Vanderbilt takes a 1-0 lead over Virginia in the College World Series finals

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The College World Series finals began last night and, since those finals are the best of three, it could be all wrapped up tonight. If it is, Vanderbilt will have taken home its first national championship in a men’s sport. Any sport.

That’s because Vanderbilt won a barnburner over Virginia, 9-8. Not that it was easy. It started that way, with the Commodores coming back from being down 2-0 early by scoring nine runs against Virginia starter Nathan Kirby in the third. Virginia chiseled away, though, scoring three more in the bottom of the third, two in the fifth and one more in the bottom of the eighth. It could’ve been two in the eighth, but Vanderbilt reliever John Kilichowski managed to kick the ball on a comebacker that very easily could’ve made it through the infield, preventing the tying run from scoring. After an uneventful ninth, Vandy took the 1-0 series lead.

While it may just be one game, the first game has mattered a whole heck of a lot since the College World Series went to a best-of-three final in 2003. In that time, seven of the 11 finals have been two-game sweeps. Only twice in the 11 years of the three-game format has the team that lost the first game gone on to win it all.

Of course, Virginia already had to do something that rarely happens in order to win this thing, as no ACC team has won the College World Series since 1955. That, of course, is just a historical curiosity that has no bearing on what happens in 2014. Being down 1-0 in a three-game set, however, does make things tangibly and empirically harder.

Game two is tonight at 8PM Eastern. Game three, if necessary, is tomorrow night at the same time.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.