The 2011 College World Series kicks off on Saturday and Sunday with the eight-team field participating in their four opening contests. The Cal Bears will open the tournament on Sunday facing off against the Virginia Cavaliers who are the number one overall seed in the bracket. Their four-team opening pod also includes South Carolina and Texas A&M. The winner of the two opening games will face each other while the loser of the two opening contests will also face each other.
The question at this point is how much of a chance the Cal Bears have of springing some more upsets and keeping their magical run alive. Over at California Golden Blogs, norcalnick took a look at the four-team mini-field to see how his beloved Bears stack up. While the Bears would seem to have some kind of intangible factor on their side, they've got a mountain in front of them if they're going to pull off a national championship:
[M[oving forward and actually winning the entire thing would be an accomplishment on a truly epic scale - and that's ignoring the whole 'program elimination' thing. Rice, Baylor, Dallas Baptist - all fine teams, but none of them are on the level of every other team that reached the World Series.
Am I optimistic about Cal winning? Not especially. The only advantage Cal might have over their opponents is some kind of nebulous intangible that the team keeps talking about - the toughness and camaraderie they built as they played for each other when it looked like there wasn't any hope. Maybe that matters, maybe it doesn't.
In Nick's assessment of each of the other three teams, it's easy to see why it will be a tough road ahead for the Bears:
- Virginia Cavaliers: "They lead the nation in ERA and are 5th in the nation in runs. Yikes. Hell, they're 5th in the nation in fielding percentage too. And yet, they almost lost a three game series to a 3 seed team from the UC system. I'm not saying we'll win, but no team is invincible."
- South Carolina Gamecocks: "The defending national champs are only the 2nd best team on their side of the bracket by virtue of Virginia's comeback win over UC Irvine, but the Gamecocks look poised for another championship after a perfect 5-0 run through their regional and super-regional. In fact, only one USC win was by less than four runs."
- Texas A&M Aggies: "Were it not for Cal, A&M would be the "underdog" of the CWS field. I'm using the term loosely. The Aggies entered the playoffs ranked somewhere between 6th and 8th in the nation, depending on the poll, and frankly probably should have been given a national seed ahead of Rice. The fact that a consensus top 10 team could in any way be considered an underdog gives you an idea of how incredibly talented these teams are."
Technically California only has to beat one of those three teams. Of course, if they lose one of their first two games they'll find themselves having to beat some combination of Florida, Texas, UNC, and Vanderbilt. Cal is an underdog in this final eight-team tournament and it's not all that close in terms of perception.
While the Bears are a talented baseball team, they've also been running on the intangibles surrounding the story of Cal baseball this season. At some point one would think the intangibles would start to run out. Of course, maybe they don't run out until Cal has won themselves a national championship. You don't get to the College World Series without being a good baseball team. And in one-game matchups where five or six wins will win the title, a hot team does not have to be the most talented team in the tournament. Whatever happens, Cal fans will get to continue their magical ride for at least a couple more days. As norcalnick put it:
But I am pretty sure that I'll love watching every minute of it, win or lose. The Bears are playing in Omaha, and it's going to be a fun ride.