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Mizzou Softball: Offense Can't Carry the Pitching

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The Tigers scored in bunches while on their visit to Knoxville, but only had one win to show for it for the weekend series. What went wrong? Switzy and The Beef take a look

Tori and the pitching staff are going to need to get better in a hurry with Auburn coming to town
Tori and the pitching staff are going to need to get better in a hurry with Auburn coming to town
The Beef

The Beef:

First off, some news of the rankings yesterday, as the Tigers now find themselves 20th in the polls, but debuted at #10 in the RPI, as all five of their losses have come against teams in the Top 25.  So there's that.  But still lots to talk about this week Switzy, as the Tigers were rained out of their midweek clash against Missouri State before they headed down to Knoxville for a big, weekend series against the Volunteers.  The offense kept on keeping on, scoring 20 runs over the three games.  However, the pitching fell upon some hard times, giving up a remarkable 30 runs as the Tigers could only salvage one game of the three (and were pretty fortunate to do so).

So where do you want to start?  Good stuff or bad stuff?

Switzy:

Ugh. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way.

Tori Finucane pitches 4 innings total in the series - despite appearing in all 3 games - and she gave up 12 hits, 6 walks, a hit batter, and 13 earned runs. It was a horrid performance, and a worrisome one. I still haven't heard anything concrete about any injuries, but this kind of drubbing raises eyebrows from any player, nonetheless the reigning SEC freshman of the year. If this is primarily a performance issue, rather than a physical one, she's going to need to turn things around quickly because the SEC schedule is loaded.

Paige Lowary was pretty bad too, but (OPTIMISM ALERT), only really for one inning. In the second game of the series, she kicked things off by issuing free pass after free pass after long ball, and gave up a whopping 6 runs in the bottom of the first. But in the other 10 innings she pitched, she only allowed 4 earned runs. With the way the Tigers have been hitting, they'll win most games at that level of pitching. That's not to say there isn't room for improvement, but there has to be some light...and Lowary's ability to a) keep plugging away as the Tigers came back on Saturday and b) come in and largely stabilize things for another comeback effort on Sunday shows well for her continued performance in SEC play this season.

For my money, hitter gonna hit. At some point, the Mizzou pitching staff was going to start giving up homers to some of these tough teams. The problem was all the free baserunners given up around those homers. The staff combined to walk 15 batters in the 20 innings played this weekend, and hit 5 more. That's 20 free baserunners. The skill level is there to prevent the big hits in the first place; until that develops fully, though, there has got to be a greater emphasis on control and keeping the basepaths empty for the big bats to come.

Where do you fall on this pitching thing, Beef? Should Mizzou fans be worried?

The Beef:

So while this is not (at all) an "I told you so" moment, I have been a little worried about the pitching (especially of Tori) for a little while now. Like you, I’ve not heard of anything specific about the nature of any injury beyond what my eyes told me in the Notre Dame game with the athletic tape on the shoulder. That weekend, her lack of sharpness was exacerbated by the offensive futility, which certainly was a very fair assessment. She would not pitch again that weekend, but would certainly look pretty darn decent against USC the following weekend and SEMO during the week, going 15 innings and giving up 7 hits and two earned runs, K’ing 12 and walking 3 (with 1 HBP).

However, she started to lose that sharpness again in the weekend before last, going 12.1 innings and giving up 13 hits and 7 runs (all earned), though only with 2 walks and 16 K’s. And with the stats you offered below (4 innings, 12 hits, 13 runs (all earned) with 6 BB’s and 5 K’s, I guess you could see the increase in walks really being a damming piece of evidence. Certainly, there were lots of walks all weekend from all pitchers, so who knows, but what I have not seen almost at ALL this season has been just the flat-out dominance that we did see at points last year. When she’s been at her best this year, she has certainly been good enough to win, but not over-powering. But when she has been a little off, the offense has covered of late and then she got REALLY off this past weekend.

As for Paige, I think your feedback is pretty fair. One BAD inning was bad, but the rest was not AWFUL. Not great, but certainly not terrible.

And to close out the pitching staff, Cheyenne Baxter has been off a bit in the past few weeks since pitching as well as she did in relief earlier in the season. Hopefully she can turn it around a bit as well, since having another option could help mitigate one of the pitchers getting overworked if the other is out of sorts.

So let’s start cheering people up and looking at the hitting from the weekend. 20 runs is nothing to scoff at, and I found it all the more impressive that it was done with Taylor Gadbois going 2/11 for the series (and getting both of those hits in the Sunday finale). Who stood out to you this weekend at the plate?

Switzy:

Once again, I'll lead with Kelsea Roth, who continued her impressive turnaround by going 4-7 with 3 runs, 3 RBI, a HR, and 4 walks. Amanda Sanchez continued her nice freshman season with hits in all three games (combined 4-10 with 2 runs, 3 RBI, and a HR), and Angela Randazzo (4-10, HR) and Sami Fagan (4-9, 4 RBI) were key contributors as well.

What really stood out, though, was that the production at the plate was really spread out. No one player took hold and dominated the weekend, and almost everyone featured prominently at some point or another. Mizzou managed 4 HR - all by different players. Four players had 2 or more RBI over the weekend; five scored 2 or more runs. It's what I think of as a hallmark of a quality offensive team...not everyone has to be "on" for it to work. If at some point it is all on (as you mention, Gadbois had another slow weekend, while Crane and Mack were below average) this team could put up 15-20 runs in a game.

