2.23)
  • Strikeouts: Drake Fellows (120)
  • Wins: Drake Fellows (12)

School: Mississippi State University
Nickname: Mississippi State Bulldogs
Location: Starkville, Mississippi
Total Enrollment: 21,883
Head Coach (school record): Chris Lemonis (51-13)
2019 Record (conference record): 51-13 (20-10)
Team Leaders:

  • Avg: Jake Mangum (.355)
  • RBI: Tanner Allen (64)
  • HR: Justin Foscue (14)
  • ERA: Ethan Small (1.76)
  • Strikeouts: Ethan Small (168)
  • Wins: Ethan Small (10)

School: Auburn University
Nickname: Auburn Tigers
Location: Auburn, Alabama
Total Enrollment: 29,776
Head Coach (school record): Butch Thompson (141-108)
2019 Record (conference record): 38-26 (14-16)
Team Leaders:

  • Avg: Conor Davis (.287)
  • RBI: Edouard Julien (54)
  • HR: Will Holland, Edouard Julien, Steven Williams (9)
  • ERA: Tanner Burns (2.73)
  • Strikeouts: Tanner Burns (100)
  • Wins: Elliott Anderson (7)

Opponent Breakdown

Vanderbilt Mississippi State Auburn Louisville
RPI 1 3 10 8
SOS 6 15 1 21
Home Record 33-6 37-5 22-10 33-8
Away Record 13-4 10-6 14-13 15-4
Batting
Base on Balls 5 (359) 57 (273) 57 (273) 15 (326)
Batting Average 4 (.318) 5 (.317) 160 (.265) 27 (.295)
Hits 1 (728) 2 (726) 40 (587) 6 (672)
Home Runs 3 (93) 48 (63) 92 (48) 78 (51)
On Base Percentage 6 (.418) 17 (.398) 180 (.357) 33 (.391)
Runs 2 (550) 5 (519) 58 (380) 8 (500)
Slugging Percentage 3 (.525) 16 (.478) 165 (.387) 51 (.440)
Pitching
Earned Run Average 34 (3.83) 12 (3.48) 99 (4.49) 18 (3.56)
Hits Allowed/9 Inn. 14 (7.61) 11 (7.56) 121 (9.02) 3 (6.95)
Strikeouts Per 9 Innings 2 (10.9) 4 (10.8) 79 (8.6) 5 (10.3)
Strikeout-to-Walk Ratio 12 (2.83) 3 (3.16) 76 (2.18) 18 (2.75)
WHIP 22 (1.27) 9 (1.22) 103 (1.44) 6 (1.19)
Walks Allowed/9 Inn. 87 (3.87) 42 (3.43) 101 (3.97) 73 (3.76)
Key: Rank out of 297 (Value)

Vanderbilt Commodores

Historically speaking from a program perspective, Vanderbilt is not much different than Louisville: limited 20th century success and relative mediocrity until the hiring of a hall-of-fame caliber coach. Since the introduction of head coach Tim Corbin following their 2002 season, the Commodores have experienced unprecedented success. Prior to his hiring, Vanderbilt had only been to the NCAA Tournament a grand total of 3 times in their program’s history. With Corbin at the helm, they have made it to the big dance every year but his first, made it to Omaha 4 times (including 2019), been a national runner-up in 2015 and national champion in 2014. He has transformed them from an SEC laughingstock to a perennial powerhouse. Since their midweek affair with the Cardinals at Jim Patterson Stadium on May 7th, they have only lost twice.

Offensively, the Commodores are still very much the same team that Louisville faced the first time around. Like East Carolina, Vandy has a batting order with very few weaknesses and is powered by a trio of other-worldly talent. Utility men Austin Martin & Stephen Scott and outfielder J.J. Bleday all have a batting average over .335, an on base percentage over .450, a slugging percentage over .590 and an OPS over 1. While Martin has a batting average of .410 and Scott has a team-leading 20 doubles, Bleday though has established himself as the team’s offensive catalyst. He leads the team in total bases (182), slugging percentage (.717), is second in RBI (69) and his 26 home runs is more than anyone else in division 1. Not to mention that infielder Ethan Paul and catchers Phillip Clarke & Ty Duvall provide great support to the meat of the order, as these 3 players all have an .880+ OPS. Unlike East Carolina though, Vandy has solid pinch hitting/substitutes in the form of infielder Jayson Gonzalez and outfielders Cooper Davis & Pat DeMarco. This is a team that has many different offensive options and can exploit almost any batter-pitcher matchup.

