Reviewin' & Previewin' - Baseball and Softball

Well...a week off from the Musings as I was spending the weekend up in MN with my folks leaves us with some housekeeping stuff to do as we near the start of the 2008-2009 Mizzou Sports season.  I am going to extend my reviews of the teams from last year out one more week, even though soccer will start in exhibition this week.  So I will still cover baseball and softball this week, with wrestling and a final wrap-up next Monday, while also peppering in some thoughts on football and soccer.

Football:

Considering the absolute information overload so far this summer (where I really have to give tremendous props to Dave Matter from the Tribune...his coverage is outstanding and getting damn close to what other sites have done in the past in terms of its depth) I figured I would try to sum up my thoughts on what I have seen in the first week.  In short, I really could not  be much more pleased with how the week has gone.  Even when something has gone "wrong" and a situation existed where Chase Daniel would miss a day for a funeral, we got to see some great action out of Chase Patton who was able to demonstrate that while we would take a step back without Chase D, the step might not be as large of a jump as once thought.

At this point, the only small area of concern I have seen (and this was born out of a positive as well) is the status of the offensive line on the interior.  Not heard too many huge question marks about the tackle positions, but Ziggy Hood appears to have potentially unearthed a deficiency at the right guard position.  Plenty of time to get that sorted out and even Chase Daniel has said he is surprised at how much the "new" offensive line has gelled this early, but I will be interested to see this situation progress.  Other than that, I will leave my thoughts short and say "the week that was" was about as good as I could have hoped for to start the summer.

Baseball:

So many high hopes for the 2008 Mizzou baseball season.  It is interesting to take a step back from it now after all has been said and done for a couple of months and try to figure out just how successful the season could be considered.  The team ripped off a long wining streak, ascended almost to the top of the country, then fell off a bit due to a lack of a strong bullpen only to recover and still finish with 39 wins on the season.  What will the team return in 2009?  How will the players lost from '08 be replaced?  Lots of questions, but considering that Mizzou has made the NCAA tournament the last six seasons, what will the expectation be for 2009?

Let's start with what is lost from season to season, and you have to start with junior Aaron Crow.  An amazing campaign ended with Crow being one of the top pitchers in college (if not THE top) with a 13-0 record and NCAA victory over Ole Miss in the regional.  Crow had a "record setting" scoreless streak earlier in the season which garnered substantial national attention and ended up allowing Crow to be selected in the 1st round by the Washington Nationals (though he is still unsigned).  Also lost to the draft was lefty Saturday starter Rick Zagone in the 6th round to the Orioles.  OF Ryan Lollis was the only other non-senior to be drafted, but the report is that he will return for his senior season.  Graduating into the draft were OF Kurt Calvert who saw a good amount of time on the field, IF Lee Fischer and Mizzou all-time home run king Jacob Priday.  Needless to say, some holes will need to be filled.

However, all is certainly not lost for the Tigers.  Returning on the mound will be two very solid starters in senior Ian  Berger and junior Kyle Gibson, the latter off a wonderful summer effort with Team USA where he struck out 25 batters in 17+ innings and won a team-high five games.  Berger bounced back and forth between the starting spot and the pen, and will likely be penciled in as a Saturday starter.  Via for the final starting spot will likely be high acclaimed sophomore Nick Tepesch, sophomore Brad Buehler or perhaps even freshmen Jared Cosart or David Rollins.  The key, however, may be what the Tigers can return or create from the bullpen.  Junior Ryan Allen returns as the best statistical pitcher, along with Ryan Gargano and Kelly Fick.  With four saves, perhaps Tepesch becomes the closer for this season if another starter can step up for the last weekend slot.

Oh, and then there is this.  Will it happen?  Guess we will know in about a week, but wow would that be a strange turn of events.  Needless to say, that'd be some boost to the rotation, but I believe this is not likely to happen when all is said and done on deadline day.

