To call Arizona an underdog in this regional is the biggest paradox I’ve ever heard. The Wildcats were your 2016 College World Series runner ups, and possess a plethora of MLB Draft talent on the current version of their roster. Given the year long warm weather in Arizona, there’s always a long list of talent to choose from and the Wildcats take advantage. With five National Championships on their resume, and 17 College World Series appearances - we’ve got a sleeping giant coming in as a 2-seed.
From what I can tell, when the Wildcats are hot, they’re on fire, but when they’re off - they tend to lose their games in bunches. When you consider that Arizona started the season 10-0, but finished at 37-19, it’s of note that closing out at 27-19 isn’t that impressive. Their high points are series wins over UCLA, a sweep of USC, and underrated sweep of Arizona State. While those impressive stretches deserve highlighting, we also see Arizona being swept by Oregon State (but who didn’t Oregon State sweep), swept by Utah, swept by Stanford, and an ugly series loss at home to Cal. What I personally read into when I study this team is that they tended to take care of business when favored, but weren’t able to win those big series against highly regarded competition.
No doubt about it, this team is led by All-American JJ Matijevic. A .389 batting average, 29 doubles, 10 home runs, 64 RBIs, and nine stolen bases highlight his stat sheet. Not far behind is Alfonso Rivas with his .374 average and .490 on-base percentage. These Wildcats can hit the cover off the baseball and have two of the best hitters in college baseball. I suppose the only positive note is that the lower part of the order will sport players with sub-.300 averages, but they’re hardly a “break” if you ask me.
On the bump for Arizona will be three starters that have sub 3.00 ERAs and propensity to pitch to contact. Therefore, to beat Arizona will involve taking the bat of your shoulder and producing via hits as there won’t be many walks. Cameron Ming is undoubtedly the ace of the staff, but we likely will see JC Cloney or Cody Deason. Both are top end pitchers and can pose issues to our lineup. I suppose the only good news I could find here is that Arizona has a very “meh” bullpen that will allow us to stay in the games if the starters don’t go deep. From a statistical standpoint, the easy suggestion is to get to the starters early and find our way into their average bullpen as soon as possible (but isn’t that always the game plan?).
While some of the numbers might bode well for the Red Raiders, I did some research and the 2016 Wildcats had an eerily similar season to this one. A solid 36-19 record, plenty of ups and downs, but they got hot when the going got tough. There’s likely more MLB talent on this roster than most teams you will see, and the Wildcats are well coached. The most ideal scenario is for Sam Houston State to get after Arizona in game one, and eat as many bullpen arms as possible on both sides. Yet, as I stated to begin all of this - likely all roads lead to a clash of titans for the right to go to the Super Regionals.