To win its second regional in three years, Indiana will more than likely have to go through the 1-seed Vanderbilt Commodores. In order to learn more about the regional host and defending national champions, we invited their head baseball writer, Andrew, to answer some questions in a postseason Crimson Query. All answers are sic.
Crimson Quarry: If there is one thing that Indiana fans should fear about Vanderbilt, what is it?
Anchor of Gold: To be honest, there’s not just one thing. Our offense, though spotty at times, can turn things on in a minute and 10 run rule you (see SEC Tournament games against Alabama and aTm) and Dansby Swanson is on a tear of late. However, the strength of every Vanderbilt Commodore team is starting pitching, and this year is no different. We’ve got the deepest rotation in baseball, and there’s a 2/3 chance you’ll have to face a first round pick in the upcoming MLB draft – Carson Fulmer or Walker Buehler. So yeah, I’ll go with those guys.
CQ: If there's one thing about the Commodores that should give IU fans some cautious optimism, what is it?
AoG: We occasionally go completely dormant at the plate, and/or play down to our competition. There’s no rhyme or reason for it, but we just won’t show up for certain games. See the mid-week loss to Regional #4 seed David Lipscomb back in April. We had a pitcher go 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, and he took the loss, as we sleep-walked through the whole game. Against inferior competition, our boys often lack fire. I wouldn’t bet that they will do that on Friday against Lipscomb, but I can’t completely rule it out.
CQ: How does this Vanderbilt team differ from the 2014 national championship team?
AoG: Philosophically, the new ball has really changed the way Corbin manages. Gone is the era of the "Vanderbunt," where small ball was the rule, and you pretty much expected a bunt when there was a runner on 3rd, less than 2 out. This team can mash. This is going to sound like I’m wearing black and gold colored glasses, but from an offensive standpoint, we’re better, and our starting pitching is as good, if not better. Tyler Beede, though a first round pick in the Giants’ system, was so erratic, you could never really count on him. I have no such doubts about this year’s starters. Our only weaker area is relief pitching, where Hayden Stone, Brian Miller, and Adam Ravenelle are sorely missed. Stone shook hands with Tommy John and the other two are working their way up the minors. We’ve got solid relievers this year, but no one who I’m 100% confident can shut the door each and every time. All three of the aforementioned relievers instilled that kind of confidence.
CQ: Quick departure from Vandy: Tell me about Lipscomb. Vanderbilt lost to them in the only game played between two teams in this regional. Was it just a weekday aberration or is Lipscomb a team to be reckoned with?
AoG: Their team name is, unironically, The Bisons. They pluralize Bison with Bisons. As I said before, we tended to play down to our competition this year, especially before Walker Buehler returned from injury. Move along… nothing to see here.
CQ: Alright, back to the hosts. What kind of home-field advantage will Vanderbilt have this weekend? Is it a lively, stereotypical SEC crowd?
AoG: All Vanderbilt alums resent that question. The only thing we have in common with other SEC fan bases is region and that we are carbon based. There is nothing stereotypically SEC about us. That said, you should expect a sell-out crowd, though the old people (good seats) won’t show up until the 3rd inning, if at all. It’s a good baseball crowd, but there’s also some jack-ass who whistles incessantly. Please punch him in the face.
CQ: What do you expect the Vanderbilt rotation to looks like this weekend (presume for me, if you will, that Vandy will play Indiana on Saturday in the winner's bracket) and what should we look for out of those pitchers?
AoG: With Tim Corbin making the calls, I can assure you I will be wrong about this, but if I were penciling in the lineups, I’d pitch Philip Pfeifer against Lipscomb, Carson Fulmer against IU, and Walker Buehler to close it out against whoever survives in the Radford v. IU loser’s bracket game. If game 4 is necessary, I’d go with John Kilichowski (unless he has already pitched in relief).
CQ: For Indiana to beat Vanderbilt, they will have to ___________.
AoG: Pitch a soft-tossing lefty or keep it close enough to challenge our bullpen.
CQ: Who ya got and how are they doing it?
AoG: Vandy in 3 games, and to paraphrase LL Cool J, "Well."
Big thanks to Andrew. You can check out my answers to his questions at anchorofgold.com. Be on the lookout later this week for CQ staff predictions on the entire tournament, a preview of the opener against Radford, and full coverage of the Nashville regional.