In the field, the Tigers will be bolstered by the return of Ryan Lollis to the outfield.  Lollis will be the leading base stealer returning, as well as someone who did not commit an error.  Where Lollis was the #2 hitter for the Tigers, junior Aaron Senne returns as the leading hitter for the Tigers.  Returning also will be freshman standout Andrew Thigpen, who while he needs to improve in the field, did a ton at the dish for the Tigers.  Catcher Trevor Coleman started his sophomore season a bit slowly, but still came around to hit almost .300 and will look to have a better junior campaign.  JUCO addition Steve Gray will also return his bat to the lineup along with solid infielder/pitcher Greg Folgia, who could stand to strike out just a bit less, but still has plenty to offer at the plate.  Solid freshman bench player TJ Schieber will also look to break into the starting lineup.  As it is easy to see, the pantry is not empty for the Tigers.

What seems to becoming more and more a trend for Tim Jamieson teams are their ability to add solid freshmen to the lineup each season.  Like Senne and Coleman two years ago and Thigpen this past season, Mizzou is hoping perhaps one of the pitchers named above will make a mark, or perhaps the interesting story of Garrison McLagan, who committed as a junior back in 2007 and will be eligible to play in the spring of 2009.  This young man is highly touted and burst on the national scene as a 12 year old All American and is often lauded as the best player to come out of the Columbia, MO area.  It will be interesting to track his progress.

It also bears mentioning that Mizzou put two more alums in the league this past season with Max Scherzer in AZ and Doug Mathis down in TX, and put a Tiger in the All-Star game with Ian Kinsler (who went 5 for 6 last night and is batting .319, good enough for third in the AL)

To sum up...where will Mizzou end up in 2009?  On offense, it looks like the team will not miss many beats, even with the loss of Priday.  On the mound however, is where the majority of the questions exist.  Can Mizzou find a third weekend starter?  Can the Tigers find a more stable bullpen than they had last year? That is where the season will be won and lost all more than likely.  I believe the Tigers will get back to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight season, and hopefully the amount of junior and senior talent will be infused nicely by some of the youth to give the Tigers that program-bump they have been looking for, especially on the eve of the expansion of Taylor Stadium.

Softball:

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the Mizzou season was the softball team in 2008.  Remember, while Coach Earleywine had a full season with the Tigers last year, he came on VERY late in the game...in fact...school had already started in 2007 when he was named the head coach.  Coach Earleywine was able to parlay a surprising season in 2007 (where Mizzou was picked to finish 8th in the league and came in 2nd and he was named Coach of the Year) into another very successful season in 2008, complete with the team's advancing to the NCAA Super Regional Round.  The Tigers would rip off 47 wins, come in 3rd in the conference (predicted 4th), finish 16th in the country and have one of the most exciting freshman in the country.  And let's not forget about the monumental 19-game winning streak.  How will 2009 round out?  Let's take a look.

First off, what will the Tigers need to replace?  Mizzou only had three seniors on the squad this season, one of which was Micaela Minner who did not play (she was hurt in her 1st year, then played the next three, then was hurt again last season, so I believe she is done).  The other two were a big part of the Tigers getting to the NCAA the past two seasons.  The first was Amanda Renth, the rock at first base the past three seasons.  Renth would finish the season 3rd in batting average at .333 (2nd on the team in conference at .392) and led the team in HR's with 20 and RBI's with 60.  Big loss to say the least.  The other loss was all-everything Jenn Bruck.  Bruck endured a lot ups and downs over her career to finish with a good season on the hill with 17 wins and an ERA under 3, and a great season at the plate just under .300 with 14 HR's.  So the Tigers will lose 34 HRs of their team's 65, so over half of them.

