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May 28, 2008

Regional Insider: Ann Arbor Regional

The Road to Omaha continues this weekend, as 64 teams fight for the right to play for the national title at the College World Series.

As part of our postseason coverage, we breakdown all 16 Regionals in our Regional Insider features.

The favorite: Arizona
1. Arizona
2. Michigan
3. Kentucky
4. Eastern Michigan
Arizona has had some consistency issues throughout the season, but enters the Ann Arbor Regional with extra motivation after essentially being snubbed for a Regional host. Though the Wildcats have played average baseball at times, they're coming off series wins over Stanford and Arizona State to close out the regular season. Starting pitchers Preston Guilmet and David Coulon have the ability to be dominant, while relievers Daniel Schlereth, Jason Stoffel and Ryan Perry are three of the best in the business. Offensively, keep an eye on Bryce Ortega, Colt Sedbrook and C.J. Ziegler. Ortega leads the team with a .345 batting average, Sedbrook is hitting .341, and Ziegler is a power producer, hitting .340 with 19 homers and 53 RBIs. If the Wildcats play like they have the past two weeks, they'll be a tough team to beat.
The dark-horse contender: Kentucky
The decision to sit ace starting pitcher Chris Rusin might turn out to be a great decision for Kentucky coach John Cohen. After sitting in the stands in Hoover last week, a rested Rusin takes the mound this weekend. The veteran is 6-2 with a 2.84 ERA in 82 1/3 innings. He has also struck out 65 and walked 17, while opponents are hitting him at a .270 clip. Also keep an eye on UK relievers Brock Baber and Andrew Albers. Offensively, the Wildcats are potent with outfielders Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill leading the charge. Carroll is hitting .416 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs, while Cowgill is hitting .359 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs. Unlike some teams in the postseason, UK's balance tends to present some problems for opposing teams. Will that be the case this weekend?
Best hitter: Kentucky's Sawyer Carroll
If not for some insane offensive numbers by Georgia's Gordon Beckham, Florida State's Buster Posey and Arizona State's Ike Davis, Carroll might have a shot at our National Player of the Year award. At any rate, Sawyer has had a tremendous season at the plate. Carroll enters the weekend with a .756 slugging percentage and a .506 on-base percentage. He has also recorded 21 doubles and three triples in addition to leading the team with 167 total bases. Carroll is one of few hitters that strikes fear into opposing pitchers.
Best pitcher: Michigan's Zach Putnam
One of the nation's best two-way players, Putnam once again is having a great campaign. The junior is hitting .309 with nine homers and 47 RBIs, but has been even more dominant on the mound. The veteran right-hander is 8-0 with a 2.64 ERA in 71 2/3 innings. He has also struck out 74 and walked 21, while opponents are hitting him at a .214 clip. In 11 starts for the Wolverines, Putnam has thrown one complete game. He has also allowed just four homers this season. If Putnam is on, the Wolverines are tough to beat.
The buzz
Arizona, Michigan and Kentucky have yet to face each other this season. However, Arizona took two of three from Georgia earlier this season, while the Wildcats dropped a series to the Bulldogs … In other interesting results, Michigan dropped two games to Arizona State, but split a pair of games with Conway Regional host Coastal Carolina … Perhaps the most interesting note about this Regional, Eastern Michigan head coach Jake Boss coached for Michigan's Rich Maloney last season. Should the Wolverines and Eagles hook up, it would be interesting to see how the two coaches strategize … When the four teams assemble in Ann Arbor this weekend, they'll get a taste of Michigan's newly renovated Ray Fisher Stadium. The facility upgrades include new locker rooms, new façade, new seats and a state-of-the-art press box.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.