Like their batting, the Commodores’ pitching is also an elite unit. While statistically not quite as good as Louisville’s, their team ERA of 3.83 is still extraordinarily competitive. For game 1 of the College World Series, Vanderbilt will most likely send out junior right-hander Drake Fellows. A mainstay on the mound for Vandy’s Friday night games, Fellows is an elite strike-thrower as he leads the team with 120 punchouts while only allowing 42 free passes. His slight weakness however is that his ERA of 4.15 and opponent’s batting average of .244 is the highest out of all the pitchers in Vanderbilt’s weekend rotation. But should the Cards have to face the Commodores for a second time in the CWS, starting pitching won’t get much easier. Sophomore right-hander Mason Hickman (who Louisville saw earlier this season) has the lowest ERA on the team with a 2.23, and freshman right-hander Kumar Rocker sports a respectable 3.50 ERA and is on the heels of a 19 strikeout no hitter against Duke in the Super Regional. If Louisville makes it a bullpen game, it will be hit or miss. RHP Tyler Brown has a team-best 14 saves and has allowed a run in only 4 of his 27 appearances. LHP Jake Eder and RHP Ethan Smith are also reliable options out of the pen with the duo both having sub-.200 opponents’ batting averages and combining for a 3.07 ERA. But Louisville might experience more luck against either Zach King or Hugh Fisher, with both southpaws having a WHIP over 1.50 and King having a less than spectacular ERA of 5.97.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

If there’s anyone who would have the most familiarity with Louisville and how they operate, it would be Mississippi State. First year Bulldogs head coach Chris Lemonis joined Dan McDonnell’s staff at Louisville in his first year at 3rd & Central and was an assistant coach for the Cards until 2014. He became the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers to start the 2015 season and was at the helm in Bloomington until he left for Starkville after the 2018 season. Louisville was 1-3 against Indiana in the 4 years Lemonis was the head coach.

The Bulldogs have one of the most well-balanced offenses in all of college baseball. Their starting batting order consists of 6 players with a batting average over .295 and triple digit total bases, 4 with a batting average over .310, 20+ doubles and 50+ RBI, and 3 players with 85+ hits and 30+ walks. Their offense is anchored by all-time SEC hit king outfielder Jake Mangum, who leads the team in batting average and is one of 3 players in division 1 baseball with triple digit base hits. Immediately following him up with major run support are infielders Tanner Allen & Justin Foscue and catcher Dustin Skelton. This trio of players are have a .315+ batting average, .500+ slugging percentage and 55 or more RBI, with Skelton and Foscue also having double digit homers. Not to be outdone, infielder Jordan Westburg & outfielder Rowdey Jordan are the lone other players with triple digit total bases, with both having a batting average just short of .300 and Westburg leading the team in walks. Whether the name of the game is small ball or power hitting, Mississippi State’s versatile offense can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

As good as their offense is, their pitching staff is so good that it rivals that of Louisville’s. The Cards boast the ACC Pitcher of the Year in Reid Detmers, but the Bulldogs counter with SEC Pitcher of the Year left-hander Ethan Small. The most likely pitcher to greet the Cards in a potential game 2 matchup, Small is one of the most dominant arms in all of college baseball. He is the only pitcher is D1 that has more strikeouts than Detmers (168), and it comes with a much lower ERA of 1.76. The rest of their starting weekend rotation isn’t too shabby either. Right-handers J.T. Ginn & Peyton Plumlee have comparable ERAs of 3.36 and 3.67 respectively, with Ginn having a very impressive 103-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Plumlee’s isn’t nearly as extravagant, but he does offer the second lowest opponents’ batting average in the rotation. Heading into the bullpen, two relievers stand out as the work horses for Mississippi State. Right-handers Jared Liebelt & Cole Gordon combine for 92.1 total inning pitched over a whopping 60 appearances. Liebert has the lower ERA at 2.79 but Gordon has nearly double the strikeouts with 65 over 40.2 innings. State’s bullpen offers up 5 different pitchers with 20+ appearances and no starts, so you can bet that the majority of relievers that the Bulldogs have to offers will be locked in to whoever they are facing.

