For those of you that are unaware, here at the TST we like all kinds of baseball. Not only do we love the pro game, but we're avid college baseball followers. I am a Alabama season ticket holder and Stats All Folks goes to games whenever he's near campus. With that being said, today kicks off what is one of the great spectacles in baseball with college baseball postseason play starting with the conference tournaments. In Hoover, the top 12 teams in the regular season will battle it out for the right to the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Granted 9-10 of the teams are going to get in regardless, but for the bottom two seeds, winning this tournament can extended their season. Today's games are single elimination but then we go to double elimination until the Championship Game. It is very difficult to win the tournament out of the loser's bracket simply because no one has that much pitching (not even Vanderbilt). Let's take a look at that matchups are see who we think is going to be hoisting the trophy this year.
Seeding in the tournament is important only because the top 4 teams don't have to play in the single elimination games, thus getting to save some innings. The seeds are as follows:
1 - Florida
2 - Ole Miss
3 - LSU
4 - South Carolina
5 - Mississippi State
6 - Vanderbilt
7 - Arkansas
8 - Alabama
9 - Kentucky
10 - Texas A&M
11 - Tennessee
12 - Georgia
Clearly your frontrunners are those top four seeds. I won't say that I love any of them to win the tournament, but let's give them a leg up to say the least.
Single Elimination Games
Let's look at some general considerations that will have a profound effect on the single elimination games. SEC conference games ran Thursday through Saturday last week to give the pitchers some time. However, let's consider that SEC starting pitchers pitch once a week, usually on the same day every week. They are not used to throwing on short rest and most managers aren't going to push someone too early. That means we're looking at a traditional midweek starter throwing the single elimination games in most situations. That could lead to some high scoring games, so teams that can score tend to do well early in the tournament. However, the Hoover Met absolutely kills home run production. Anyone that has been to games out there has seen balls get absolutely crushed and end up being lazy flyouts. If you are home run dependent, you don't win in Hoover.
On to the games -
6 v 11 - Vandy v Tennessee - Coach Serrano has done wonders at Tennessee as they made great strides making it to the tournament and being competitive throughout the season. Vanderbilt could be considered slightly disappointing finishing 6th in the conference, but they are still very dangerous to any and all challengers. Let's get this one of the way early as I can't fathom that Beede will be throwing for Vandy. He threw over 120 pitches in his last start and Tennessee isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut anyone. Tennessee is a good story and they tend to do pretty well with a consistent pitching staff and an offense that finds ways to score runs. Vanderbilt has more quality pitching depth than anyone in college baseball it seems, so you're not going to get a subpar arm out of the Commodores. Vandy has a scrappy offense that doesn't drive too many out the park and utilizes great baserunning to score. All in all, this adds up to a Vandy win against a solid but very young Tennessee squad.
7 v 10 - Arkansas v Texas A&M - Arkansas has some good series wins at home, but they have been dreadful on the road. Texas A&M hasn't been outstanding anywhere. Arkansas traditionally has loads of arms, but I haven't been that impressed with their second and third arms this year, so I imagine the midweek games aren't much better. Texas A&M didn't get the year they were expecting out of Megden, but I don't see him throwing regardless. Arkansas has been hot lately and Texas A&M hasn't. I'll go with the Hogs to move on.
8 v 9 - Alabama v Kentucky - I'll say I know more about this matchup than any of the other ones, but I'll try to remain unbiased. I'm not sure who Alabama is going to throw today, but I would imagine it would either be Nick Eicholtz or Jon Keller. Personally I'd throw Keller to counter some of Kentucky's lefthanded hitters. Kentucky was wholly reliant on the longball in their trip to Tuscaloosa and their pitching was unimpressive outside of AJ Reed. Can't see them pushing Reed here. Kentucky hasn't traditionally done well and could be playing in front of a fairly hostile crowd with the 4:30 start. I'll take Bama here is a low scoring one.
5 v 12 - Mississippi State v Georgia - The TST would like to applaud Georgia for getting into the tournament, but perhaps Georgia should send Auburn a fruit basket to thank them for being terrible down the stretch. Mississippi State uses a weird strategy of not having starting pitchers and thus they don't overwork anyone. Sounds awful if you're playing a major league schedule, but it works brilliantly at the college game. It works even better in a tournament setting. Give me the scrappy Bulldogs to advance.
Double Elimination Games
I won't go into as much detail with these picks, unless I think it's warranted.
Round 2 Picks: Vandy over LSU, Ole Miss over Arkansas, Bama over Florida, and South Carolina over Mississippi State.
Discussion: Vandy is too good to lose to LSU unless Nola throws. I would imagine Manieri will hold his ace back until Thursday at least, so advantage 'Dores. I like Bama over Florida here because Florida has nothing to really play for. They aren't that impressive of a team in my opinion and Bama should be hungry in front of a pro Bama crowd.
Round 3 Loser's Bracket - LSU over Arkansas and Mississippi State over Florida
Round 3 Winner's Bracket - Ole Miss over Vandy and South Carolina over Alabama
Discussion: See my comments about Nola above. In an elimination game, Nola should throw and Arkansas won't score. Again State's philosophy was made for these tournaments and will be playing with more on their mind than Florida will. Ole Miss over Vandy because I like Ole Miss's offense and if Beede throws, I think they can wait him out. South Carolina over Bama because I don't like Bama's matchup against that deep Carolina staff.
Round 4 - Vandy over LSU and Alabama over Miss State
Discussion: See my above comments about the previous Vandy/LSU matchup. Vandy's pitching staff is quite deep and LSU's really isn't. Bama ove Miss State as Bama's most consistent pitcher (Kamplain) looks good in a park where home runs are at a premium.
Round 5 - Ole Miss over Vandy and South Carolina over Alabama
Discussion: Both games come down to sheer volume of innings thrown to this point. Vandy's staff is incredibly deep, but will have played 18 more innings minimum than Ole Miss to this point. Bama doesn't have enough horses on their staff to beat a rested South Carolina team.
Championship Game - Ole Miss over South Carolina
Discussion - Quite simply put, I think winning in Hoover means more to Ole Miss than South Carolina. Also, Ole Miss travels extremely well to Hoover and I think they'll have a slight home field advantage. South Carolina will not care as much if they win because of all their recent postseason success.