The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

College Regular Season Winding Down

Thursday night marks the start of the Miami Hurricanes’ last regular season homestand of the year. They will face off against the Long Beach State Dirtbags (LBSU goes by the 49ers for other sports), owners of not only possibly the best nickname in college baseball, but a 2004 record of thirty-six wins and sixteen losses and an eleventh place ranking in the latest polls. These are two of the more premier clubs in college baseball: the Hurricanes currently have twelve former players on major league rosters and the Dirtbags have a total of six. If you’re in Miami, it’s probably worth stopping by the Light for a game or two (because of the post-season announcements that start this weekend, the 3-game series is of the Thursday through Saturday variety). At least one of these games, either the Thursday or Friday night game (depending on who you ask), will be on College Sports TV, but I don’t know anyone who gets that station at their house as of yet.

They also have this year’s uber-prospect, Jered Weaver, brother of current major leaguer Jeff Weaver (you may have heard of Jered’s cousin Jed, who plays football for the 49ers; apparently the Weaver’s are an athletically gifted bunch, although their baby name book didn’t come with options other than those starting with “J”). Jered has won a slew of awards and accolades so far this year, with the most prestigious of them being named a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to the best player in college baseball. He is also, logically, a finalist for the newly renamed Roger Clemens Award (the Rocket pitched at the University of Texas way back when), which is supposed to become the Cy Young Award of collegiate baseball. To earn all of these accolades, Weaver has put together a glittering 2004 stat line of a record of 14 – 0 with a 1.25 ERA and 182 strikeouts against 14 walks in 122 innings pitched). Granted, college baseball statistics are gaudy for star players, but these numbers are ridiculous. Weaver could double his ERA, walks, hits allowed, etc. and still be a legitimate contender for All-American recognition. For more on Weaver, go here (subscription required) at Baseball Prospectus or here for the semi-official blog of Jered Weaver and LBSU baseball (aka Rich's Baseball Beat).

The series will likely provide momentum series for one of the clubs. These same two teams met last year to close out the regular season, as they will again this year (post-season regional sites will be announced on Sunday and seedings on Monday). Last year’s series took place out West, with Miami taking two of the three games. The Canes took the momentum gained in that series through the regionals and super-regionals and on to a (relatively) suprising berth in the 2003 College World Series.

Should Long Beach be able to take the series this year, in Coral Gables, I would expect them to make a run similar to the one the Canes were able to put together last year. One of the key ingredients to a deep post-season run is having a dominant ace-pitcher, which the Dirtbags have in Weaver. Equally, if not more important, is to have pitching depth, as post-season games are played much closer together (there are fewer off days) than in the regular season. The Dirtbags’ starters on Friday night (Cesar Ramos) and Saturday afternoon (Jason Vargas), bring ERAs of 2.09 and 3.94 into the weekend, indicating that the club has some pitching depth.

The same could have been said of the Miami club as of a few weeks back, but with George Huguet and Sean Valdes-Fauli dismissed from the team, the bullpen is not quite as deep as one would have expected it to be. In addition to that, the team has lost (in part or in total) the Figueroa brothers, Brian Barton, Dan Touchet, and Ryan Braun for various stretches. Yes, this team has a lot of experience, including last year’s College World Series, but it’s not quite as deep as many of us expected that it would be coming into the season. This weekend’s series should provide some good insight into how the Canes might fare in the post-season this year. Winning two of three games would be a strong signal of good things to come, sweeping the series would be too much to hope for, particularly since it would require beating Weaver, but more impossible things have happened (in 1996 the Canes beat then uber-prospect Kris Benson, of Clemson, twice in the College World Series).


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