In the offseason, teams are transitioning and the players are trying to stay in shape without playing any games.
That does not stop the fans and the media from playing games, though.
Projections, analysis, rankings are all fun exercises that keep us entertained when there are no games to watch. Many will try to get a pulse on how their favorite team will perform in the upcoming season, and they spend more time forecasting than the local weatherman. However, that does not mean their forecasts will be any more accurate than the weatherman’s (and around St. Louis, that’s saying a lot).
These rankings and projections set the bar for the season and display a certain level of respect for the team. Teams ranked highly will be expected to perform very well in the season, and that’s because the talent and organization of the team are well respected.
The Webster University baseball team now falls into that highly-ranked class. The Gorloks were ranked ninth overall in the annual NCAA Division-III preseason poll taken by Collegiate Baseball News. After the spectacular College World Series (CWS) run last season, Webster is considered among the top 10 teams in all of NCAA DIII.
As remarkable as that is, coach Bill Kurich doesn’t believe the rankings forecast as well as many believe.
“We’re pretty realistic in understanding what that’s about,” Kurich said. “The preseason stuff, it’s mostly based on how teams played the year before. I knew in May of last year that we were probably going to be ranked pretty high up to start this season. We were prepared for it.”
Webster’s preseason ranking has the team placed right below the other seven teams that qualified for the CWS last year, and also below Birmingham-Southern College (Ala.), a top team that Webster defeated last year to earn the College World Series berth.
At face value, I would think Webster’s rank in the preseason poll should have been higher, and there’s an argument to be made there. The Gorloks defeated two schools last year that are ranked ahead of them this season: No. 4-ranked Birmingham-Southern and seventh-ranked Kean University (N.J.).
Webster also did not experience a large turnover, as the team graduated only five seniors. Among those were ace pitcher David Mueller and the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year, first baseman Tom Henke. The Gorloks have a fresh influx of transfer students and players returning from injury to help compensate for this loss.
All the teams ranked ahead of Webster in the preseason polls, save Birmingham-Southern, lost more players to graduation than Webster did. In most cases, these were impact players for the teams. Still, Kurich pays no heed to any perceived slight in the rankings.
“It was never really discussed or talked about by any means by the coaching staff,” Kurich said. “It was just a matter of where we were going to be, and in all reality, it obviously means next to nothing.”
There’s a case to be made that Webster should be ranked seventh or eighth, but this is not a huge injustice. The team does not concern itself over it because the ranking comes with a much bigger implication.
“We know the bull’s-eye is on us,” Kurich said. “You can take that one of two ways — you can use that, take that pressure and thrive on it, or it can crumble you.
“I would much rather be the team that’s being chased than to be chasing somebody. If you’re doing that, it generally means that you’ve … done some things that are impressive to people.”
With the bull’s-eye on their back, the Gorloks should not be concerned about where they should be in the preseason rankings but rather where they put themselves in the postseason rankings.