If Tori finds her groove again, if Paige can settle in a bit more, if Baxter can give those quality innings she was giving earlier this year...well, that would make things really easy. As it stands, the offense has to keep it up though. I'm impressed that they didn't wilt under the pressure this weekend, and now they finally get a chance to be back in Missouri for a bit. Care to preview our mid-week opponent?

The Beef:

So if the bats stay hot, they are going to LOVE Illinois, who we have for two games later today at Lindenwood University in lovely St. Charles, MO, provided the weather holds. The Illini are 8-19 with a team ERA 6.07. They have given up 228 hits in 166 innings with 107 BB’s and only 91 K’s. They also have surrendered 74 XBH, including 32 HRs on the season. No one on the team has an ERA below 5.78 (though she has only thrown 13.1 innings) and the ERA of their most used starter is 5.89 (Breanna Wonderly). The batting average against is .326 and with some pretty poor fielding to boot (no pun intended) which is responsible for almost 40 unearned runs, the team has struggled to get some wins.

On the other hand, their offense is actually not bad, which, given our current pitching concerns, is not terribly exciting to see. They are lead by Kylie Johnson, who hits over .400 and has 8 SB’s on the year (team high). In the power department, Nicole Evans appears to be an all-or-nothing threat, with 9 HR’s but a batting average just above .250. Allie Bauch has a nice, all-around game at the plate with a .341 average and 4 HR’s, but has been trouble in the field with 11 errors. The team does not walk much (72) and strikes out a good deal (121) while giving up 46 SB’s in 58 chances.

Looking at their schedule, they did beat an SEC team in Mississippi State (in Stark-vegas no less) 4-3 back in February. They got a last second touchdown to beat Georgia Southern 14-10 and recently they gave up 28 runs to Minnesota (while only scoring 5) in getting swept this past weekend.

Do you want to set our sights on Auburn before we close this out?

Switzy:

Auburn is arguably the opponent I want to see least coming off of last week's pitching performance. They earn their keep at the plate, with a TEAM batting average of .381. On March 6th, they defeated #13 Arizona 20-2 in 5 innings. They just swept 12th-ranked Kentucky. This is going to be a challenge for the good Tigers.

Besides the gaudy batting average, Auburn also has tremendous power, featuring a trio of hitters (Emily Carosone, Jade Rhodes, and Kasey Cooper) already with double digit HR, and 3 others with 6 or more. Oh, and their leadoff hitter, Tiffany Howard, is hitting .545. For teams looking to pitch around these bats...they'll kindly accept your offer of a free base; the team has 180 walks already on the season (with 131 strikeouts, for comparison).

Bright side: Um. They don't steal many bases.

So with that type of hitting, their pitching/defense doesn't really need to be all that great. But they've only committed 16 errors in 34 games so far (.981 fielding percentage), and their pitching is actually very solid. They use a 3-woman rotation, with Lexi Davis (75.1 IP, 2.42 ERA, .225 average against, 67/27 K/BB ratio) having the most starts, with 13. Rachael Walters (10 starts, 67.1 IP, 1.87 ERA, .216 average against, 60/21 K/BB ratio) and Marcy Harper (10 starts, 51.1 IP, 3.14 ERA, .257 average against, 36/17 K/BB ratio) are the other two quality pitchers. Mizzou will probably see primarily Davis and Walters, but Auburn does not seem afraid to shorten the innings for their trio, so all three could easily be in play.

As the saying goes, Beef, "if you want to accede to the top of the rankings, you have to succeed against those already there". Or something like that. Mizzou's finally going to get a home series after all these early season tourneys and road SEC games..can they put it together to beat this Auburn team?

The Beef:

Wow…that is totally NOT what I wanted to see about our opponent this weekend. I had to look at Tiffany Howard’s stats to believe them. Her slash line of .545/.621/.717 (because while she has no HR’s, she has seven doubles and FIVE triples) with 20 BB’s is crazy. That she only has one stolen base is…tremendously odd.

No one in the top EIGHT of the lineup below .333 and everyone besides Howard with at least four HR’s. It looks like the 9th spot is split between someone batting .326 and someone with 6 HR’s (but only batting .266…surprised they’ve not thrown her off the team). Yikes.

Well…I will say that given the status of our pitching, and though we are at home, I am thinking one win this weekend could be the outcome. What are your thoughts as we close it out for the week?

Switzy:

We can only hope that home brings good fortune to the Missouri Tigers this weekend. A series victory would go a long way toward setting the tone for the rest of Mizzou's SEC schedule, and a few solid pitching performances would go a long way toward easing what is quickly becoming an area of doubt.

But like you, I have trouble seeing it happen given recent evidence. I think the Mizzou bats are too hot to allow Auburn the sweep. But I cannot honestly predict a Mizzou series victory this weekend. I'll buy into your 1 win theory. But I will say that I feel confident that Mizzou has the tools to hold up against this team. It's a matter of whether or not we get to see all of them in action. Let's hope Tori and Paige can repay the offense for its recent displays.