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The 2016 Missouri softball preview

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Switzy and I get back to work, taking a two-day look at the Tigers and their competition on this season-opening weekend

Oh, the unnatural clang of ball on metallic bat is back
Oh, the unnatural clang of ball on metallic bat is back
The Beef

The Beef - Well Switz, the season is finally upon us, and it feels like it has been a long winter to get here.  Last we talked, the Tigers had come through their fall schedule with some GAUDY offensive numbers.  This past weekend, the Tigers took part in their annual Black and Gold game.  Before we get to that, and just because I am curious, any thoughts about why the Tigers did not choose to schedule regular season games in the first weekend like all the rest of the SEC teams?  Any thoughts as to whether it will matter?  I did not even realize it until the SEC Network ran their preview and pointed it out (in fact, pointing out in error that all SEC teams were in action this past weekend).

Switzy - It's a good question, but not one I'm sure has an answer. It may just be that Coach E wants to give his players that extra week of practice and rest before kicking off a grueling season. Or there may be other motives that we aren't aware of. I did see that in first weekend action, fellow ranked SEC teams Alabama (5), Kentucky (18), LSU (3), Tennessee (9), and Texas A&M (24) took at least one loss. A few of those losses were to unranked squads, and Tennessee actually dropped two games. Pure speculation here, but perhaps the coaching staff didn't see the types of games available the first weekend that they wanted as a start (aka relatively easy games). Ultimately, I don't see it making much difference. Within a couple of weeks, the whole NCAA softball community will be well into the season and everyone going at full tilt.

So that brings us to the scrimmage. The biggest news was the lack of participation by starting pitchers Paige Lowary (tennis elbow) and Tori Finucane (shin splints). The Tigers have dealt with pitching injuries/illnesses seemingly every year late in the season...is this a year to worry about it early or is this just a little cautious caretaking by Coach E?

The Beef - I will be honest, hearing about the injury issues for Lowary and Finucane certainly gave me pause.  I know Coach E has been big on talking up Danielle Baumgartner and her potential use this coming season, and we know that Cheyenne Baxter had some nice moments last season and seems to have impressed over the weekend, but this team is only going to go as far as Lowary and Finucane take them.  So while I certainly applaud his holding them back (as he did, for the most part, this past fall), it does make me a tad concerned for the coming season.

So to that end, and while tomorrow will see us preview the actual competition MU will play this weekend, how do you go about building the staff for these six games?

Switzy - I think there are some competing goals that might lead to late decisions. But ultimately, I think the desire to start strong will win out to begin, and we'll see starts from both Finucane and Lowary on their opening day against Jacksonville St. and Elon. In both games, however, Coach E will be hoping to need no more than 3-4 innings from them before bringing in a reliever to close out. For the Saturday games, I think UAB draws one of the two top arms but College of Charleston gives Baxter her first start of the season. Then on Sunday, Danielle Baumgartner gets a start against Stephen A. Austin. The start against Stetson to close out I see as a true tossup that will depend on the results (both in terms of score and of health). Final predictions:

  • Jacksonville St. - Finucane
  • Elon - Lowary
  • UAB - Finucane
  • College of Charleston - Baxter
  • Stephen A. Austin - Baumgartner
  • Stetson - Baxter or Lowary

I think in a perfect situation, all the pitchers end up going roughly 8-10 innings apiece.

Of course, predicting the staff is significantly easier than predicting the lineup. Mizzou has frequently used these early tournaments as a bit of a testing ground for the contested fielding positions and for lineup configurations. In the news that has come out since our last look at Tiger softball, including the Black and Gold game, what have we learned about how this team is going to look?

