Feel free to use this as the live thread for the action today. Here are the pertinent links:
With only five games remaining the regular season between two teams, there seems to be no time like the present to get into the habit of previewing Mizzou's opponents. Typically, Mizzou plays mid-week games in the actual middle of the week (Wednesday). This week, with the SEC Championships slated to start on Thursday, May 8th, the Tigers had everything moved up a day, as the Alabama weekend series will actually be Thursday/Friday/Saturday. Certainly we will have a lot more to come on Alabama this coming weekend (early thanks to Switzy for that), but with the schedule moved up a day for the week, let's get to the previewin' of the Creighton Bluejays.
- 26-21 overall (5-10 away), 7-10 in the Big East (yep...Big East)
- RPI of 111 (as of 4/28)
- 1-3 against ranked teams at the time (W over #24 Cal on 2/8)
- One common opponent with Mizzou (Illinois). Creighton lost 9-1. Mizzou split DH (0-3, 9-6)
But What About the Stats?
- .232/.334/.361 BA/OBP/Slug (Mizzou - .313/.391/.468)
- 3.48 runs per game (Mizzou - 5.73)
- 32 stolen bases (Mizzou - 88)
- .962 fielding percentage (Mizzou - .967)
- 2.33 ERA (Mizzou - 2.61)
- .221 batting average against (Mizzou - .240)
People I Should Pay Attention to?
The lineup Creighton uses has not seen the amount of change Mizzou's had throughout the season, as they have six people who have started 45 games or more (of 47). The team is pretty well balanced, with 4 frosh/soph and 6 junior/senior in the starting 10. All that said, they are pretty lacking on the offensive side. No one hits over .300, with the closest being senior Ellen Homan at .295 in the #2 slot. What speed they have at the top of the lineup comes from senior Blair Lowe, who is hitting .264 with 10 SB's. The pop (and almost all of it) comes from junior Liz Dike, who has 15 HR's and leads the team in most offensive categories. Senior Alexis Cantu has the same batting average as Dike (.272) with 8 HR's. The rest of the lineup is really without note, as two starters are hitting below .200. Most startling of their offensive woes may be in their BB/K ratio. They have earned 152 walks (Mizzou-164), but they have struck out 337 times (Mizzou - 154). In a word, oy.
Where the Bluejays do have some stats of note is in the pitching circle. Senior Becca Changstrom is the primary starter for the Jays, logging 186 innings so far with a 15-12 record in 27 starts. She has 9 shutouts on the season, and has given up 126 hits and 72 walks with an impressive 235 K's. Teams are hitting only .189 against her on the season and you have to assume the Tigers will see her in one game of the two. For the other, it seems like the Jays will lean on Alexis Cantu who is 5-7 on the year with a 2.68 ERA. She has thrown 62.2 innings with 70 hits and 24 BB's opposite 53 K's.
So What do I Think?
I think these are games the Tigers HAVE to win if they aim to keep their hopes alive for a top-8 RPI. Why is Top-8 important? Based on current RPI (#7) and history, the Tigers seem to be a pretty good lock to host a NCAA Regional (16 sites). But a top-8 RPI would go a long way towards our potential hosting of a NCAA Super Regional (8 sites). Cart before the horse I realize (especially with Alabama and the SEC Tourney coming up), but that is on the table and merits mention.
Back to the games, the pitching strength of Creighton concerns me a bit on the surface. Now, the Big East is NOT strong at all when it comes to softball, and while Creighton is second in the conference from a RPI standpoint, they are 6th (of 8) in the conference. Needless to say, this is very likely a one-bid conference unless Depaul somehow loses in their tournament (on their way to returning to Como for the Regional, since that happens pretty much every year *). Changstrom has some impressive numbers, though a deeper dive of her stats against ranked opponents show that she is 0-3 in those opportunities, having pitched 18.2 innings, giving up 18 hits, 15 runs (though only 8 earned) with 18 walks (!) and 21 K's. Looks like a little patience goes a long way, considering she has dealt 25% of her walks for the year in just under 10% of it. I only found one instance of Changstrom going in both games of a DH, so I assume we see her and Cantu in the games. Keep the bats pretty hot and let's get through these games and then (but only then) focus on Alabama.
(* - a note on Depaul. They are currently #32 in the RPI. As the NCAA's is always looking for their Regional opponents to be from the area as best they can, I want to point out another school and RPI rating which could be seen as similar. kansas - #39. I'm not saying...but I'm just saying.)