College World Series Futures
by Trevor Whenham - 06/12/2008
After a long and convoluted path that started with 64 teams, the top eight college baseball teams in the country are heading to Omaha starting on Saturday for the College World Series. The tournament has been held at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha since 1950. A new deal should see it stay there, albeit in a new stadium, until at least 2035. That makes the tournament rich with tradition. It also makes it a great betting opportunity. Most people don't spend much time following college baseball through the year, though the higher profile of the MLB Draft and the emergence of more star players from college has helped. If you haven't been paying attention during the season, here is a quick look at the eight teams with a chance to win it all.
(Odds to win the tournament are from 5Dimes)
Miami (+145) - The Hurricanes are a baseball powerhouse. This is their fourth CWS appearance in six years, and coach Jim Morris has won the tournament twice and been there in 11 of the 15 seasons he has been in charge. It is no mystery why they are favored - they are dominant from top to bottom, and more balanced than any team in the country. They had three players - first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jemile Weeks, and closer Carlos Gutierrez - picked in the first round of the draft last week. Their ace, Chris Hernandez, is only a freshman, but already he is perhaps the best lefty in college. The team can bomb it as well as anyone, but they don't have to rely on the long ball for success. They last time they were the top seed in the tournament was 1999, and they won that one. A repeat performance wouldn't be a surprise.
North Carolina (+260) - Up to this point in the tournament the Tar Heels have been ridiculously good. They have been behind in just three innings through five games. They are also the team in this tournament that is most familiar with success - they have made the final in each of the last two years, though they have lost to Oregon State both times. They are led by their pitching staff, which leads the country in ERA and strikeouts. They don't have the power of some of the teams, but they do have three players with 20 or more doubles, so they don't struggle to score.
Florida State (+500) - The Seminoles have the fifth most appearances in the CWS, but this is their first since 2000. Leading the way for the team is Buster Posey, the San Francisco Giants' catcher of the future after having been picked fifth overall in the draft. He captured national attention by playing all nine positions in one game, and has kept it by leading the country in home runs and RBIs, and having a gaudy national best batting average of .460. The rest of the team can more than hold their own at the plate, posting a combined average of .354. This tournament is shaping up as a hitting clinic, and the Seminoles are the kings of that class. One word of caution, though - this team has been in the tournament 19 times, but they have never won it.
Rice (+600) - Like the Tar Heels, Rice is here for the third straight time. They have yet to lose so far in the tournament. The key to their success is their arms. Ryan Berry is their ace, and he anchors a strong stable of starters. If they falter, the Owls can rely on the best and deepest bullpen in the tournament, including first round pick Brian Price. They don't have the best bats in the tournaments, but they are competent. The Owls have started strong each of the last two years, and they could do the same here again.
LSU (+675) - The Tigers love momentum. They have 29 come-from-behind wins on the year, and they came into the tournament riding a 23 game winning streak. That was ended by UC Irvine in the super regional, but they came back to win the last two games and score 30 runs to do it. If they can stay hot in Omaha then they can do some real damage. They haven't performed particularly well against strong pitching, though, and they will face some incredible arms in Omaha from their first game in North Carolina on.
Stanford (+800) - The Cardinal were one of the dominant teams of the 90's and the start of this decade, but they this is their first return to Omaha since 2003. They are another power hitting team, and like the Seminoles their catcher leads them. Jason Castro also went in the first round this year, and his bat has led the way through the playoffs. The team has had solid pitching all year, but they got a real boost when left-hander Jeremy Bleich, a Yankee draft pick, returned from an elbow injury to dominate Cal State Fullerton in the tournament.
Georgia (+1300) - Shortstop Gordon Beckham is another top ten draft choice with huge power. He is tied for the national lead in home runs with Posey and Matt Clark of LSU. Georgia needed to rebound from a disappointing end to the season, and their lack of pitching depth can cause them problems. They were able to overcome that to make it this far, but it would take a near-miracle for them to make it all the way.
Fresno State (+1500) - On paper, the Bulldogs aren't good enough to win this tournament. They've made it this far, though, and that's already enough to make them one of the best stories in sports this year. They are the first regional number four seed ever to make it to Omaha. To get here they had to upset Arizona State, a team that started the year 28-1 and was ranked number three in the country. It sounds like something out of a movie. This is the part that is too unbelievable not to be true - the team lost their ace, Tanner Scheppers, to injury at the end of the regular season.