Gold: Ranking the Pac-12's easiest paths to the College World Series
Projecting the path to the College World Series is like living out a catch-22 situation. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Get an easy regional draw against a team outside the top 8 and be pretty certain you’ll catch a whopper in the Super Regionals.
Take Washington, for example. The Huskies were stacked in the Stillwater Regional with the 11th-seeded Cowboys, aN imposing but not overtly dominating squad. Beat OSU, though, and Washington might be staring at No. 6 overall seed Vanderbilt and its ace pitching staff.
In other words, it’s never easy and there is never a dull moment.
Here’s my ranking of the easiest paths to Omaha, beginning with the easiest …
Stanford: Palo Alto Regional, 1 seed (overall No. 8)
Who’s on deck: 2-seed Texas A&M, 3-seed Cal State Fullerton and 4-seed San Jose State
In the hole: 1-seed Miami (overall No. 9), 2-seed Texas, 3-seed Louisiana or 4-seed Maine
Before a potential battle with Miami’s mashers, the Pac-12’s standard bearer must contend with a manageable bracket on its own field. If the Cardinal’s staff rebounds from an uncharacteristically unsound conference tournament, Stanford could end up with its 3rd straight trip to Omaha.
Texas A&M had a good but not great season, going just 14-16 in the brutal SEC, and the Cardinal’s two other California-based opponents shouldn’t put up too much of a fight.
Miami, seeded just 1 spot lower, has a much tougher path, with the Longhorns and Ragin’ Cajuns fielding impressive teams. Despite power numbers that would make most teams drool, including 112 home runs, which ranks 7th nationally, the Hurricanes have one of the murkier regionals, which could be a gift to the Cardinal.
Oregon: Nashville Regional, 2 seed
Who’s on deck: 1-seed Vanderbilt (overall No. 6 seed), 3-seed Xavier and 4-seed Eastern Illinois
In the hole: 1-seed Oklahoma State (overall No. 11 seed), 2-seed Dallas Baptist or 4-seed Oral Roberts
Few teams in college baseball improved their NCAA stock more by winning their conference tournament than the streaky Ducks. Oregon has been up-and-down all year but is peaking at the right time, though the Commodores might have something to say about that.
Vanderbilt has its typically dominant pitching staff, which ranks 21st nationally with a 4.31 ERA and 3rd with 7.19 hits allowed per 9 innings. Quite simply, Vandy’s pitchers are adept at missing bats.
Can Oregon’s impressive and aggressive lineup (.300 team batting average with 76 steals) rise to the occasion for their first Super Regional appearance since 2012? Once the Ducks get there, it won’t be easy to survive a tough Stillwater bracket that includes 2 very, very good squads in OK State and Dallas Baptist and a good Oral Roberts lineup.
Washington: Stillwater Regional, 3 seed
Who’s on deck: 1-seed Oklahoma State (overall No. 11 seed), 2-seed Dallas Baptist and 4-seed Oral Roberts
In the hole: 1-seed Vanderbilt (overall No. 6 seed), 2-seed Oregon, 3-seed Xavier or 4-seed Eastern Illinois
Washington got one of the bracket’s weirdest draws, with a 1-seed in Oklahoma State whose overall ranking far exceeded its No. 17 RPI and a 2-seed in Dallas Baptist that was woefully under-seeded, as the Patriots boast a better RPI than the Cowboys at No. 16.
Both will be difficult for the Huskies to sneak past, and Oral Roberts, which had the 7th-best team batting average at .321, will be no waltz, either. DBU, which is appearing in its 11th NCAA Tournament since 2011, is hoping to win its second regional in 3 years. Oklahoma State, meanwhile, is seeking its first CWS berth since 2016 after going 11 times between 1980-2000.
Should the Huskies advance, Vandy looms large, as does a potential Pac-12 matchup with 2-seed Oregon.
Washington will need a big performance in Stillwater from its pitching staff, which ranks 4th in the Pac-12 but just 74th nationally with a 5.11 team ERA.
Arizona: Fayetteville Regional, 3 seed
Who’s on deck: 1-seed Arkansas (overall No. 3), 2-seed TCU and 4-seed Santa Clara
In the hole: 1-seed Indiana State (overall No. 14), 2-seed Wright State, 3-seed North Carolina or 4-seed Iowa
Arizona’s reward for its surprise NCAA Tournament appearance? One perilous path out of the regionals.
The Wildcats’ big bats came alive late in the year, and they’ll have to stay hot against what is considered one of the toughest regionals in the tournament. The Razorbacks are seeking their 2nd straight CWS appearance and 4th since 2018, while the Horned Frogs, who went 4 straight times from 2014-17, are hunting their first return visit since then. The teams met in the 2nd game of the year, with TCU winning 18-6. Arkansas, which is led by the stellar Hagen Smith (2.69 ERA), has won 11-of-16 entering the tournament.
Then for the Wildcats potentially come the Sycamores of Indiana State, who rank in the top 10 in RPI and field a pitching staff that ranks 5th nationally with a 3.80 ERA.
Oregon State: Baton Rouge Regional, 2 seed
On deck: 1-seed LSU (overall No. 5 seed), 3-seed Sam Houston and 4-seed Tulane
In the hole: 1-seed Kentucky (overall No. 12), 2-seed West Virginia, 3-seed Indiana or 4-seed Ball State
Talk about a mixed bag.
On the one hand, the Beavers must first get past LSU, arguably the most star-laded team in the country and a particularly tough out on their home field, where the Tigers are 28-7. On the other, Tulane might be the worst team in the tournament and Sam Houston is not especially scary, despite ranking 10th in the country with a .320 team batting average and a pair of studs in Tyler Davis (.432 batting average, 3rd nationally) and Joe Redfield (.408, 15th).
Scary is LSU’s power lineup, which has seen the Tigers smash 117 home runs this year, 4th in the country, and power arms, led by Paul Skenes, 4th nationally with a 1.89 ERA. Skenes and centerfielder Dylan Crews are vying to become the first teammates to go 1-2 in the same MLB Draft.
Then comes a potential matchup with another special SEC squad, Kentucky, which is having its best season since 2017, which culminated in the Wildcats’ lone regional championship. The Wildcats are led by a potent pitching staff that ranks 23rd nationally in team ERA.