Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Super Regional Preview

The Rice Owls will be making the familiar trip east on I-10 to Baton Rouge for this weekend's Super Regional. LSU and Rice squared off in a Super Regional in 2002 in Houston with Rice sweeping the Tigers. Then in 2005, Rice came to Baton Rouge for a regional and beat LSU en route to advancing to the Super Regionals. More recently, LSU and Rice squared off at the College World Series last year where LSU won 6-5 on Blake Dean's walk-off 3 RBI double. Both teams are Omaha-worthy, and neither team will be intimidated by the other.

As usual, Rice relies on a top notch pitching staff for most of their success. Their starting pitchers have 19 combined wins, and each has an ERA under 3.50. The Owls' top two starters are both right-handers, which is good for LSU. Of LSU's 16 losses this year, only 3 were against opponents who started a righty. But I wouldn't feel too comfortable. Rice's right-handers are as good as any LSU has seen all season. Here's what they've done this year:

Mike Ojala 5-0 1.73 ERA 62.1 IP 57 H 24 BB 68 K .248 BA
Ryan Berry 7-1 2.00 ERA 76.2 IP 48 H 15 BB 62 K .181 BA

As you can see, these guys are awfully good. The Owls' third starter is a freshman lefty named Taylor Wall. Wall has been a workhorse for Rice this year, logging more innings than anyone else on the team. His numbers are as follows:

Taylor Wall 7-5 3.45 ERA 94.0 IP 80 H 37 BB 77 K .237 BA

It's still unclear what Rice's pitching strategy will be this weekend. Ojala (pictured) is their normal Friday starter, but he's dealing with some elbow problems right now and it's unclear whether he'll be able to go. If not, that probably means that Berry will pitch Friday. But then does Rice want to throw their freshman in a possible elimination game on Saturday? It poses some interesting questions on how Rice will handle their staff. If Ojala is OK, then he'll pitch Friday with Berry going on Saturday.

The good news is that while Rice's starting pitching is excellent, their bullpen is suspect. Common sense says that LSU should have a patient approach at the plate early in the game in efforts to force more pitches and run up the starter's pitch count. Once LSU can get into the Owls' bullpen, they should have more success at the plate. However, Paul Maineri must be cautious not to limit LSU's aggressiveness at the plate too much. It's a recipe that could set the stage for the Tigers pushing some key late inning runs across the plate.

LSU has announced that they'll likely stick with their usual rotation, meaning that they'll use Anthony Raunaduo on Friday night, Louis Coleman (pictured) on Saturday, and Austin Ross on Sunday if necessary. However if the Friday game is a tight one, Maineri may bring in Coleman for a few late innings to try and shut things down. Coleman could then be available to start on Sunday if needed. If Maineri decides to do that, LSU needs to be sure to win that Friday game. You'd hate to lose two games in a Super Regional without starting your All-American pitcher.

We've focused on pitching, but what can Rice do at the plate? They're actually pretty similar to LSU in that they have a lineup full of guys that can hit but no real 1st team All-American type of guys. The guy who best fits that category is third-baseman Anthony Rendon, a freshman, who bats .384 with 19 HR and 70 RBI. Only one other player on their team, leadoff man Brock Holt, has double digit HRs on the year. Everyone else looks very solid, and they don't seem to have any holes in the lineup.

LSU has won 21 of their last 25 games, including 8 in a row. They've also won all but 2 series all season long. I'm betting they win one more, and I like the Tigers in 3 games.


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