Let's be honest: last night was rough. Philip Pfeifer was on his A-game, and all we needed was to plate a few against a freshman center fielder on the mound to take the title. Instead, we had far too many all or nothing swings (I'm looking at you, Rhett and Zander), our hard hit balls found defenders, we allowed their starter to go deep enough to allow Josh Sborz to finish the game, Zander Wiel prioritized physical comedy over solid defense, and we pinch hit for the wrong guy. To their credit, UVA battled, they were behind the 8 ball going in, but they kept themselves in the game long enough to allow a few well placed hits sandwiched around some poor defensive play to score 3 runs in the 6th and give Sborz and his over-worked arm enough of a cushion to win.
We had good pitching. We had our opportunities. We squandered all of them.
In short, Virginia let us know they were there. They capitalized on the few opportunities proffered. They won.
But here's the thing... it doesn't matter. Winning game one bought us a Mulligan.
Walker Buehler (2-0, 0.77 in the postseason) is on the mound. In his last start against TCU, his calm brilliance on the mound had the horned frogs throwing up their arms in resigned acceptance of their fate. Our bats responded, plating 7. In his Regional start against Radford, he was equally brilliant, but no one noticed. They were too busy watching the ball leave the yard in a 21-0 rout. In short, in Buehler's last two starts, we are up 28-1 in the runs department. Whether that was due to the confidence instilled in our batters by having the first rounder on the mound, Jobu drinking his rum and coming to talk to our bats, or some form of indescribable gossamer we can't even conceive of, it happened.
Virginia will counter with LHP Brandon Waddell (4-5, 4.02 ERA), the pitcher who beat us in Game 2 of last year's CWS Finals. Waddell is a control-artist who keeps the ball low, and pitches with sink and movement. Though he's coming off back to back short rest outings (4 days, then 3 days), we should go into this game expecting to face a hard-nosed competitor who will keep our hitters off balance. Waddell has not had a great season statistically (see his record, ERA, his 7.6 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, and .278 batting average against). In the postseason, however, he's gotten the job done. At his best, he's most similar to TCU's Alex Young. Let's hope his heavy usage in the postseason has him not at his best. Regardless, expect a battle.
Our bullpen will be fully stocked. They can't say the same.
Of course, none of that matters if our bats don't wake up (Jobu, you're on notice). On that note, Corbin has a few aces up his sleeve if he wants to stoke the offense. With Buehler on the mound, expect Jason Delay (.292/.383/.406) to get the starting nod at catcher. Delay, believe it or not, is one of our team leaders in RBI/AB% (.240). Compare that to 3 hole hitter Dansby Swanson (.227) and cleanup hitter Zander Wiel (.246), and, in terms of run production, we're effectively adding another middle of the order bat. Delay has not exhibited home run power, but he hits doubles (8.33% of his ABs) at approximately the same rate as Will Toffey (7.97%) and Dansby Swanson (8.66%). Further, Delay is a patient hitter, who will make Waddell throw strikes.
As a catcher, Delay is not without his flaws. His less than stellar ability to block balls in the dirt (particularly spike curves and hard sliders) is the reason Ellison has had his name called when Carson Fulmer or Philip Pfeifer is on the mound. Delay has caught Buehler and the mid-week starters (Ryan Johnson, John Kilichowski, Jordan Sheffield, and Kyle Wright before he was moved to the closer role). He's a great pitch framer and usually manages the running game well.
Beyond that, expect our lineup to remain the same. However, Tim Corbin might want to at least consider batting someone else at DH. Ro Coleman, for all the occasional magic he possesses, has had a terrible run in Omaha. He is 2-17 at the plate, with 3 walks, and 5 strikeouts, for a slash line of .118/.250/.118. Coleman has scored twice and knocked in one. In the past 2 games against UVA, he is hitting slightly better, but is doing the same terrible job of getting on base (.250/.250/.250). In short, this is not even close to the production we need out of the lead-off spot. I know this is nothing more than Sisyphus pushing this particular rock perpetually up the hill, but why not at least consider putting Jeren Kendall or Bryan Reynolds in the lead-off hole and using Penn Murfee as DH (at the very least, he will have the platoon advantage over Waddell, and we can PH/PR Ro when the time is right). I don't want to lose Tyler Campbell's glove, so he needs to stay in and bat 9th.
In the Regionals, especially against inferior opponents David Lipscomb and Radford, Ro put up excellent numbers (3-3 with a BB, 2R, and 1 2B against Lipscomb, and 4-5 with a BB, 4R, 1RBI, and 1 3B). However, when the opposing pitchers goes up a tick in ability (against Indiana, CSF, TCU, and UVA) Ro has been an easy out. Worse yet, his bunting and batters eye have left little to be desired.
Can Ro be the magical spark plug to ignite out offense? He occasionally can, but tonight, in the most important game of the season, Tim Corbin should at least consider batting someone else in the lead-off spot. Why not pencil in Phil Pfeifer in the DH spot in the 8 hole, and wait to see who's on the mound when the DH comes to the plate? This strategy has worked in our favor in the past. It might be time to dust it off.
Regardless, tonight we've got one game to prove we're the best team in the nation. Tonight we've got one game to win a title. Tonight we've got one game to repeat as champions. We've got Walker Buehler on the mound. We've got Dansby Swanson just starting to heat up at the plate. We've got Reynolds to foil UVA's plans. We've got the power bats of Rhett Wiseman and Zander Wiel. We've got the Freshman Party. We've got this. As Penn Murfee himself just tweeted:
It ends here. @ TD Ameritrade Park Omaha https://t.co/BcK9biYmaa— Penn Murfee (@pennmurfee) June 24, 2015