The Beef - Well, the notion of Gadbois potentially leaving center field seems to have been squashed.  It also seems that Fagan has settled in a shortstop as well.  Coach E has been very talkative about how prodigious he expects the offense to be this season and has mentioned a few frosh/newcomers as potential contributors.  I had a couple of new names in my last go-round of lineup predictions (found here: http://www.rockmnation.com/2015/12/7/9841990/mizzou-softball-our-reaction-to-the-fall-season ) and I think I am probably a little all over the place at this point.   I still love the idea of Regan Nash at the bottom of the lineup to provide some speed and pressure when order comes back around to the top, but I am not sure what to think about Rathburn in the two-hole.  I know Crane has been the proto-typical two-hitter for her career, so I may have been victim to overthinking on that move.  I think the lineup has plenty of pop and doesn’t need her down the order.   I also may need to find a spot for Nelson now that I have moved my infield around.

While I sort things out, what take-aways did you have from the weekend and the action. Just know, I’m also going to put you on the spot for a final lineup prediction.

Switzy - Well, not being able to watch, my observations are limited. But here are a few takeaways:

1. Defense seemed solid. The Twitter feed noted a number of good plays from a wide variety of players. That's going to be an important factor this season so any positive signs are very welcome.

2. Cheyenne Baxter was dealing, which is an excellent sign for the back part of the rotation. She performed admirably in the post-season last year in lieu of the ill Paige Lowary; perhaps she will continue to surprise/impress this season.

3. Regan Nash seems like the real deal and Emily Crane is awesome.

We also have the following lineups, without note of position:

  • Gold: Gadbois / Nelson / Fagan / Pierce / Walters / Rathburn / Bange / Harvey / Reed (Baumgartner)
  • Black: Crane / Nash / Sanchez / Mack / Fleming / Romaine / Sprague / Tomita (Baxter)

There are some details to be noted there, but it's your turn. Any other notes on the game? And what says The Beef about this year's starting lineup?

The Beef - I was really hoping we’d get a specific sense for positions and who was where, but alas, twas not to be.  I’ll be honest in that I took the Black team to have four presumptive starters (Crane/Sanchez/Mack/Fleming), while Gold only had two (Gadbois/Fagan).  I think we both believe Rathburn is right in the mix to see considerable time, as well as names like Nelson/Pierce on the Gold and Rash/Romaine on the Black.  So perhaps these teams were REALLY split very well.  Lots of speed available to this team, and I’m not even talking about Gadbois/Crane/Fagan who combined for a ton of SB’s last year, but also with Nash/Tomita and Cohen I believe as well.  I think Paige Bange is one of the first names off the bench this year, and MAYBE sees some time if Sanchez goes to DP (not sure whose glove might be better).  I also think you can move Fagan back to 3B and bring one of the new folks in at SS if you need move Sanchez off of 3B.  Lots of options for sure, and I can really say I’ve never remembered Coach E being this excited about his offense before.

So if I need to put together a lineup prediction, here goes. It is really easy for me through the first five (trying not to ENTIRELY overthink it), but it gets muddy after that :

  • Gadbois – CF
  • Crane – RF (am going to stick with this)
  • Fagan – SS
  • Sanchez – 3B
  • Mack – C
  • Fleming – 2B
  • Rathburn – 1B
  • Pierce – DP
  • Nash – LF

I am back and forth on DP at this point between Pierce and Romaine and maybe Walters, but I’ll settle with this one. I like what Fleming has to offer behind Mack, and I still am in love with the idea of wrapping around the batting order in speed with Nash.

So did I steal your answer? Anything else that I left off?

Switzy - You pretty much did steal my answer. I still don't care for having all those left-handed bats in a row, but that's what there is to work with. I could see Sanchez and Mack switching in the 4/5 spot, but I don't have a strong feeling either way there. I might tinker a bit with the 6-8 spots (I personally like the idea of stashing a power bat in front of Nash, so I might go Rathburn-Pierce-Fleming) but I think your take is as likely as anything else. I agree that Bange is an early off-the-bench name, along with Romaine, and I think we see Sprague and Harvey in stretches early as well while Coach E is still in his own tinkering mode.

The Nash-Gadbois double steal could be a massive weapon this season. The 2/3 hitters could be driving in crazy runs all season if that works out.

I think that about covers it from my end. It's been an optimistic offseason; time to see some action!