College World Series: Michigan vs. FSU preview

The Noles got off to just the start they needed in Omaha, taking down another SEC powerhouse, getting the better of Arkansas in a pitcher’s duel. FSU just out-executed the Hogs in game 1 and once again didn’t beat themselves. Drew Parrish and JC Flowers combined for a shutout while the freshmen, Matheu Nelson (sac bunt) and Nander De Sedas (sac fly), got the job done in the ninth to give the Noles the W. It was FSU’s first win in their CWS opener since 1999, when the Noles were the national runner-up’s. FSU’s last-four in counterpart, Michigan, also took home a W in the first game. The Wolverines are at the CWS for the first time since 1984. Michigan took down Texas Tech in G1 behind a stellar performance from their ace Karl Kauffman and a big game at the dish for senior Jimmy Kerr.

Both teams have gone through a grueling path to get to the CWS, but the two teams that barely gotten in are now in the driver’s seat of the CWS. By now, FSU fans know the path FSU had, going through UGA and LSU, but not many will know the task the Wolverines had. Michigan traveled to Corvallis where they had to take down a very good Creighton team to come out of the defending champ’s house with a regional win. Michigan then had to go to Los Angeles to take on the #1 overall seed, UCLA. Michigan took down the Bruins in G1, before losing in heartbreaking fashion in 12 innings, but bounced back in G3 behind Tommy Henry’s stellar performance on the mound to take down the #1 seed. Both of these teams are battle tested, and both know they can beat anyone at this point of the season.

FSU and Michigan each feature some of the best coaches in the nation. Mike Martin took home this year’s Perfect Game Coach of the Year award while Michigan’s Erik Bakich took home the NCBWA Coach of the Year honors. Bakich is one of the youngest head coaches in the nation and was born just 3 years before 11 was named head coach at FSU. FSU will obviously have the edge in coaching experience in the matchup, but experience doesn’t always equal better. FSU will go into the matchup with a record of 42-21, while the Wolverines are 47-20. Michigan was 16-7 in the Big 10, not one of the best baseball conferences in the nation, which is why they were on the bubble for the tournament. The Noles and Wolverines will face off at 7:00 PM ET on ESPN Monday night. FSU will be the home team after winning the coin toss.

FSU really struggled on Saturday night, but it had less to do with the bats and more to do with the arm of Isaiah Campbell. Campbell had all 4 of his pitches working and moving all over the plate. Sometimes you just have to tip your caps, but the Noles offense battled to get Campbell out of the game and got the job done against the Hogs’ pen. The Noles will face a new challenge on Monday night, as FSU will face their first left-handed starter of the NCAA tournament. Throughout the season, the Noles didn’t fare as well against LHP’s, with 2-3-4 in the lineup all being left-handed bats. FSU could see some lineup changes just because of who’s on the hill, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 11 and Jr. stick with what’s been working.

Projected FSU Lineup:

SS Mike Salvatore: .337 AVG/.428 OBP/7 HR’s

RF Reese Albert: .299 AVG/.408 OBP/9 HR’s

3B Drew Mendoza: .313 AVG/.478 OBP/16 HR’s

DH Robby Martin: .325 AVG/.407 OBP/4 HR’s

CF JC Flowers: .272 AVG/.374 OBP/13 HR’s

C Mat Nelson: .285 AVG/.443 OBP/6 HR’s

1B Carter Smith: .247 AVG/.362 OBP/2 HR’s

2B Nander De Sedas: .238 AVG/.359 OBP/4 HR’s

LF Elijah Cabell: .220 AVG/.404 OBP/7 HR’s

The Wolverines have had a consistent offense throughout the season, with a team batting average of .280 while scoring 6.87 runs per game. Michigan doesn’t have a very powerful offense, with 69 HR’s on the year, but they’re one of the fastest and most aggressive teams in the nation, stealing 99 bags in 121 attempts this season. 5 players have 10+ steals while 4 players have 10+ HRs. The offense is led by 3 guys in particular, sophomore Jordan Nwogu, junior Jordan Brewer, and senior Jimmy Kerr. Nwogu has had a breakout sophomore year, with a team-high OPS of 1.017. Brewer is a dynamic player with 5-tool potential. The OF has 24 stolen bases on the year to go with 12 homers. The team leader Kerr has had a breakout year, being a full-time starter for the first time in his college career. Kerr leads the Wolverines in RBI’s with 58 and has produced 27 XBH’s on the season. Michigan will likely run out just 3 lefties and 6 righties against the Noles and CJ Van Eyk.

