Bruins adapt to thrive at CWS

2013-06-26T19:00:00Z 2013-08-22T09:36:47Z Bruins adapt to thrive at CWSZACK KLEMME zack.klemme@lee.net Ledger Independent
June 26, 2013 7:00 pm  • 

At the College World Series of old, scoring 19 runs didn't necessarily guarantee a team one win. Winning five games with that total was out of the question.

No longer, though. UCLA secured the baseball national championship Tuesday night with an 8-0 defeat of Mississippi State to cap a clean five-game sweep in Omaha, Neb., in which they scored just 19 runs but allowed four, which not long ago was unheard of.

Welcome to college baseball -- and the CWS -- in 2013.

Of course, the Bruins -- specifically, their pitching staff -- had more than a little something to do with setting that mark.

Their weekend starters -- Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson -- posted earned run averages of 2.25, 2.16 and 3.01, respectively, for the season.

UCLA closer David Berg won seven games and saved 24 others with an 0.92 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .198.

The team ERA was 2.55.

This helped compensate for an offense that hit .250 as a team for the season and .227 at the CWS, cranked 19 long balls all year and zero in Omaha, and had an on-base plus slugging percentage of .683.

Of course, opponents' average was .222 and their OPS was .585. The Bruins' ERA in Omaha was a paltry 0.80.

The only statistics from UCLA's season that really matter: a 49-17 record, a 10-0 mark in NCAA tournament play, and the Bruins' first baseball national title.

"We play a lot of tight games," Berg said, according to the Associated Press. "We aren't explosive offensively, but we win a lot of games because we do execute."

• UCLA allowed four runs in five games to set a CWS record for fewest in the metal-bat era that started in 1974, and the Bruins' 19 runs in five games were the fewest by a champion since the CWS went to eight teams in 1950, the AP noted.

It's not just UCLA and its opponents who didn't do much at the plate, though: The batting average over the three years the CWS has been played at TD Ameritrade is .236. Only three home runs were hit in the 14 CWS games, zero -- it bears repeating -- by the national champions.

Widely credited with contributing to the CWS' nadir in offense are new standards that went into effect in 2011 to compensate for the so-called "trampoline effect" in aluminum bats and the location of TD Ameritrade Park, the successor to Rosenblatt Stadium.

The new park, though it has the same dimensions as Rosenblatt did, has fewer wind gusts due to its location along the Missouri River, while Rosenblatt sat atop a hill, and the wind that TD Ameritrade does deal with is oriented in a different direction. Observers thusly reason that fewer cheap home runs and extra-base hits occur at TD Ameritrade than Rosenblatt.

An AP story wrapping up the Bruins' season and ESPN's telecast of UCLA's Game 2 defeat of Mississippi State on Tuesday night each alluded to some consternation by coaches and observers about the change in the game's style. Another AP story said moving in the fences at TD Ameritrade had been suggested.

This, in our book, is silly. Professional baseball's style of play hardly resembles "gorilla ball," but places a premium on pitching and manufacturing runs. Why should playing on college baseball's biggest stage resemble anything other than the sort of baseball these players will be asked to adapt to next?

As with most things in life, prevailing styles of play in sports tend to go in cycles. Reacting too harshly to this particular downturn in offense would be a mistake, as teams' adaptation and minor massaging of rules would less radically bring about a pendulum swing than seismic rules or standards changes.

UCLA has very obviously effectively adapted itself to the way college baseball is played, and the way TD Ameritrade dictates it be played, in 2013. Other teams would do well to follow the Bruins' blueprint instead of trying to fix what isn't broken.

• Seven Southeastern Conference teams have reached the best-of-three CWS championship series in the last six seasons. Unlike in SEC dominance of the football national title in recent years, though, its baseball teams are just 3-4 in those series after the Bulldogs' demise this season.

(SEC teams both won and lost the CWS finals in 2011, as South Carolina swept Florida.)

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