The Miami Hurricanes have had an outstanding season to this point. After going 45-11 on the regular season, winning the ACC Regular Season championship and winning a 3rd consecutive ACC Coastal Division championship, the Canes were awarded the #3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. That means the Canes will host the Coral Gables Regional, and would also host Super Regionals, should they advance. Let's take a quick look at how the Canes got here.
Richard Lewis / Miami Athletics
#1 seed Miami Hurricanes (45-11)
The Canes enter Regionals as one of the best teams in America for the 2016 season. Having earned the 3rd overall seed in the 64 team tournament, Miami's performance this season has garnered widespread respect. With 45 wins and an ACC Regular Season Championship already to their credit, the Hurricanes, who appear in their NCAA-Record 44th consecutive NCAA Baseball Tournament, are a talented bunch who know how to get the job done.
7 Hurricanes were named to All-ACC teams, led by Golden Spikes Semi-Finalist C Zack Collins, who enters Regionals tied for 1st nationally in walks (66), 2nd nationally in On-Base percentage (.540), and with a healthy stat line of .364 average, 12 HR and 52 RBI. Collins plays a premium position, has immense power to all fields, and is a surefire 1st round pick in next week's MLB Draft.
Joining Collins in anchoring the middle of the lineup is SS Brandon Lopez, the Canes' leading hitter with a .368 average, 13 doubles, and 41 RBIs. Lopez was recently named a semi-finalist for the Brooks Wallace Award, given annually to the Nation's best Shortstop. Speedy leadoff man CF Carl Chester (.336 average, 16 steals) and 2B Johnny Ruiz (.343 average, 17 extra base hits, and 50 RBIs) are other standouts at the top of the Canes' lineup.
Miami has even more depth in the lineup. 1B Christopher Barr is a smart hitter in the 2 hole and slick fielder. RF Willie Abreu and LF Jacob Heyward both have immense amounts of power, but can fall victim to strikeouts. 3B Edgar Michelangeli, he of the EPIC bat flip in the ACC tournament, has stepped up big in his first season in a starting role.
Miami has a potent offense from top to bottom of the order. The Canes enter Regionals with a .300 team batting average, 561 total hits, 144 extra base hits, an On-Base percentage of .399, and scoring 7.0 runs per game. The Canes can be prone to strike out, however, having done so 414 times already this season.
The Miami Pitching staff has been solid this season, but not as elite as in years past. Starter LHP Michael Mediavilla (10-1, 3.23 ERA, .230 BA against, 1.27 WHIP) has stepped into the role as staff ace after a Freshman All-American season as a setup man a year ago. Mid-week starter RHP Jesse Lepore (9-0, 2.17 ERA, .220 BA against, 1.17 WHIP) has improved greatly over the course of the year, and Sunday Starter LHP Danny Garcia (9-3, 3.62 ERA, 1.40 WHIP) has been solid from the jump.
LHP Thomas Woodrey (5-4, 5.00 ERA, .307 BA against, 1.63 WHIP) has struggled this year. He was a 2nd team All-ACC pick in 2015, but has really struggled this season. So much so that he was recently demoted from the rotation to the bullpen. Woodrey is a soft throwing control artist, and the only lefty in Miami's bullpen. He will need to find his groove soon to be a weapon out of the pen for the Canes.
The bullpen lost sidewinding RHP Cooper Hammond to a torn UCL and Tommy John surgery early in the year. Freshmen Frankie Bartow (4-0, 2.96 ERA, 36 appearances), Andrew Cabezas (2-1, 4.86 ERA, 23 appearances), and Kevin Pimentel (2-0, 3,.78 ERA, 17 appearances) have been the workhorses out of the pen over the course of this season.
No conversation about the Miami bullpen can be complete without mentioning Closer Bryan Garcia (2-0, 1.98 ERA, 15 saves, .179 BA against, 1.17 WHIP, 13.78 K/9). The junior recently set the Canes all-time saves mark, closing his 40th career game in the ACC tournament, and is one of the top closers in the nation. He's let runners get on in the 9th in recent weeks, but even still, Garcia is a shutdown closer and arguably the best in Canes history.
When you combine the offense and pitching (and defense, which has been more solid this year than in recent years), it's easy to see why this team has won 45 games to this point. When you consider that the Canes are 32-6 in games played at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field this year, it's easy to understand why the expectation is that this team will earn it's way to Omaha for the College World Series.
