Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports. Picutred: Arkansas’s Hunter Wilson (6) and Dominic Fletcher (24)
Rarely does the championship round of the College World Series pit two true powerhouses, but the 2018 matchup delivers, with No. 3-seed Oregon State and the No. 5-seed Arkansas Razorbacks. Both clubs were two of the prohibitive favorites entering the NCAA Tournament. Each has future MLB talent, with quality pitching and guys who can flat out rake. At TD Ameritrade Park, with its history of stifling potent offenses, neither has struggled to plate runs in the 2018 CWS.
2018 COLLEGE WORLD SERIES BETTING ODDS
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Oregon State -245
Total: 12.5 (over -120)
Oregon State -345
The market has already reacted to the formidable talent in the Beavers’ starting lineup, not to mention the tear this team is on in Omaha. The Game 1 price opened at near even money, and as late as Saturday night, Oregon State was available at -130 in Game 1 and -160 for the series. As of Monday morning, we’re a long way from those numbers. But it’s indicative of the unbalanced action received by bookmakers and an expectation that the Beavers’ starting pitching will return to form.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The 2018 Beavers have been a club on a mission since arriving in Omaha in 2017 with a gaudy 54-4 record before losing twice to LSU. They’re led by a host of 2018 MLB draftees — second baseman Nick Madrigal (No. 4 overall), right fielder Trevor Larnach (No. 20 overall), and shortstop Cadyn Grenier (No. 37 overall).
The Beavers also feature top-of-the-draft talent on the mound in the much-discussed lefty Luke Heimlich. Heimlich went undrafted after news broke last year that he plead guilty to a molestation charge as a minor. Mid-round selections dot the lineup at third base with Michael Gretler and in center field with Steven Kwan. And to top it off, projected 2019 first-rounder Adley Rutschman sits behind the plate.
While not quite as impressive as their 2017 counterparts, the 2018 Oregon State club still posted a 44-10-1 regular-season mark and tore through the pre-CWS portion of the NCAA Tournament with a perfect 5-0 mark, dispatching No. 14 Minnesota in the Super Regional. The Beavers stumbled out of the gate in Omaha, dropping an 8-6 decision to North Carolina in their CWS opener before rattling off four straight wins to advance to the championship series from the losers’ bracket. They posted run totals of 14, 11, 12, and 5 en route.
Interestingly, Oregon State has advanced despite two subpar College World Series starts from Heimlich (eight runs allowed in five total innings) and a pair of lackluster outings from his fellow starter Bryce Fehmel (six runs allowed in 7.2 innings). That the Beavers have advanced despite four starts that would torpedo the championship aspirations of just about any other club is a testament to their depth and strength.
While its opponent’s winning percentage is better, Arkansas went 39-18 in the regular season. The Razorbacks did so in the rough-and-tumble SEC West, where the division is every bit as tough on the diamond as it is on the gridiron. Offense has been the story for Dave Van Horn’s club, which slugged nearly 100 homers this year. Led by Dom Fletcher, Casey Martin and Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas might have the most potent lineup in college baseball, and its ability to put up crooked numbers and turn the lineup over is unmatched.
With their No. 5 seeding, the Razorbacks didn’t have to leave Northwest Arkansas before the College World Series. The club breezed through the regional round with a perfect 3-0 mark, but was taken to a decisive third game in the Super Regional round by a hot South Carolina squad. Arkansas bludgeoned Gamecock pitching for 28 runs in the series, including 14 in the final contest. Unlike Oregon State, Arkansas advanced through its loaded half of the double-elimination CWS bracket with wins over No. 13 Texas, No. 6 Texas Tech and No. 1 Florida.
By advancing from the winner’s bracket with a 3-0 record, Arkansas can roll out its top starters in the championship series on full rest. Blaine Knight is expected to take the hill in Game 1, while lefty Kacey Murphy is ready to go on Tuesday. Both are the sort of strong starting pitchers one would expect from a top-notch SEC club. Yet they don’t measure up to the starting rotation of, say, Florida, and were overshadowed for much of the season by the Arkansas offense.
Look for Oregon State manager Pat Casey to give Heimlich the ball in Game 1 and start Fehmel in Game 2, though those selections could change. The silver lining to the duo’s lackluster outings so far is that neither ran up a high pitch count. Heimlich was even seen warming up in the pen on Saturday night and seemed available to close out Mississippi State if needed.
College baseball bullpens are much thinner than pro ‘pens. Even championship teams usually have no more than two or three arms that can be trusted. If there is an angle to this series that favors Arkansas, it’s in the pen. Van Horn has everyone rested and ready, while the Oregon State pen was taxed with long work in every one of its five games last week.
A final aspect to not overlook is in the stands. With a large, rabid fan base located within driving distance of Omaha, expect an audience in favor of the Razorbacks. In a game played by kids, a rowdy crowd could tilt the field in Arkansas’ favor late in a close contest.
Arkansas has faced a tougher slate in Omaha and conquered it with considerably less adversity. While Oregon State is unquestionably the more talented team, the chalky -245 price is far too steep. The Beavers closed around -300 in both elimination games against a Mississippi State team that isn’t nearly as complete of a ballclub as the Razorbacks. The value in the current market is on the underdogs… er… pigs.