Making the Case: Louisville Cardinals

Note: Over the next few weeks, Jacob Dennis will be discussing @ACCBaseball’s top teams' chances of making it to the College World Series. 

The success of Louisville baseball over the eight seasons leading up to 2015 is no secret; the Cardinals compiled a 358-160 record, including three College World Series appearances, from 2007-2014. There wasn’t much doubt that Louisville’s remarkable stretch of success would continue in 2015, the team’s first in the ACC, but the Cards still had to prove themselves capable of competing in one of the nation’s toughest conferences.

Twenty-three conference games later, it now seems as if the rest of the ACC can’t keep up with Louisville. The Cards currently sit atop the Atlantic Division with a 20-3 record and, as the college baseball regular season hits the home stretch, Dan McDonnell’s team looks poised and ready to make a third College World Series appearance in three years.

At this point, Louisville is no stranger to lofty expectations. The second-ranked ACC newcomers have all but locked-up a top seed and hosting privileges in the regionals, but that accomplishment won’t be good enough in and of itself for a talent-laden Louisville squad. After two consecutive appearances on college baseball’s biggest stage, the Cardinals are undoubtedly Omaha-or-Bust in the 2015 postseason.

Here are three reasons why Louisville will make it to the College World Series this summer:

1. The Cardinals Roster The Nation’s Best Two-Way Player

It’s not often that a freshman can garner national praise in his rookie season but, then again, there aren’t many players as talented as Louisville’s Brendan McKay. Named to the Golden Spikes Award midseason list for the top amateur baseball player in the country, McKay has quickly become the biggest threat in the Cards lineup from both the mound and the plate. He has become a staple in the middle of Louisville’s lineup, as his .329 batting average and .427 slugging percentage rank among team-bests in both categories. McKay has only hit one home run, but he has a knack for putting the bat on the ball and reaching base at important times.

Despite his brilliance at the plate, McKay has been even better on the mound. His talent quickly became evident as he worked his way into a weekend starting role for the Cards and, as the ACC tournament nears, the two-way star holds team-bests in several pitching categories. His seven wins are tied for the team lead, and his 1.81 ERA over 64.2 IP ranks first among Louisville pitchers. McKay owns a 3.42 K/BB ratio and an 11.4 K/9 ratio. Just a couple months into his freshman season, it has become obvious that McKay is the best two-way player in America.

2. Kyle Funkhouser And A Formidable One-Two Punch Atop The Rotation

Chances are slim-to-none that a team will make it to Omaha without an ace who possesses top of the rotation skill. Luckily for Louisville, junior Kyle Funkhouser not only fits the description of “ace,” but he is also one of the best pitchers in the country. Also named to the Golden Spikes Award midseason watch list, Funkhouser has been brilliant so far this season. The 6-foot-3 Illinois native possesses a minuscule 2.62 ERA and 1.15 WHIP over a team-high 82.1 IP, as he’s fired the Cards lone complete game of 2015 to go along with his 6-3 record.

As Louisville’s Friday night starter, Funkhouser has the potential to carry Louisville deep into postseason play. He undoubtedly has a great chance to make it into a big league rotation in the near future. But here’s the scary part: Funkhouser might not even be the best pitcher in Louisville’s rotation. The aforementioned freshman McKay has even better numbers, forming an extremely formidable one-two punch atop Louisville’s starting rotation. So formidable, in fact, that the duo of Funkhouser and McKay are arguably the best combination of starting pitchers on any team in the country.

3. Corey Ray Is A Terror In The Heart Of Louisville’s Lineup

Continuing the trend of non-senior stars in the Cardinals lineup, sophomore outfielder Corey Ray has performed incredibly well from the dish in 2015. The numbers are evidence: Ray holds team-highs in runs (37), triples (4), home runs (10), runs batted in (45), total bases (111) and slugging percentage (.572). The top of the Cards’ batting order has been terrific, but opposing pitchers haven’t been able to pitch around talented hitters like Sutton Whiting and Nick Solak because of the fact that Ray looms in the three spot. Ray is one of those players that makes everyone in the lineup better with his presence, and his ability to get on base has provided McKay plenty of RBI opportunities in the cleanup spot. He is yet another reason that the college baseball world can expect to see the Cards back in Omaha this season.

Catch Louisville in action Monday night at 7 p.m. as the Cards play a nationally televised rubber game with Clemson on ESPNU.