College World Series Finals: Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Virginia Cavaliers
Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (if necessary); 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
One game is just one game in the three-game College World Series title series, which begins tonight, but history has shown us that the first game is extremely important. Since the tournament moved away from the single-game championship format in 2003, seven of the 11 title series have ended in two games. The other four series have been split between the teams that won the first game and those who won the second game. Put simply: Only two of 11 teams that lost the first game of the CWS final series have gone on to win the tournament.
That's why it's hard to see Tim Corbin going with Tyler Beede over Walker Buehler when the Vanderbilt Commodores meet the Virginia Cavaliers tonight. It's not that Beede doesn't have great stuff and the ability to pitch well, because he does. It's that Beede has been wildly inconsistent and could also cost the Commodores the crucial first game; best to give him the ball in a second game when Vanderbilt is either one game down and Beede is a risk worth taking or when the 'Dores have a game that they can afford to lose.
Virginia appears to be set with Nathan Kirby, their ace, starting Game 1. Kirby has struck out 108 batters in 111 innings while walking just 28. Kirby has a 1.70 ERA, has limited opponents to a .174 batting average and has given up just one home run. The only potential issue for Kirby is that while he rarely loses control, he gets his money's worth when he does, throwing 11 wild pitches. In any case, Kirby leads a staff that has a 2.21 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while holding opponents to a .201 batting average.
As those of us who follow the SEC know, Vanderbilt also has a great pitching staff. But one potential advantage for the Cavaliers in this series is that they haven't had to pitch as many games as Vanderbilt has. That advantage might be offset a bit by the fact that their final game against Ole Miss was split between two days, but it's still there. One the other side of the ball, the two teams' offenses are about even; in fact, Virginia has an OPS of .754, compared to a .753 mark for Vanderbilt.
The thing that hangs over the whole series, of course, is that the ACC hasn't had a team win a baseball national title since 1955. (I might have mentioned this once or twice or 50 times on Twitter over the last few weeks.) There's nothing empirical about the #Curseof55, of course; it has no more to do with Virginia's odds of winning this series than trading Babe Ruth had to do with whether the Boston Red Sox won a World Series title. That still doesn't instill a lot of confidence in picking the ACC team even if one is inclined to do so -- though I'm not. So don't call this a reflection of the curse; call it a percentage play mixed in with a bit of conference pride.
Vanderbilt wins in three games