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Preview: Texas Tech takes on Michigan in CWS opener

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Once again the Red Raiders will face off against Michigan. This time, however, the matchup will be in Omaha

Once again, the Texas Tech Red Raider baseball team will have to face a team in the postseason that they swept in the regular season. This time, however, the game will take place on college baseball’s biggest stage.

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely familiar with how the Texas Tech Red Raiders made easy work of their Lubbock Regional field, and then broke the hearts (and copy machines) of Xerox University. If not, just click the links to stories from my awesome colleagues to catch up.

One could say the Michigan Wolverine baseball team has had one of the toughest roads to Omaha, as the No. 3 seeded team in the Corvallis regional, they were tasked with beating the reigning National Champion Oregon State Beavers, and beat a tough Creighton Blue Jay team twice to advance to the Super Regional against the No. 1 overall National Seeded UCLA Bruins. Michigan was able to leverage their solid starting pitching rotation to beat UCLA in game three on Sunday night to advance to their first College World Series since 1984. If you believe momentum plays a part in baseball like I do, Michigan should worry you a bit in the same way Oklahoma State did in the Super Regional.

On to the preview.

Offense:

Michigan has a ton of versatility in its lineup with Jordan Nwogu and Jordan Brewer providing some athleticism and power. Speaking of power, Michigan has four players tied with exactly 12 home runs on the season with Jordan Nwogu, Jordan Brewer, Jimmy Kerr and Jesse Franklin. This isn’t like the OSU lineup, which every bat seemed like it could go yard at any moment, but it’s no slouch. The thing Michigan can do maybe better than most is make things happen on the base paths with four players with double-digit steals on the season. I’m not as high on Braxton Fulford’s arm strength or accuracy on throw downs in this matchup, so it’s going to be on the Tech pitching staff to hold the runners close with quicker deliveries to home plate and check-ins when runners get on.

When Texas Tech last saw Michigan in late March, the Red Raiders outscored the Wolverines 29-10. While that can give you comfort, TD Ameritrade Ballpark does not play as friendly to power bats as Dan Law Field does. Also, a major factor will be the possibility of Gabe Holt’s absence in the lineup, which takes away a veteran leadoff hitter and speed on the base paths. I predict this matchup will come down to the production you see in the bottom half of each lineup, and with that, I will take Cody Masters, Kurt Wilson, and Braxton Fulford over anyone Michigan can trot out there, all day, every day.

Advantage: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Pitching:

If Michigan has a calling card, it is certainly solid starting pitching. Since staff Ace Tommy Henry started Sunday night, I think you’ll see Karl Kauffmann on Saturday afternoon. The Junior RHP has a team leading 2.59 ERA in 17 starts with 114.2 inning pitched, while logging 101 strikeouts compared to just 30 walks on the season and an Opponent’s Batting Average of just .213. Searching for a silver lining? Tech roughed up Kaufmann in late March for six runs, five of which were earned, on nine hits in five innings pitched. Again, that was in March, but I would expect the Red Raiders to welcome this matchup. Also, how could you not feel like you have the upper hand in this matchup with all-star Freshman Micah Dallas on the mound as your probable starter?

While Michigan’s Bullpen is largely nothing special, Junior LHP Benjamin Keizer and his sidearm delivery could pose a threat to Tech should the game be tight in the later innings. However, I don’t know how much we will see of him, given Tech’s ability to smash lefties with the power right-handed bats in the lineup. It will certainly be a matchup to look out for, depending on the situation and spot in the lineup.

On the other side of the ledger, Tech’s Bullpen was nails in the Regionals, but gave us some scary moments in the Super Regionals. If this was a series, there’s no way Michigan holds a candle to Texas Tech, but with a one game set, it’s closer than one would think. I’m still going with overall talent on the staff that Tech boasts for this category.

Advantage: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Intangibles/X-factor:

As stated previously, Michigan is going to their first College World Series since Madonna was relevant and gas cost $1.10 at the pump. While you would think the Wolverines would be in “Stop and Smell the Roses” mode, they look more like a team on a mission to not only make noise in Omaha, but seriously compete in their bracket. Again, Texas Tech swept these Wolverines early this season, that doesn’t mean much in a one game face-off.

Call me a homer, but I would follow Tim Tadlock to the depths of hell with a blindfold on and a parka jacket given his command…and I think I share that feeling with the players on his team. Tadlock knows the talents of his team, how to win given different matchups, and the guts to believe in his players. How many other coaches would pull a struggling Kurt Wilson in what was the deciding at-bat of a Super Regional Game 3 in favor of another bat? This Tech team isn’t winning on luck, it’s winning because the players are put in position to let their talents shine and it’s all by design. Their hard work, their talents, their success all fully supported by the best coaching staff in America.

How can you not go with Texas Tech with this one?

Advantage: Texas Tech Red Raiders