College World Series preview: Mississippi State

 Barry Allen and Chris Lee   in Baseball

Mississippi State ousted Notre Dame from the NCAA tournament, extending the longest active streak of appearances in the college baseball World Series, and advances to the final for the second time in school history.

Photo courtesy of Mississippi State athletics.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (48-17)

RPI: 3 (No. 5 strength of schedule)

League finish: second (SEC West)

Coach: Chris Lemonis (113-36 in 3 yrs. at MSU, 254-127-2 overall)

CWS appearance: 12th

National titles: none

Mississippi State makes its 12th overall appearance at the College World Series. The Bulldogs have reached Omaha in six different decades.

But one thing has eluded one of the SEC’s top programs: The Bulldogs have never won the national championship. They’ve been close; MSU finished runner up to UCLA in 2013 and finished third in 1985.

The 1985 season still haunts the Bulldogs. MSU was cruising to a win over Texas and a berth in the championship game, before pitcher Gene Morgan was struck with a line drive and knocked him out of the game. State eventually lost that game and then lost on a walk-off grand slam the next day to Miami.

Mississippi State will get a shot at redemption as they face Texas on Sunday. This is the first post season meeting since the 1985 CWS. Texas also eliminated MSU from the 1983 NCAA Tournament.

Will this be the year to reverse the curse and win that elusive trophy?

The lineup: (Estimated runs created per 27 outs made, per a Bill James formula. Vanderbilt will pitch right-handers almost exclusively.)

1. Rowdey Jordan (S), CF (10.6), vs. RHP: .337/.448/.570

2. Tanner Allen (L), RF (12.6) vs. RHP: .409/.467/.667

3. Kamren James (R), 3B (7.3) vs. RHP: .254/.346/.428

4. Luke Hancock (L), 1B (7.1) vs. RHP: 233/.374/.434

5. Logan Tanner (R), C (7.1) vs. RHP: .295/.384/.523

6. Scotty Dubrule (L), 2B (5.3) vs. RHP: .253/.363/.286

7. Brad Cumbest (R), LF (9.1) vs. RHP: .338/.402/.577

8. Kellum Clark (L), DH (7.2) vs. RHP: 222/.310/.460

9. Lane Forsythe (R), SS (3.9) vs. RHP: 238/.338/.300

Res: Tanner Leggett (R), IF (3.9) vs. RHP: .197/.296/.279

Res: Brayland Skinner (L), LF (4.9) vs. RHP: 219/.342/.344

Res: Josh Hatcher (L), 1B (2.2) vs. RHP: .178/.241/.290

Jordan and Allen have carried the offense this season. They are the only everyday starters hitting over .300 this season.

Allen had a monster season en route to SEC Player of the Year honors. He led the Bulldogs with 91 hits and one third of his hits were extra base hits. He led the team with 29 multiple hit games and 19 multiple RBI games. He enters the CWS with a 27-game on-base streak.

Jordan was hitting .239 entering SEC play. He raised his season average 93 points since March 19. He leads all NCAA tournament participants with 13 runs scored and five doubles in five games.

MSU has five players with double figure home runs, including Tanner (14), James (11), Allen (10), Jordan (10) and Hancock (10). James was the Starkville Regional MVP and Cumbest has shined in the post season as well.

Manufacturing runs could be an issue in Omaha, MSU ranks 10th in the SEC with 13 sacrifice bunts. Lineup balance was a problem for State much of the year, however, Cumbest and Clark--who didn't break into the lineup until late in the season--have hit well in recent weeks, and perhaps the bats are peaking at the right time. 

Defense could also play a factor. MSU has third-worst fielding percentage (.972) among SEC teams.

Pitching:

SP1: Will Bednar (R) 86.1 IP, 8-1, 3.34 ERA, 1.20 base runners allowed/inning, 9% free passes, 38% K (threw 108 pitches on 6-20. 97/6-26)

SP2: Christian MacLeod (L)  82 IP, 6-5, 4.61 ERA, 1.37 BRIP, 10% FP. 32% K (35/6-22, 38/6-28)

SP3: Houston Harding (L) 58 IP, 7-2, 3.10, 1.19 BRIP, 9% FP, 26% K (82/6-25)

SP4: Jackson Fristoe (R) 48 IP, 3-3, 5.81 ERA, 1.67 BRIP, 18% FP, 30% K (12/6-28)

CL: Landon Sims (R) 53.1 IP, 5-0, 12 sv, 1.52 ERA, 0.84 BRIP, 7% FP, 48% K (52/6-20, 15/6-22, 36/6-26)

RP1: Brandon Smith (R) 37.1 IP, 4-4, 1 sv, 4.34 ERA, 1.32 BRIP, 8% FP, 24% K (23/6-25, 20/6-28)

RP2: Stone Simmons (R) 24.1 IP, 1-1, 2 sv, 4.81 ERA, 1.29 BRIP, 9% FP, 28% K (14/6-22)

RP3: Preston Johnson (R) 28 IP, 3-0, 4.18, 1.39 BRIP, 13% FP, 36% K (37/6-22, 36/6-25)

RP4: Cam Tullar (L) 19.2 IP, 0-0, 1 sv, 6.86 ERA, 1.82 BRIP, 13% FP, 27% K (6/6-22, 11/6-25)

RP5: Parker Stinnett (R) 18.2 IP, 1-0, 1 sv, 2.41 ERA, 1.54 BRIP, 24% FP, 37% K (22/6-22, 17/6-25)

RP6: Cade Smith (R) 13.0 IP, 3-0, 2.77 ERA, 1.23 BRIP, 18% FP, 32%K (16/6-22, 18/6-25, 30/6-28)

RP7: Chase Patrick (R) 13.2 IP, 0-0, 1.98 ERA, 1.52 BRIP, 13% FP, 16% K (3/6-22, 7-6-25, 11/6-28)

RP8: KC Hunt (27/6-28)

It’s been the year of the strikeout in Starkville. 

The MSU pitching staff leads the nation with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Mississippi State (744), Vanderbilt (699) and Virginia (653) all rank in the Top 5 nationally in total strikeouts. All three will be on display in Omaha.

Bednar and MacLeod are tied for seventh in the SEC with 113 strikeouts this season. Bednar, a potential first-rounder, operates low in the zone and can be tough to square up.

MacLeod may be as talented, but the lefty had issues locating his pitches, falling behind in counts and then paying for it with hard-hit balls. The Bulldogs couldn't rely on him to go deep into games as the year progressed, but he's still capable of dominant starts. 

The most dominant arm on the staff this season, however, was Sims, who had 85 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings. Of his 139 outs this season, 85 came via the strikeout.

Mississippi State has used 24 different pitchers this season which shows the depth of this staff.  A total of 15 pitchers have made 10 or more appearances on the mound. Sims and Tullar lead the way with 21 appearances. Only five pitchers – MacLeod (80.2), Bednar (74.0), Harding (53.1), Fristoe (48.0) and Sims (46.1) – have thrown 40 or more innings.

MSU has recorded 10 shutouts this season and tossed four straight shutouts against Kent State, Grambling, UL Lafayette and Eastern Michigan in March. The shutout against Kent State was a combined no-hitter by Fristoe, Sims, Mikey Tepper and Tullar.