Tim Jamieson's Tigers are flying high right now. They're 18-6 overall, 5-1 in the SEC. That puts them tied with Vanderbilt in the SEC East, along with Texas A&M in the West, for the best SEC record to this point. The big question on everyone's mind: Can the Tigers sustain this level of success?
Because of the past few seasons, they're going to need to prove themselves every week to the skeptics, beginning with this coming weekend when the Tigers travel to College Station to play the 24-1 Aggies.
Three things have made the difference this season so far, and three things are still the same old same old.
A big splash by two new pitchers
Mizzou either lucked out or was exceptionally good at recruiting two new pitchers who have been able to step immediately into dominant #1 and #2 weekend starting pitcher roles. Mizzou almost always has a JuCo transfer, like Reggie McClain this year, who can step in as a weekend starter. Rarely do they get someone as good as McClain seems to be who can immediately be the #1 Friday night guy. Other than looking very mediocre int hat horrible Milwaukee series, Reggie has been great.
The other pitcher making a big impact is Tanner Houck, a freshman, and I don’t think Tim Jamieson has EVER had a freshman pitcher who was able to immediately step in to a weekend starting role at all, let alone be this good. From what I’ve seen, Houck could be the #1.
The offense started out very slow and feeble, summoning up memories of MU lineups past. But they’ve been picking up steam. The the team’s offensive stats are actually better the past two weeks against SEC competition than they were in the weeks leading up to the SEC. Overall, the team BA is .245, with opponents hitting .199. The team ERA is 2.22, opponents 4.18. In the SEC (6 games), MU's BA is slightly better at .249, with an ERA slightly higher, at 2.57. So the stats don't show a huge jump, but there is progress.
The difference maker has to be new hitting coach Hunter Mense, who is being helped a lot by his room mate and friend, Trevor Coleman. I’m not seeing nearly as many times when a Mizzou player just stands there and watches pitch after pitch go by, which has been the knock on Mizzou Baseball for years. This year we're seeing more aggressive and smarter hitting.
The defense is much better than it has been in past seasons. The Tigers lead the SEC in defensive percentage. I have no clue why, but it’s making a difference.
Those three factors mean this will be a better season than the past two.
On the other hand…
Tim Jamieson's in-game decisions
Tim Jamieson is still the coach and still drives me crazy with some of his in-game decisions, especially about who to pitch, when to replace a pitcher, etc. Yesterday’s game was winnable, but TJ took a big risk sending in the big freshman, Bryce Montes de Oca, who threw 95 and 96 mph pitches, but was wild, walking batters and giving up two runs due to wild pitches. This was not the time to give the guy his first exposure to a high pressure situation.
It's easy for a fan in the stands to second guess a coaches decisions, I know. Yes, he does know more than I do about coaching college baseball. It's just that I've seen the same tendencies repeated year after year during TJ's 21 years.
Tim Jamieson, Pitching Coach
Tim Jamieson is acting as the pitching coach, and he’s still staying true to his tendency to find three or four relief pitchers who he wants to use almost exclusively from the bullpen on the weekends. That, along with leaving the starters in for a long time, always comes back to bite him by the end of April and into May when pitchers wear out, get tired, get hurt, and then there’s a bunch of guys with very little experience trying to fill in.
Mack Rhoades in the rear view mirror
The spectre of it being Tim Jamieson’s final year on his contract, combined with the uncertainty about Mack Rhoades, weighs heavily upon Taylor Stadium. The fans are talking about, the parents of the players are talking about, according to them their sons are talking about it, according to a relatives and friends of the coaches, it’s on the coaches’ minds. It’s a situation that can breed making poor decisions and could breed dissension and panic when the inevitable slump comes
Nevertheless, it’ll be a pretty good year. Watching the Tigers take 2 of 3 from the Gamecocks was a blast! Enjoy it for however long it lasts! Don't be surprised if problems develop, though.
And, frankly, unless they go to Omaha in June, smart money is on Tony Vitello being the coach by the 4th of July.