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College World Series Preview: Florida Gators

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With perhaps the most balanced team in Omaha, the Florida Gators are the favorites heading into this season's College World Series.

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Since their opening round loss in the SEC Tournament to fellow College World Series participant Arkansas, the Florida Gators have been on a tear. They beat Auburn and got revenge against the Hogs.  Then as an encore defeated the remaining two SEC representatives in Omaha, the LSU Tigers and Vanderbilt Commodores to win the SEC Tournament Championship. On the season the Gators were 7-3 against teams in this year's CWS in addition to their 49-16 record overall (including postseason)

Following their impressive run through the SEC Tournament the Gators took down the Gainesville Regional with relative ease defeating Florida A&M 19-0, USF 8-2, and Florida Atlantic 2-1.  Finally, Florida dispatched of rival Florida State in the Super Regional by a combined score of 24-9. So yeah, they are playing good ball right now.

The Gators are led at the plate by third baseman Josh Tobias who leads the team with a .373 batting average and is an on-base machine, reaching at a .447 clip. Freshman JJ Schwarz and 3rd round draft pick Harrison Bader provide the pop in the middle of the lineup. Schwarz leads the Gators in HR with 18 and RBIs with 71 while Bader is not far behind with 15 and 61 respectively.  Rounding out the lineup are Buddy Reed and Richie Martin.  Each reach base often and put pressure on the defense once they are there, with Reed stealing 18 bases and Martin contributing 20.

On the mound, the combination of right handed starter Logan Shore and lefty A.J. Puk are as good as any in the country.  A year removed from being named Freshman of the Year by Perfect Game, Shore went 9-6 with a 2.50 ERA.  He throws a low 90's fastball and pitches to contact having only given up 1.96 walks/nine innings while opposing hitters are only hitting .227 against him.  While it hasn't been as good as last season, he is still extremely effective. Should the Hoos face the Gators on Sunday, Puk will likely get the nod.  Puk is big, and he throws hard.  Standing at 6-foot-7, he comes at you with a mid 90's fastball that can reach 98-99.  On the season he is 9-3 with a 3.96 ERA. Combine that with a ridiculous 12.3 strikeouts/nine innings pitched and a .211 batting average against and it is no wonder Florida can compete with anyone in the country.

Beyond the two big-time starters, Florida has a deep bullpen anchored by Junior Taylor Lewis.  Lewis sports a paltry 1.24 ERA and has saved seven games on the season (only seven because the Gators are usually ahead by more than three runs).  He doesn't strike out a lot of batters, but he is ridiculously hard to get a hit off of with batters only hitting .215 against him.  Where the Gators are at their strongest is getting to Lewis.  In addition to solid starting pitching, Florida has a number of arms who can go long innings or match up with a batter to get one out at a time. Leading the way is set-up man Bobby Poyner. Poyner is 5-2 with a 2.73 ERA and has contributed four saves in 24 appearances.  Overall the Gators pen has a ton of arms. Overall they have seven guys with at least 15 appearances but less than one start meaning they have no issue with anyone coming out to support.

On paper, Florida is the team to beat in this pool.  They have been top 5 in the country all season long and have proven their mettle against the best of the best in college baseball. They are playing their best baseball at the right time of year, and in their fourth College World Series in the last six years are looking to win their school's first ever baseball National Championship.