Joining the Canes in the Coral Gables Regional are 3 teams who would love to ruin Miami's season. Let's meet them.
#2 seed Florida Atlantic Owls (38-17)
The Owls are a team who has had intermittent postseason experience, last having appeared in Regionals in 2013. With a veteran team, the Owls look to advance to the Super Regionals for the first time since 2002.
FAU is a team that has played a tough non-conference schedule, and they hope it pays off in the post season. The Owls split 2 games with Miami on the year, split 2 games with #13 Rice, took 2 of 3 games vs Rutgers, and swept #11 Mississippi State (a Regional Host in the 2016 Baseball Tournament) in a 2 game series in Starkville earlier this season. That kind of non-conference schedule leaves FAU, the 2016 Conference USA Regular Season Champions, well prepared for Regionals.
Leading the way for 17th ranked FAU is Conference USA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year SS CJ Chatham. Chatham, once an under-the-radar recruit from local American Heritage but now a top 100 MLB draft prospect, has been a revelation for FAU this year, hitting .367 on the year, with 25 extra base hits, 48 runs scored, 49 RBIs, and an OPS of 1.009. Basically, whatever FAU has needed, Chatham has provided.
Chatham is a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, College Baseball's version of the Heisman, and one of 11 semi-finalists for the Brooks Wallace Award for the Nation's Best Shortstop. In a regional that features Canes C Zack Collins, Chatham might be the best player in this field. Yeah, he's THAT good.
While FAU leans on Chatham to lead their offensive attack, there are other players who make the Owls' offense formidable. 3B Austin Langham (.328), DH Gunnar Lambert (.315), 1B Esteban Puerta (.311), and C Tyler Frank (.302), a Freshman All-Conference USA player, are all dangerous hitters. OF Christian Dicks and OF Billy Endris are also good players who can add to the Owls' offensive attack.
Pitching wise, FAU's normal weekend starters are solid. Friday Night starter Marc Stewart (6-0, 3.38 ERA), Saturday Night Starter Brandon Rhodes (7-3, 3.96 ERA), both 2nd team All-Conference USA players, lead the way. David McKay (3-5, 3.75 ERA) and 2-way player Sean Labsan (5-1, 1.98 ERA in 10 starts) are other talented starters who could pitch a big game for the Owls. Nick Swan (3-0, 2.94 ERA in 18 appearances/2 starts) earned Freshman All-Conference USA honors for his performance this season.
The best pitcher on FAU's staff, however, is Closer Cameron Ragsdale (0-1, 1.67 ERA, 15 saves, .179 BA against, 21Ks in 23 appearances). Ragsdale was a 2nd team All-Conference USA pick based on his strong 2015 season. If FAU can get to the 9th with a lead, they could be in a very good spot to win any game.
FAU is a good team, and worthy of their #2 seed in Regionals. If Chatham can stay hot, and the pitching can get the ball to Ragsdale with a lead in the 9th, the Owls could make some noise and possibly earn their way to Super Regionals.
#3 Seed Long Beach State Dirtbags (36-20)
Long Beach State is a team that has had a wealth of postseason success in the past, and look to rekindle that in the present. LBSU is back in Regionals for the first time since 2014 when they were the 2 seed in the Gainesville Regional. They look to advance to their first Super Regional since 2004, and their first College World Series since 1998.
The affectionately nicknamed Dirtbags have played a nice schedule of teams on the West Coast. They beat traditional powerhouse UCLA, took 2 of 3 games against Arizona State, Nebraska (a Regional Team), and Oklahoma. LBSU also played UC Santa Barbara (the 2-seed in the Nashville Regional), losing 2 of 3 to the Gauchos. The Dirtbags split the season series with Cal State Fullerton, who ended up winning the Big West Conference and earned the #2 seed in the Starkville Regional. Playing that kind of quality schedule has Long Beach well prepared for Regionals.
Leading the way for the Dirtbags' balanced offense are 1B Daniel Jackson (.326), C David Banuelos (.327), OF Brock Lundquist (.314), Big West Defensive Player of the Year SS Garrett Hampson (.305), and DH Luke Rasmussen (.293). The Dirtbags sport a .269 team batting average, and score 5.16 runs per game. With no player on the roster having hit more than 5 homeruns on the year, this is a scrappy bunch that will look to play small ball to push across runs, and back that up with tough pitching and stingy defense.
