The Miami Hurricanes will be making their 25th appearance in the College World Series this weekend. The storied Canes Baseball program has been to the CWS in consecutive years, and is chasing the 5th National Championship in school history.
The first opponent for Miami in the CWS are the Arizona Wildcats. To get a better feel for this game, we sat down with Jason Bartel of our SBN sister-site Arizona Desert Swarm for his thoughts on the Wildcats team, and the outlook for this game. You can read my Canes-centric end of the home and home Q&A right here.
Let’s get to the preview:
State of the U: What style of baseball should we expect to see from Arizona? What are they good at? Where do they struggle?
Arizona Desert Swarm: You should expect to see a small ball approach of get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in. Other than last weekend, Arizona has been exceptional at bunting and using it to their advantage. In fact, if they have runners on second and third with someone like Justin Behnke or Louis Boyd or Kyle Lewis up, you can expect them to run the squeeze and try and score two runs out of it. They've done it many times this year, and every time it's crazy to watch, but it's worked more often than not.
I'd say they struggle with depth, especially in middle relief. They'll likely have to rely on four or five guys to pitch them all the way through Omaha, and if they're forced to get deeper in the bullpen than that, things could get dicey. They also struggle with depth in the field. There aren't more than two options off the bench in each game that are viable hitters that can pinch hit in a crucial spot.
SOTU: Who are the top hitters who can impact the game for Arizona?
ADS: Cody Ramer and Zach Gibbons. Their batting averages of .352 and .381 respectively back that up. Neither of them have a ton of power, but they always seem to find a way to get on base. Then behind them, it's usually Ryan Aguilar who can drive them in. He leads the team in HRs (8) and RBI (51). JJ Matijevic has been heating up recently as well, and he can definitely run into a fastball once in a while with some serious pop.
SOTU: 2-way standout Bobby Dalbec has been a revelation this offseason. Is he more dangerous as a power hitting 3B or top of the rotation SP?
ADS: I've always thought he projects better as a pitcher than a hitter when looking at pro ball. He's always struggled at the plate with hitting above average breaking balls and high heat on the outer half, and coaches have figured that out this year. Last season, he led the Pac-12 with 15 HRs, but he was never able to get anything like that going this year. He's also struggling defensively lately as well, which hasn't been typical of him the last three years, but has had a few crucial errors over the last month.
As far as his start last week, while he has been effective for six or seven innings before, that was the first time he was able to last longer than 7 2/3 this year. He started off as the "long closer", then moved into a starting role, then went back and forth between starting and relieving depending on the matchups the coaching staff found. I think his mid-90s fastball with a nice slider and changeup allow him to be a pretty good reliever at the pro level, and I feel he'd be better off pitching but he likes hitting better.
SOTU: Who are the pitchers that Arizona will turn to in Game One?
ADS: I would imagine Nathan Bannister starts on Saturday. The senior righty has been the ace all year, posting an 11-2 record and 2.71 ERA. He's not gonna blow anyone away, but his command of his offspeed stuff is amazing, and is able to get a lot of groundouts with some strikeouts mixed in. After that, it's a toss up, but in the postseason, lefty Cameron Ming has been used in important relief spots. He was the Saturday starter at the beginning of the year, and his role has continuously changed all year. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Dalbec or flamethrower Kevin Ginkel used if the game is close and Bannister has to come out. You might also see Rio Gomez, the son of ESPN's Pedro Gomez, and then you'll get plenty of Pedro Gomez on your TV by the ESPN crew.
SOTU: How do you see Saturday's game playing out?
ADS: I've been doubting Arizona all year, and I'll continue to do that since it's worked out pretty well I guess. I think Bannister will keep it low scoring for the first couple of times through the order, but Miami's hitters will probably figure him out, since that's by far the best lineup Arizona will have seen this year. I'll go with Miami taking this 5-3.
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Thanks to Jason for his answers for this Q&A series. Be sure you follow him on twitter @JasonBartel, and check out all the great Arizona Wildcat coverage the team has over at Arizona Desert Swarm.