Projected Michigan Lineup:

RH DH Jordan Nwogu: .329 AVG/.441 OBP/12 HR’s

LH CF Jesse Franklin: .251 AVG/.385 OBP/12 HR’s

RH RF Jordan Brewer: .336 AVG/.392 OBP/12 HR’s

LH 1B Jimmy Kerr: .269 AVG/.372 OBP/12 HR’s

RH 3B Blake Nelson: .302 AVG/.401 OBP/1 HR

LH LF Christian Bullock: .284 AVG/.388 OBP/2 HR’s

RH SS Jack Blomgren: .308 AVG/.415 OBP/3 HR’s

RH C Joe Donovan: .241 AVG/.317 OBP/8 HR’s

RH 2B Ako Thomas: .263 AVG/.354 OBP/2 HR’s

Starting Pitcher Matchup: LHP Tommy Henry (3.54 ERA, 117 K’s, 10-5) vs. RHP CJ Van Eyk (3.80 ERA, 120 K’s, 10-3)

CJ Van Eyk has been everything FSU could’ve asked for out of the 1st year starter. The sophomore has some of the best stuff in the nation and when he throws strikes he is on. Whenever he is on the mound, you feel good about FSU’s chances at winning. The Noles have won CJ’s last 9 starts and are 13-4 in his starts on the season. Michigan will counter Van Eyk with the 74th overall pick in the MLB draft, Tommy Henry. Henry started G3 of the UCLA Super Regional, but he’s not Michigan’s 3rd starter. Henry was out for the first two games with the flu and pneumonia. The lefty was actually the Wolverines’ Friday night starter for most of the season. When the lefty is on his game, he can be nearly unhittable. Henry has struck out 117 batters on the season and only walked 25. Henry had an up-and-down season, but he’s been hot as of late. So far this postseason, Henry has given up 5 runs in 14 innings of work against 2 of the best offensive teams in the nation. FSU has another tough task ahead of them, but a patient and selective approach could force Henry out of the game earlier than the Wolverines want.

The bullpen approach will be the same as it has been for a while for 11 and Clyde Keller. The Noles will hope to get at least 6 innings out of Van Eyk before turning to LHP Antonio Velez (4.26 ERA) and RHP Chase Haney (2.73 ERA) depending on what batters they’ll have to face. If the Noles have the lead in the 8th inning or later, JC Flowers will be in the game. FSU isn’t afraid to go to Flowers for more than 3 outs and they have full confidence in him no matter the size of the lead. The fastball-slider combination has been unhittable all year but it’s gotten even better in the postseason.

Michigan has lots of options out of their pen but they will likely go with LHP Benjamin Keizer (4.01 ERA, 4-1) or RHP Isaiah Page (2.98 ERA, 4-0) or RHP Willie Weiss (3.08 ERA, 9 SV’s). Keizer is a big lefty, standing 6’3, 215, and has been very effective out of the pen all season. The lefty has a .196 BAA but can sometimes struggle to throw strikes. Page is a redshirt freshman who will throw more strikes than Keizer but isn’t as effective with his stuff, with a BAA of .221 and just 28 K’s in 48.1 IP. Weiss has been the Wolverine closer for most of the year, leading the team with 9 saves. Weiss is a big righty at 6-3, 205 but the freshman hasn’t been used as much late in the season in pressure situations. In G1 of the CWS, Bakich turned to starter Jeff Criswell (2.68 ERA) for the close, and Backish has said that he will go back there on Monday if Michigan has a chance to win..

On paper, Michigan will be easy competition compared to the teams FSU has taken care of recently, but just like FSU, momentum can’t be measured. The Wolverines are a scrappy team that is playing loose and with no fear. For FSU, the same thing stands as always, just don’t beat yourself. FSU really struggled for a majority of the middle of the season and it had to do with beating them self. If the Noles stay out of their own way, they will have a good chance of winning. If CJ throws strikes, the defense doesn’t give away outs, and the offense works quality at-bats, the Noles should be 2-0 heading into Wednesday.

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