Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, June 29.
Arkansas was so close to winning the College World Series Wednesday night that I guess we shouldn’t have expected them to survive that shocking defeat and win last night. Even major league teams find it next to impossible to recover when a World Series should have been theirs but wasn’t because of late-inning drama. Ask the 1985 Cardinals, the 1986 Mets or the 2001 Yankees. Oregon State got out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, tacked on 3 runs later and left the rest to freshman pitcher Kevin Abel.
It didn’t hurt that Arkansas was fairly beaten before they started. OSU’s 3-run 9th, powered by a two-run home run by Trevor Larnach earned them the win after 3 Razorbacks failed to catch a pop-up that would have ended the game and given the Hogs the championship. With this advantage it still took superb ability for Kevin Abel to shut them out in a complete game-a feat almost unheard of in modern baseball at any level. Only 3 complete game shutouts have been pitched in the final game during the 72 years the College World Series has been played. Arkansas got their last base runner in the third before Abel turned away the last 20 Razorbacks he saw.
Abel wasn’t close to 100 MPH. He pitched much more like a freshman Greg Maddux than Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson. The game went at a more rapid clip than the first two games of the final round and Abel may be thanked for that. On cleverness and momentum the San Diego native fired the first shutout against Arkansas all year. While he’s just six feet tall and weighs 180, small for a righty starting pitcher in today’s game, he still has two years at least at Oregon State. His home town Padres already know his name, considering they drafted him in the 35th round a year ago. He chose college, never dreaming he’d be on the biggest stage and buried under a pile of teammates as OSU clinched the championship. If he wasn’t on somebody else’s radar before last night, scouts will have his name on their list when the 2019 season begins. Abel has a liking for dirt bikes, but before he rides one again he’d do well to think hard and long about what a dirt bike did to Madison Bumgarner and last year’s Giants.
The Hogs remain without a national title while the Beavers won their third starting in 2006. In every round of this tournament Oregon State lost an early game and played their way out of the loser’s bracket to win. This says a ton about their pitching depth, especially when you consider how poorly their two main starters did. Neither Luke Heimlich nor Bryce Fehmel covered themselves with glory, but Kevin Abel and their bull pen did.
While I’ve focused on the college regionals, super regionals and World Series this month, a youth who never went to college is trying to become the next Mel Ott. Surprisingly he’s not Ronald Acuna of the Braves. The boy of 19 I’m talking about is the Nationals’ Juan Soto. In 34 games, he’s hitting a robust .318 and (especially against the Yankees) slamming balls into other counties. His hitting brings to mind precocious batsmen like Ty Cobb, Jimmy Foxx, Mel Ott and the tragic figure of Tony Connigliaro. Soto had only played 8 games above Class A. Now you’re talking Ty Cobb talent without the temper. Even Alex Rodriguez played like a mere mortal as a teenager, hitting .224 before turning 20. In today’s strikeout-happy game Soto has but 24 of those against 23 walks. Try that, Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. Soto’s teammate Bryce Harper, a lefty as Soto is, smashed 6 home runs against lefties before turning 20. Soto has already brought lefties to grief 4 times and he won’t turn 25 until almost Halloween.
As the heat intensifies this weekend, so does the game’s oldest rivalry, the Yankees and Red Sox. This time it’s a weekend series in New York. Both teams made moves to try and buttress their already potent offenses. The Yankees brought up infielder Brandon Drury who had been in AAA with blurred vision. The Red Sox got hold of Steve Pearce from the Blue Jays. Pearce hit two walk-off grand slams in one week during 2017. The Red Sox will send lefty Eduardo Rodriguez against CC Sabathia whose photo Rodriguez presumably saw on baseball cards when he was a teen. Carsten Charles is pitching better than he has in years, though his vaunted offense hasn’t protected him from losing his last two starts to the Rays. In St. Pete, the Astros’ Gerrit Cole will face the Rays’ Wilmer Font. Font is one of the few legit starters the Rays have, as they normally open with a reliever and follow him with a long man. Last Saturday Font started and lasted into the 6th which surely was a breath of fresh air for his manager, pitching coach and the rest of the pitching staff. In Miami, the Marlins will call up their second-ranked prospect, Sandy Alcantara to see what he can do against the Mets in his first MLB start. He had relieved 8 times as a Cardinal last year. His task is a daunting one-he faces Jacob DeGrom. If the Mets sell off what talent they have, the DeGrominator will be pursued more than all of the Kardashians. (Did I say Kardashian? Soap and water.) The Indians send out Trevor Bauer in Oakland. He struck out 11 men his last go-round, making 6 outings in 8 starts with double-digit K’s.0