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.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Canes Lose - Now the Road Gets Tough; Harold Reynolds is Still an Idiot

The Hurricanes lost to Cal State Fullerton last night by a score of 6 – 3. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Hurricanes looked flat and emotionless nearly the entire game. Since Saturday’s win most of the quotes from the Canes centered on how happy they were to have won the opening game and how nice it was to be in the winner’s bracket this year (last year the Canes were blown out by Texas in the opening game of the tournament).

The loss for the Canes was their first since they were shut out by North Carolina in Coral Gables on May 16th. Many, from the group that often says that Miami’s ranking and seeding is over-inflated by the overwhelming number of home games they play, will assert that the Canes were exposed last night as an overrated team that possibly didn’t deserve to be in Omaha. That sort of an assertion is likely too drastic. Miami played uncharacteristically bad defense – committing a total of four errors, including three in the second inning. Ironically for Canes starter J.D. Cockroft, the poor defense behind him in Omaha is not a new thing. Last year Cockroft also was let down by his defense, as ten runs were scored while he was on the mound, but only four of those were earned (in seven total innings in the CWS, Cockroft has allowed 15 runs, of which only seven were earned).

Truthfully, the Canes were fortunate to keep the game close (with a final score of 6 – 3, and Fullerton never established a lead of more than four runs). Fullerton left eleven runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded in both the 3rd and 4th innings. Last night’s game could have easily turned into a blowout. I’m not sure if it’s fortunate or not for the Canes (and even the Titans) that it didn’t. Had it been a blowout Miami could have dug a little deeper in their bullpen and saved some of their better arms for their upcoming games and the Titans could have pulled Romero from the game and reached into the depths of their bullpen as well.

On the other side of the diamond, Cal State Fullerton was into the game from the first pitch. One could easily argue that Fullerton’s coaches are over-using their pitchers, but Ricky Romero pitched a gem last night. And now, with today off and possibly only one more game before the championship round, Romero and Saturday’s starter Jason Windsor have a chance to rest up. Yes, that’s right – we’re through two games in the College World Series and Cal State Fullerton has only used two pitchers.

While that is a remarkable feat and has preserved the Titans’ bullpen, I’m not sure it’s good news for Romero or Windsor. Fullerton pitchers have amassed a total of 17 complete games this year (10 by Windsor and 5 by Martinez). The downside to this is pitch counts; both of the complete games thrown in the CWS required over 140 pitches. Analysis upon analysis has been done that indicates that having young arms, such as Romero’s and Windsor’s, throw more than 120 pitches in a game is likely detrimental in the long term to the pitcher’s development. Windsor and Romero seem to do this so frequently that it is probably unlikely that we will ever see either of them pitching in the major league World Series, or even at any high level professionally. “Analysts” like ESPN’s Harold Reynolds help to perpetuate high pitch counts and endangerment to pitchers’ health by asserting that things like make-up, will, and determination are a bigger factor in whether a pitcher can sustain high pitch counts than anything else. I tend to disagree with Mr. Reynolds on this as I’ve never seen determination hold a ligament together, particularly when subjected to the repeated, unnatural stress of throwing a baseball at maximum effort too many times (ironically Reynolds quipped during the game that his favorite thing about the CWS is that he is able to teach the game to people – it would be great if Reynolds would teach people things that are based in fact and research, and not just his uninformed opinion). When two pitchers have more complete games than the entire sum of complete games by the other seven teams in the College World Series, you might have to admit that there’s an issue. Hopefully I’m wrong and Windsor and Romero will go on to long, successful careers, but I doubt it. These two young men are likely being subjected to physical abuse, which their bodies will not be able to sustain over the long haul.

From here, the roads diverge significantly for the Titans and the Hurricanes. Fullerton has today off and they will play the winner of tonight’s South Carolina – Miami matchup. Fullerton will only need to beat that team one time – on either Wednesday or Thursday – in order to advance to the championship round (likely against Texas, but possibly against Texas, Arizona, or Georgia).

Both the Canes and Gamecocks have beaten LSU and lost to Fullerton in the tournament so far. From that perspective, and given that South Carolina is seeded second in the tournament and Miami third, it would appear that these two teams are evenly matched. On paper, that is definitely true. This game is likely too close to call on paper: both teams are fairly well balanced, with solid pitching, power and speed on offense, and (with the exception of Miami’s performance last night) solid defense. However, tonight’s game will not be played on paper, and in fact, it will be contested by each team’s third starting pitcher. This is where things start to get interesting in college baseball.

Miami’s Brandon Camardese will take the hill tonight. Camardese brings a 6 – 2 record with a 3.86 ERA into tonight’s game. He is 1 – 0 in 8.2 innings pitched in the postseason with a 3.12 ERA (those stats are likely misleading though, as they came against St. Bonaventure in the opening game of the Regionals). It’s easy to be mislead by a 6 – 2 record (and his 9 – 2 record in 2003), but Camardese is not a dominating starter. He has good starts and bad starts. The key to watch for tonight with Brandon is walks. When he’s on, there are very few walks. Camardese is generally tough to hit (.235 BA allowed this season), so if he’s not putting runners on for free, he can be difficult to score against.

South Carolina will likely counter with righty Billy Buckner (no relation to that guy – and yes, he was born before the famous 1986 incident). Buckner is also 6 – 2 this season with a 3.16 ERA. Buckner appears to have good control (with nearly 5 strikeouts to every one walk allowed), but curiously, he leads the team in wild pitches.

It’s likely that whichever team gets the better performance out of their starting pitcher will likely win today’s game. Both clubs will also go to their bullpens quickly if needed to get a fresh arm. After perusing the statistics, both clubs have a plethora of arms left to turn to today, with Miami likely tabbing Dan Touchet first and South Carolina going to Zac McCamie.

For whoever wins this game, a daunting road lies ahead. In order to reach the championship round, South Carolina will have to win four games on four consecutive days (with today being the second game in that span). Miami would have to win three games in three days in order to reach the finals. In order to do that, they’ll likely have to overcome Fullerton’s deep and talented pitching staff and do so with a depleted staff of their own. At this point, with the weaknesses Fullerton has exploited in both clubs so far, it’s difficult to see that happening. Texas versus Fullerton in the Championship Round is far less difficult to see.

Announcer Amusement
During the introduction of the Miami line-up at the start of last night’s game, I found it humorous that (regular Red Sox announcer) Sean McDonough noted that the Canes only lineup change from the first game was to flip-flop Richard Gianotti and Roger Tomas between the 8th and 9th slots in the line-up. McDonough noted that this was because the Canes were facing a lefty in Fullerton’s Ricky Romero. On the surface, this makes sense. It is common in baseball for a manager to try to optimize his line-up with lefties and righties (alternating them) in the order, particularly when facing a lefty. However, McDonough failed to note that both Tomas and Gianotti are switch-hitters, meaning that when the face left handed pitchers they bat right handed, and when they face right handed pitchers they bat left handed. So it’s pretty unlikely that the reason for Morris’s lineup-change was that the Canes were facing a lefty. It would be nice if the announcers could do a minimal amount of due diligence before they give us their insight. Knowing how to pronounce a player’s name or the fact that he bats from both sides of the plate is not too much to ask.


Post a Comment

<< Home