Thursday, May 28, 2009

Baseball America Tallahassee Regional Preview

BA's Aaron Fitt and John Manuel in their weekly podcast discuss the right half of the bracket, which includes the Tallahassee Regional. Fitt believes Florida State will win the regional, but Ohio State on the strength of Wimmers.

BA Podcast

Baseball America written preview:

Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla. (Host: Florida State)

No. 1 Florida State (42-16)
47th appearance, at-large, Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion

No. 2 Georgia (37-22)
Ninth appearance, at-large, sixth place in Southeastern Conference

No. 3 Ohio State (40-17)
10th appearance, at-large, Big Ten Conference regular-season champion

No. 4 Marist (31-26)
Sixth appearance, automatic, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season champion

Florida State suffered significant losses from its 2008 College World Series team—including national Player of the Year Buster Posey and its entire weekend rotation—but still won the ACC's regular-season title by feasting on the bottom third of the league. The Seminoles went just 7-9 in the regular season against teams that made the ACC tournament, but they went 12-0 against the four teams that did not qualify for the conference tourney. As usual, FSU was a much better club at Dick Howser Stadium (going 30-6) than on the road (9-8), so it was huge for the 'Noles to earn a home regional. Florida State's lineup features five very dangerous hitters in outfielders Tyler Holt (.388/.515/.556 with 32 stolen bases) and Mike McGee (.376/.484/.751 with 17 homers and 68 RBIs) plus infielders Stephen Cardullo (.362/.481/.604 with 10 homers and 18 steals), Jason Stidham (.351/.459/.629 with 11 homers and 63 RBIs) and Stuart Tapley (.301/.434/.580). Defense was FSU's Achilles' heel last year, but the defense has solidified this year since the steady Cardullo assumed starting shortstop duties. Florida State lacks power arms and experience on the mound, but freshman lefties Sean Gilmartin (11-3, 3.64) and Brian Busch (6-2, 4.28) are good competitors who will keep the Seminoles in most games.

Georgia lost two All-Americans from its 2008 national runner-up squad, and the Bulldogs surely missed the leadership and talent of Gordon Beckham and Joshua Fields down the stretch this year. Georgia reached No. 8 in the BA rankings after winning a series against Arkansas in mid-April, but the Bulldogs proceeded to lose their next four series to finish the regular season in sixth place. The biggest reason for the slide is pitching: senior righthander Trevor Holder (7-4, 4.34) and junior lefty Alex McRee (4-4, 6.34) both struggled down the stretch, and the bullpen had trouble closing out wins. Georgia still has more power arms on its staff than almost any team in the nation, which makes it hard to reconcile its 4.79 team ERA. But if those arms get hot in the postseason, the Bulldogs are capable of making another deep run. The offense has had its own issues, producing two or fewer runs in six Georgia losses down the stretch, but it is capable of breaking out any time if sluggers Rich Poythress (.370 with 21 homers and 77 RBIs) and Bryce Massanari (.321 with 19 homers and 57 RBIs) can return to midseason form.

Ohio State is the anti-Georgia: while the Bulldogs have gone to Omaha in 2002, '04, '06 and '08 but struggled in the odd years, OSU has made regionals in every odd year since 1991 (with a few trips in even years sprinkled in). The Buckeyes won a hotly contested Big Ten regular-season crown by sweeping Iowa in the final weekend, but a 1-2 performance in the conference tournament and a soft nonconference schedule caused them to land a No. 3 seed in regionals. Ohio State's biggest assets are the bookends of its pitching staff: sophomore righthander Alex Wimmer (9-1, 2.68) at the front and senior closer Jake Hale (1.12 ERA, 16 saves) at the back. Wimmers has a win against Miami and a no-hitter on his 2009 resume, and he could carve up Georgia with his three-pitch mix in the opener. Ohio State lacks offensive star power, but it has solid college hitters up and down the lineup, led by catcher Dan Burkhart (.362/.436/.612 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs).

Marist finished the MAAC regular season in third place but stunned the league's two powers in the conference tournament, beating preseason favorite Canisius twice and top-seeded Manhattan once. The Red Foxes aren't in the same class as the other teams in this regional from a talent perspective, but they feature a scrappy leadoff man in shortstop Richard Curylo (.333/.403/.437), a solid No. 3 hitter in third baseman Ricky Pacione (.321/.411/.531 with eight homers and 51 RBIs), and a reliable closer in senior righthander Jacob Wiley (9-1, 2.65 with six saves). It would be a major surprise for Marist to win a game this weekend.

The more that I think about this regional, kinda disappointed this is not 2008. Probably the top two players last season, Posey and Georgia's Gordon Beckham would be here and that'd be incredible. Anyone who followed the Buckeye Nine last season knows I was pumping Beckham a lot and he didn't let me down carrying UGA to Omaha. But this is 2009 and its the Buckeyes year... just helps those studs won't be in Tally.

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