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There is no doubt that the strength of this Vanderbilt Commodores team lies in its starting pitching. On the season they ranked ninth in the country with a team ERA of 2.89. They are the only team in the country that can boast two First round draft picks among its starters, and they have rode that pitching to a perfect 8-0 record in this year's NCAA Tournament. Not only that, but by going 3-0 in Omaha so far, the pitching staff is rested and set to make a run at back to back College World Series Championships.
The Commodores are led by Carson Fulmer. On the season, the right hander pulled off the SEC pitching triple crown leading the conference in wins, ERA, and strikeouts on his way to being named SEC Pitcher of the Year. On top of that he was selected eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox. On the season he was 13-2 with a 1.95 ERA and a ridiculous 11.93 strike outs per nine innings pitched. Fulmer also has some success against the Hoos. In last year's College World Series final game, Fulmer went 5.1 giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits, and ultimately put his team in position to win.
Tuesday, the Hoos are likely to face Phillip Pfeifer. While not as heralded (yet) as Fulmer and Walker Buehler, Pfeifer has gone 3-0 in the NCAA tournament with a 2.75 ERA and pitched an absolute gem on Tuesday night against the TCU Horned Frogs throwing seven innings of shut-out baseball. He spent some of the year coming out the bullpen as he has leads the team in saves with five. However in the latter part of the season he has settled into the role of Vanderbilt's number two.
Should the series go to Wednesday, Buehler will take the hill for Vanderbilt. While 2015 hasn't been is best year, he was still the 24th selection in the MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.After going 12-2 with a 2.64 ERA a year ago, Buehler saw his record "only" reach 5-2 and his ERA climb to 2.85. Overall his walks and strike out numbers are similar, the difference lies in batters hitting .255 against him this year as opposed to .229 last year. Should the Hoos face him, they can take their experience against him last year as a positive. In game one of the CWS finals, the Hoos touched him for five runs on eight hits and chased him after only three innings of work.
Like Virginia, Vanderbilt relies heavily on strong starting pitching as a bridge to the bullpen. Ideally, their starter will go seven or eight and hand the ball to closer Kyle Wright. While Wright only has four saves on the season, he does boast a 1.01 ERA and is almost unhittable with opposing hitters batting a measly .165 against him. Should Vandy's starters get in trouble, first out of the pen is likely John Kilichowski. Kilichowski made ten starts on the season mostly in the mid-week contests, but has transitioned to long relief during the NCAA Tournament. He's a contact pitcher who doesn't stirke out many, nor does he issue walks. He comes into the CWS Finals with a 2.76 ERA and a .222 batting average against. Other arms for the Commodores out of the pen include righthander Jordan Sheffield and leffy Ryan Johnson. Neither are particularly dominating as both have ERAs around three and neither strike out batters at a high clip. However, Sheffield is stingy, yielding only a .192 average to opposing hitters and Johnson has shown an ability to go long scoreless innings having four outings this season of three or more innings of shutout ball.
On paper this should be a battle on the mound as both team's strength lies in their quality starting pitching. Vanderbilt is rested while Virginia is going to have to be creative with their pitching lineup. However, as we saw last year, anything can happen in the College World Series Finals. Virginia has seen both of Vandy's first rounders, and had some success. Hopefully they can channel that experience, get to Vandy early, and avenge last year's loss to take home the title.