So what oh what will the Tigers do in 2009?  To start, let's take a look at what is coming back.  And the first thing which needs to be mentioned is future sophomore Rhea Taylor.  All Taylor did in her first campaign was bat over .400, score over 1/6th of the entire team's runs and stole more bases (57) than all of Mizzou opponents COMBINED against them this season.  Taylor has a very good chance of becoming an All-American in the seasons to come, end of story.  Senior-to-be Andee Allen will bring her 2nd on the team .379 average back for another season, and the power will return from Lindsey Ubrun in her senior campaign, bringing back 16 HR's.  Let's also not forget about National Jewish Player of the Year Julie Silver.  Additional freshmen from last season Abby Vock and Kathryn Poet also will return a lot of experience to the field.  On the bump, future senior Stacy Delaney had a great first season for the Tigers off of her transfer from Michigan.  Delaney accounted for 20 wins and an ERA right at 2.01.  Future junior Jana Hainey comes back for her third season off of 10 wins, an ERA of 2.25 and a couple of saves.  Plenty returning on the hill.

So this was Coach Earleywine's first full recruiting class, as he inherited commitments from Vock and C/OF Lisa Simmons last season before bringing in Taylor, C Megan Christopher and C/IF Marla Schweisberger (who may be seen as a potential replacement of some of the power lost).  The coach's first full class will feature four players; two position players and two pitchers.  The pitchers are top MO recruit Kristen Nottleman and top IA recruit Chelsea Thomas.  Thomas jus finished her senior season (played in the summer in IA) and went 21-6 with a 0.25 ERA (which is SEVEN earned runs over 198 innings....SEVEN).  She also struck out 431 batters, to bring her career total to 1567.  Thomas also had hit .350 for her career and hit 15 HR's in 2006, and went on to hit .412 this season with five more HR's.  My guess is that she may see some action, as she evidently hits 70+ mph.  Joining them will be Ashley Flemming from Silex, MO who hit .671 in her season season with good power and Jaydee Young who hit .571 with a 1.131 slugging percentage.  Needless to say, some exciting talent coming to University Field.

What must Mizzou do in 2009 to keep the momentum going from 2008?  The Tigers will likely start the season ranked, just as they did this past season.  The top of the order is very set with Taylor and Allen, but at least a batter or two will need to step up and add power to protect Ubrun.  On the hill, the senior Delaney will clearly lead the way for the Tigers, but Mizzou would do well to see either Thomas or Nottleman step up to be a solid contributor on the hill to assist Hainey.  There will be a good amount of seniors on this team, so making sure some depth is developed this year will be key towards 2010 when Mizzou will need to replace both bats and arms.  But, 2009 is coming and I see do see the third straight NCAA tournament berth under Coach Earleywine and another season where the Tigers will be right in the thick of things in the Big XII, just as they have been the past two seasons.

Random Thoughts:

  • I think I am really going to enjoy the Olympic coverage, which here in St. Louis saw two more HD channels added to cover soccer and basketball...but...
  • Seriously...how in the hell do I end up watching women's fencing at 1:30 a.m. on a Friday night after the bar closes?
  • I LOVE Lebron James in the international game.  Kobe Bryant may still be considered the better player, but I do not think his game translates nearly as well to the international game as Lebron's does.
  • I would have to believe the Olympic symbol for basketball has changed in recent years, considering it is someone flying above the rim currently...probably not how it started I would imagine.
  • Eye-witness reports from China have Craig Sager the owner of quite the red/white/blue jacket.
  • Few better ways to spend a glorious Saturday afternoon than to get over to Grafton, IL (we prefer the ferry) to drink at the Loading Dock.  Perhaps six and a half hours was too much...who am I to judge?
  • And let me add my "HOLY CRAP!!" to last night's swimming effort by the U.S.   'Nuff said on that.
  • In somewhat related news I guess, Rowdy Gaines clearly has no idea what he is talking about...ever.  In the race BEFORE the relay, he proclaimed that everyone was fighting for 2nd behind the Italian Swimmer (who was now dating the French Swimmer's ex-boyfriend...crazy stuff if you saw the report).  The Italian swimmer would finish 4th.  Then he said that no matter how many times he ran the race in his head, there was no way the Americans would win.  Solid stuff there Rowdy...but it was amazing to see the reaction of everyone...all the way down to Chris Collinsworth back in the studio with Costas.  Everyone was just pumped up.
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