2021 2021 College World Series, Bracket Two: Why they can win, why they can't

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

Breaking down Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia in the 2021 College World Series.

Chad Dallas photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee.

Here's a look at why every team in Bracket Two could win the College World Series, as well as why it might not.

Mississippi State (here's a link to our preview of the Bulldogs)

Why it can winStrikeouts. State's 12.4 strikeouts per ninth innings led the country this year. On the other hand, Bulldog hitters fanned just 386 times this season. That's the best total in Omaha, ahead of second-place Virginia, which fanned 423 times in one fewer game. It's hard to score if you can't put the ball in play, and teams that put the ball in play--which State does--can benefit from the spacious dimensions of TD Ameritrade Park. Oh, and Bulldogs found more balance offensively as the season went on, which also helps. 

Why it can't win:  Pitching behind Will Bednar and Landon Sims. You don't want any part of those guys, but despite the gaudy strikeout totals, the Bulldogs weren't invincible across their pitching staff. MSU pitchers not named "Bednar" or "Sims" combined for a 5.13 ERA and 1.43 base runners per inning. As Arkansas found out last week, you need more than one dependable starter and a super reliever to advance towards a national title goal and while State certainly has other talented arms like Christian MacLeod and Houston Harding, it didn't always show up in a difference-making way. 

Tennessee (here's a link to our preview of the Vols)

Why it can win: Because the Vols don't have a glaring weakness. I'm not sure the Vols are the best at anything among the field in Omaha, but it's hard to identify an area where they struggle. There isn't an easy out in the lineup, it's got quality, durable starting pitching as well as a depth of quality arms out of the bullpen and outside of some struggles at third (Jake Rucker fielded .908), the Vols defend very well. Plus, the team's biggest weakness (72 home runs allowed) very much gets minimized in TD Ameritrade Park. There aren't many more balanced teams in the CWS than the Vols, for sure. 

Why it can't winBecause the team's biggest strength also gets minimized in this venue. Tennessee's 98 home runs are the most of any team in Omaha, but as everyone knows, balls don't get out of this park really well. Tennessee should be able to manufacture runs in spite of that because it walks a lot (330 times) and has hitters willing to wear one also (79 hit batsmen). But how many times did the Vols win big games this year on walk-off bombs? Some of those balls might settle at the warning track in Omaha, and that could be the difference between winning and losing in this event. 

Texas (here's a link to our preview of the Longhorns)

Why it can win: Because it's got the best pitching depth in the CWS. Yes, Vanderbilt's staff is regarded as the best top-end bunch in this event, but the Longhorns' best two starters--with Ty Madden and Pete Hansen--actually had a better combined ERA. Texas's third starting option (Tristan Stevens) is hands-down the best in the event, and beyond that, the Longhorns' bullpen depth of Cole Quintanilla, Aaron Nixon, Tanner Witt and Lucas Gordon stacks up well against anyone's, and could arguably be the best. Pitching wins in Omaha, and it's hard to imagine the Longhorns having to throw anything less than a good-to-great arm at any point. 

Virginia (here's our link to a preview of the Cavaliers)

Why it can winBecause we've seen Virginia replicate this script with coach Brian O'Connor before. I see Virginia as the worst team in the field, however, I was also in Omaha for much of 2015, when the Cavaliers won with a team that probably wasn't as good as this one. And this team's got talent: There's ace Andrew Abbott (3.04 ERA, 152 Ks), and that alone gives Virginia a shot in its first game. The Cavaliers also have a couple of talented bats in Zach Gelof (a potential second-rounder in the coming draft) and freshman Kyle Teel (a possible first-rounder in 2023). 

Why it can't: Because there seemed to be some smoke and mirrors to how the Cavaliers got here. You need more than just one elite arm and Mike Vasil (4.82 ERA) hasn't been the second guy the Cavaliers needed, plus, he's not even gone more than two innings in any NCAA tournament appearance. Virginia just doesn't have enough shut-down guys to match the other teams in the field, and its most dominant guy per inning (Blake Bales), for whatever reason, also hasn't thrown much of late. You need a dominant lineup to make up the difference, and while Virginia's has been good, its bunch probably isn't in the top half of the Omaha field. And don't forget, Virginia teetered on the brink of elimination all tournament, losing its opening game both times. With the other seven teams all behind Omaha-caliber bunches, it's hard to see the Cavaliers outlasting the rest to the end.