CWS Finals: Who Has The Edge?Analysis
OMAHA, Neb. — It’s come down to this.
Some years, the College World Series ends with a surprise CWS Finals. Not this year, though. Oregon State and Arkansas were expected to be in this spot when the season began, with the Beavers ranked No. 2 and the Razorbacks No. 4 in our preseason rankings.
The two powerhouses will slug it out over the next few days — the Beavers aiming for the program’s third national title, while Arkansas, just like Florida last season, yearns for the program’s first. The Beavers reached this point the hard way after losing the first game in Omaha, and have since won four-straight contests, scoring 42 runs the last four games. Meanwhile, Arkansas crushed Texas before beating Texas Tech and advancing to the Finals with a comfortable win over Florida.
How do the Beavs and Razorbacks stack up in the CWS Finals? Let’s find out.
It’s hard not to go with the Razorbacks in this category. Dave Van Horn’s starting rotation is fresh and ready to roll, with righthander Blaine Knight starting the opener against the Beavers. Knight struck out four, walked one and allowed two runs on four hits in five innings in his first start against Texas. Meanwhile, lefthander Kacey Murphy is fresh and ready to roll after striking out seven in 4.2 innings in his only start here, while righthander Isaiah Campbell could be an X-factor with the way he threw against Florida the other night, allowing just two runs and two hits in five innings, while also striking out four. One thing to watch on Monday night is Knight’s stuff. His velocity dipped at times in his first start, but perhaps he’ll be back to normal after getting a couple extra days of rest.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Beavers counter in the CWS Finals opener. Luke Heimlich has been terrific much of the season, but has failed to get out of the third inning in two starts at the CWS. Heimlich has allowed eight runs and nine hits in five innings, and while command usually is his forte, he struggled with placement in those two starts. Bryce Fehmel has allowed six runs in 7.2 innings in two starts and will need to be better against the hard-hitting Razorbacks. He’s a pitchability righthander who relies heavily on command, while freshman righthander Kevin Abel could be ready to go again should there be a Game Three. Abel was terrific against Mississippi State on Saturday, sitting 90-93 with his fastball, while also showing excellent feel for a high quality 82-84 mph changeup.
THE EDGE: Arkansas
Something that stood out to me in Saturday’s postgame presser was Adley Rutschman talking about how some of the relievers are worn out and not feeling quite 100 percent. Perhaps a day off will get this OSU bullpen fresh and ready to roll, but that comment sticks with me when deciding which team has the edge in the bullpen.
That would be Arkansas.
The Hogs have navigated the CWS field without putting much strain at all on the bullpen. Barrett Loseke was very good in his two relief appearances, not allowing a run, and has only thrown 4.2 innings in Omaha, while Matt Cronin has thrown 3.1 innings in a pair of appearances. Kole Ramage has only worked one inning, and typically has good results with that fastball and slider combination, while righthander Jake Reindl is very fresh after working just 1.2 innings the first three games. Reindl’s low workload could allow him to work multiple games in this series, and he’s yet another Arkansas arm who possesses a quality fastball and slider combo.
The Beavers used lefty Jake Mulholland to close out Saturday’s contest against MSU, and it’ll be interesting to see his availability for the series opener. Mulholland worked two innings and threw 45 pitches Saturday, while he’s worked six innings total in the CWS. Brandon Eisert has been terrific with a 0.96 ERA in the CWS, but again, he’s had a heavy workload with nine innings pitched. Dylan Pearce has worked an inning and is a solid option, while Christian Chamberlain has worked five innings and has a lethal curveball to go with a low-90s fastball. But how much do the Beavers trust Pearce and Chamberlain? To give you an idea, had Mulholland gotten into even more trouble in Saturday’s ninth inning, the Beavs likely would’ve turned the game over Heimlich, not Chamberlain. That’s telling.
THE EDGE: Arkansas
The Hogs and Beavers have been sizzling hot at the CWS. For instance, the Hogs are hitting .330 in three games, while the Beavs are hitting an insane .351 in five games.
First Team All-American catcher Adley Rutschman has been the ringleader for the Beavers. He’s hitting a ridiculous .529 in Omaha with three doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs, along with a .667 OBP, while Trevor Larnach isn’t far behind with a .417 average, three doubles, a triple and seven RBIs, along with a .625 slugging percentage. Nick Madrigal (.385) has been a consistent threat as usual, while Tyler Malone (.385) and Kyle Nobach (.300) are two players who have really stepped up during this CWS trip. Malone hit a home run in five-straight games at one point earlier this season, and has three more in the CWS, while Nobach has knocked in five runs and brings some energy to the lineup. Steven Kwan (.429) is clearly a key cog if he’s healthy and ready to go Monday, while Cadyn Grenier (.250) and Michael Gretler (.273) are both guys with the ability to have a strong showing in the Finals.
Arkansas has had arguably the nation’s best lineup for much of the season, though the Beavers have been more potent here in Omaha, outscoring teams 48-23 in two games, while the Hogs have outscored teams 23-11 in three games. The Hogs are getting huge contributions from Dom Fletcher (.571) and Casey Martin (.571). Fletcher entered the season as someone expected to have a huge campaign, but scuffled much of the season before hitting the accelerator down the stretch. Fletcher’s contributions are a huge surprise, while Martin might just be the nation’s top freshman. Martin has a .600 OBP in Omaha, while also slugging .714 with eight hits and two doubles. Jared Gates (.385) has been a key contributor the past month, just like Fletcher, while Carson Shaddy (.250), Eric Cole (.231) and Grant Koch (.091) have a chance to go wild in the CWS Finals. Heston Kjerstad (.286) has been solid in Omaha, but has yet to deliver a long ball. Perhaps that’ll change over the next few days.
THE EDGE: Oregon State
Both teams are mighty impressive from a defensive standpoint, but the Beavers get the edge.
Oregon State has the nation’s premier infield. Rutschman is simply as good as it gets behind the plate with exceptional defensive skills, while he also possesses a strong arm. Michael Gretler is a strong and consistent defender at third, while Cadyn Grenier and Nick Madrigal seldom make mistakes — they’re the premier middle infielders in college baseball. The outfield is somewhat of a question mark with Steven Kwan’s status for the Finals up in the air, but it’s worth noting the talented center fielder pinch hit and played in the field at the end of Saturday’s contest. Perhaps that gives us an indication he’s playing in the title series.
As for the Razorbacks, Dom Fletcher is as good as it gets in center field. He’s a premier defender. Heston Kjerstad has also made some terrific plays in left field throughout the CWS, while Eric Cole is an athletic right fielder who made a great play to end the Florida game. The infield also is in good shape with Casey Martin forming into a premier defender with a strong arm, while second baseman Carson Shaddy has been very good in Omaha.
THE EDGE: Oregon State
The past week or so has been a grueling, but rewarding, run for Oregon State, while the Razorbacks have been able to take it easy for the most part after winning the first two games and taking out Florida in the first and only bracket championship game. The Hogs are well rested and have a load of confidence entering the CWS Finals. The Beavers have had a rugged road to this point. In a way, that might play to their advantage, but judging by comments made after Saturday’s game, you have to wonder if there’s a ton of gas left in the tank. We’ll find out. Both teams have veteran lineups and pitching staffs to work with, while the Hogs should have a sizable home-field advantage with Fayetteville only six hours away from Omaha.
THE EDGE: Arkansas