Speaking of LBSU pitching, sophomore Darren McCaughan (10-1, 1.98 ERA, .191 BA against, 0.82 WHIP, 1 complete game shutout, 3 combined shutouts) was named Big West pitcher of the year after a very strong season. McCaughan may pitch the opener vs. FAU, or be held back for a potential 2nd game matchup against Miami.
Starters Tanner Brown (7-4, 3.36 ERA) and Chris Mathewson (7-5, 3.78 ERA) are good, but McCaughan is clearly the star of this group.
Out of the bullpen, Long Beach State has used several pitchers. Bullpen arms Ty Provencher (3-2, 2.30 ERA, 2 saves in 21 appearances), Lucas Jacobsen (0-1, 3.29 ERA in 22 appearances), and Austin McGeorge (1-0, 0.91 ERA, 5 saves, bullpen high 49.2 innings, 13.26 K/9 in team high 31 appearances) lead the way in the middle innings, and Closer Chris Rivera (2-2, 4.00 ERA, 13 saves in 26 appearances) shuts the door at the end.
Long Beach State is a team with great history and very good talent. They pitch and play defense with the best teams in the Country. If they can find some offense to go with their pitching/defense combo, they could be a tough out in this Regional.
#4 Seed Stetson Hatters (29-29)
The Hatters made it into the NCAA Baseball tournament by virtue of a 4-0 run to the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship last week. Entering the Conference Tournament at 25-29 on the year, few thought Stetson would emerge with the league's automatic bid to Regionals. The Hatters, however, pulled off the magical run they needed.
Stetson is a team that has been to Regionals many times in the past, but this is their first trip to Regionals since 2011, Stetson enters the Coral Gables Regional looking to advance to their first ever Super Regional in Program History. This is Stetson's 4th appearance in the Coral Gables Regional. Previous appearances were as the 2 seed in 2001 when the Canes made a run to win their 4th National Championship, 1990, and 1982.
The Hatters' offensive attack is led by RF John Fussell (.342 average, 12 extra base hits, 24 runs, 32 RBIs) and LF Kirk Sidwell (.321 average, 10 extra base hits, 20 runs, 23 RBIs). Other offensive leaders are CF Vance Vizcaino (47 runs) and 3B Cory Reid (7 HR and 37 RBI).
From the mound, starters Brooks Wilson (5-6, 2.90 ERA) and Mitchell Jordan (6-5, 4.04 ERA) are the standouts. Jordan was a top pitcher at the Cape Cod league last summer with an 8-1 record and 0.20 ERA, so he has talent. Stetson has used 7 other pitchers in starting roles behind Wilson and Jordan, so there's some experience there, but the talent level drops off precipitously after those top 2 starters.
Closer Walker Sheller (2-3, 1.21 ERA, 12 saves, .210 BA against, 8.66 K/9) has been very good for Stetson at the back of the bullpen. The Hatters will have to see if they will be able to get him the ball in the 9th with a lead.
For the uninitiated, Regionals in the NCAA baseball tournament are double elimination. The last team standing once all others have been doubly eliminated advances to the Super Regionals. The schedule for the Coral Gables Regional is right here:
So, the winner of Florida Atlantic-Long Beach State plays the winner of Stetson-Miami with a chance to advance to the championship level of Regionals.
Likewise, the loser of Florida Atlantic-Long Beach State plays the loser of Stetson-Miami in an elimination game.
How have the teams in the Coral Gables Regional fared against one another in the past? Take a look at this handy chart:
|vs Miami||vs FAU||vs Long Beach State||vs Stetson|
|Long Beach State||8-16||0-0||X||0-0|
So, not only has Miami played all 3 of the teams in the Coral Gables Regional in previous years, they have dominated the series' against all 3 opponents.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Miami is the top seed in this Regional, and the #3 overall National Seed in this 64 team tournament. While the other teams have some quality to them and have earned the right to be here, it would be shocking if any team other than Miami were to emerge victorious from the Coral Gables Regional.
The action starts Friday afternoon at 1pm, and you can catch all the action at Mark Light Field if you're local, or on ESPN3.com/WatchESPN app if you're not.
#1 Miami: LHP Danny Garcia (9-3, 3.62 ERA) vs #4 Stetson: RHP Mitchell Jordan (6-5, 4.04 ERA)
#2 FAU: RHP Marc Stewart (6-0, 3.30 ERA) vs #3 Long Beach State: RHP Darren McCaughan (10-1, 1.98 ERA)