Auburn Tigers

While they are statistically not the most impressive team to make it to Omaha, their play as of late certainly warrants their placement among the final 8. Earning an at-large bid after a 1-2 showing at the SEC Tournament, Butch Thompson’s Tigers kicked it into high gear. They opened up the regional with a 16-7 thrashing of red-hot Coastal Carolina, then followed that up with back-to-back victories over Atlanta Regional host #3 Georgia Tech. Taking on #12 seeded North Carolina, the offense rocketed past the Tar Heels, plating double digit runs in both wins en route to a CWS berth.

The way that the Auburn offense has been operating in the last couple weeks is an astounding feat considering how lack-luster it has been as a whole over the 2019 season. The Tigers’ lineup feature a quartet of players batting around the .285 mark, but nothing more spectacular than that. Conor Davis edges out these 4 as their statistical leader, batting a team-best .287 and collecting 105 total bases. Complementing Davis is the slugging prowess of infielders Edouard Julien & Will Holland and catcher Steven Williams as the trio all have 9 home runs, with Julien leading the team in RBI and Holland leading the team in stolen bases. However as with many power hitters, all 3 also come with a sub-.250 batting average. If the Tigers wish to make a deep run in Omaha, they cannot afford to regress back to their normal offensive ways.

Auburn’s hitting will have carry the team’s weight, because their pitching has not been overly impressive or consistent. A below-average SEC pitching staff, as team the Tigers post a 4.49 ERA and only have 1 pitcher with double digit starts. That pitcher would be right-hander Tanner Burns. The sophomore leads Auburn in both ERA & WHIP (2.73 & 1.05), has a 100-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio and also has the staff’s lowest opponent’s batting average. Junior southpaw Jack Owen is the somewhat clear #2 starter, sporting a respectable 2.83 ERA over 63.2 innings. His 58 strikeouts isn’t quite as gaudy as Burns’ triple digit mark, but he is still able to keep his walk number low at 11. Beyond these two, it’s a vast collection of pitchers whose true role on the team isn’t completely defined. It also doesn’t help that only one other pitcher (Cody Greenhill) on the Tigers’ pitching staff has an ERA of less than 4.

Prediction

In their opening matchup against the Commodores, despite Vanderbilt being the favorite I will be going with the Cards in game 1. Louisville’s offense actually favors TD Ameritrade Park, as it is a notorious pitchers/small ball park. While a Fellows/Bennett matchup slightly favors Vandy, I believe Louisville’s offense is tailor made for a CWS matchup and will be enough to prevail against the Commodores.

Against Mississippi State however is a different story. The Bulldogs have a similar offense to that of Louisville’s and a matchup of Small/Detmers would tip the scales in favor of Mississippi State due to Small having a much better ERA than Detmers.

In the loser’s brackets, I believe that Louisville will meet again with Vanderbilt after the Commodores dispatch Auburn in the 0-1 game. I would expect this to be a Hickman/Miller matchup, and while Hickman was on the mound against Louisville during the regular season, he has only pitched 6.0 innings or more in 2 of his last 7 starts. Once it turns into a bullpen game for Vanderbilt, Louisville will move past them to advance to the CWS semifinals with Mississippi State.

In the CWS Semifinal, I believe that Louisville will take the first game against the Bulldogs by using starting pitcher Luke Smith as the catalyst for the team energy. However, once Louisville is forced to go to their 5th starter, I predict that Mississippi State’s offense will eliminate the Cardinals in the final CWS Semifinal game.

The following two tabs change content below.

Matt McGavic

Latest posts by Matt McGavic (see all)

TCZ Comments

comments