Oregon State, UCLA represent the Pac-12 at the College World Series
Pac-12 baseball has flexed its muscles over the course of this postseason to the tune of a combined 15-5 record. Conference clubs have outscored the opposition 102-54, and now two of them have a chance to carry the flag at the promised land: the College World Series. UCLA is making its third trip to Omaha in four years, while Oregon State is returning for the first time since 2007, when the Beavers won their second consecutive national title. The Beavers defeated North Carolina in the championship series in both 2006 and 2007. Lo and behold, the Tarheels are in Omaha this year, too.
The Beavers and Bruins are a combined 10-1 in postseason play thus far, and both feature elite pitching staffs that give them a legitimate shot to bring home the trophy and defend Arizona's 2012 national title for the conference. They're on opposite sides of the bracket, so if a Pac-12 showdown does occur, it won't happen until the three-game championship series beginning on June 24.
Before then, both teams will try to win their respective four-team double-elimination brackets, which are set up in the same format as the regional round of the NCAA tournament. Oregon State begins its journey at noon PT Saturday against Mississippi State, while UCLA gets under way at 5 p.m. PT Sunday against LSU, the other SEC team in this final field of eight.
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To win the 2013 national title, a team must essentially duplicate what they've already done to get to Omaha: win a four-team regional-format tournament, and then win the best-of-three championship series. With that goal in mind, quality pitching will be essential: a team can theoretically play up to eight games in 10 days at the event.
Oregon State and UCLA: The Pac-12's Prospects
Along those lines, Oregon State and UCLA are well-equipped to succeed. Both have been fueled by excellent pitching staffs during their respective runs. The Beavers' 2.27 staff ERA leads all remaining teams, while UCLA's 2.69 clip is also considered elite on the national scale. During its 2012 title run, Arizona only used five pitchers, but all of those arms performed remarkably well. Both Pat Casey and John Savage also have at least five capable arms that they can rely on in Omaha, so mound performance theoretically should not be an issue for either club.
Runs, though, likely will come at a premium in spacious TD Ameritrade Park, so offensive execution will separate the contenders from the pretenders. The rest of the eight-team CWS field has also posted elite pitching numbers: LSU (the Bruins' first opponent) sports a 2.41 ERA, while Louisville has relied on a deep, hard-throwing staff to deliver a 2.50 mark. Indiana, the first Big Ten team to qualify for Omaha since 1984, checks in with a 2.67 ERA, while Mississippi State (the Beavers' first opponent) isn't far behind at 2.77. Neither is North Carolina (2.79). In fact, the only team in the entire College World Series field without a sub-3 ERA is NC State. The Wolfpack check in at 3.09.
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The ability to manufacture runs, therefore, will be of paramount importance. Savage's Bruins are built to do just that. They don't swing with much power, but walks and excellent situational hitting have ensured that the Baby Blue is firing on all the right cylinders. UCLA is built to have success in Omaha, and their journey should be fun to watch -- particularly if they secure early leads for David Berg, the nation's nastiest reliever, to work with.
Oregon State, meanwhile, relied on the long ball to reverse momentum in its super regional success against Kansas State. Given TD Ameritrade's spacious outfield, the Beavers may slightly alter their approach, but this team has the talent to find the gaps and play situational offense, too. The bigger concern for Pat Casey is the health of his bullpen, which was dinged up a bit this past weekend. The Beavers may have to rely on supersonic performances from their starting pitchers. If there's a club that can rely on that, though, it's Oregon State.
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The College World Series is a patently unpredictable event. It's truly anyone's ball game once the nation's elite converge in Omaha, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. Games will be televised on the ESPN family of networks, and full coverage of each Pac-12 matchup will be right here on the Pac-12 Post.
David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He’s a play-by-play voice and on-air reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.