Switzy - Moving on to this weekend, we see games against much stiffer competition. Top 10 Oregon is on the docket, along with BYU, Stanford, Colorado State, and NC State (who started the year ranked, but dropped out after the first weekend of play). The Tigers also face the hurdle of switching coasts as they play in California for the first time this season. These games are a little more spread out than they were last weekend, which may alter the pitching matchups a bit...but we'll get to that.
First game of the weekend is against NC State. The Wolfpack have started 2016 with a 5-4 record, with notable wins against Kansas (yay!) and Nebraska (yay!), but losses to Jacksonville, UNC-Greensboro, and Wisconsin - none of whom finished last season above 120th in RPI. The NC State offense has been slow to develop thus far; the team is batting only .227 (yay!...oh, wait). They are led by Maggie Hawkins (.379, 2 HR, 6 RBI) and Tyler Ross (.367, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 4 SB). No other batters are producing above .300 at this time, and a number of regulars are sub-Mendoza (which is a baseball term that really doesn't work, because the most famous softball Mendoza was a boss). Perhaps a more telling sign of the hitting problems for the Wolfpack is that they have struck out 63 times in 9 games, while only walking 33. Plate discipline, y'all. They seem to be producing a good number of runs from the long ball, as the team has 11 HR on the season. So with a better than .500 record to date, is it their pitching keeping the team afloat, Beef?
The Beef - The Tigers have played NC State a time or two in the last few years and they seemed like a program on the rise which just seems to have trouble taking that next step. Their schedule thus far has not been murderous by any stretch, so I would think the returns aren’t really that great. The team ERA is sitting around 4, so if you are not hitting more than .230, that can explain the record which looms close to .500. Courtney Mirabella may be who the Tigers see in the circle and she seems to be generating some swings and misses, averaging just over a strikeout per inning. No one has come real close to shutting down the Tigers offense thus far, but this may be the "best" pitcher the Tigers have seen this season (you know, until later in the weekend).
Speaking of later in the weekend, the Tigers will next see Stanford. I saw them on the schedule and immediately thought, "oh no, a Pac-12 team". But upon review, they are only 4-5 so far against a very moderate slate of opponents. They’ve got 5 regulars who are batting over .300 and the team batting average is a solid .272, but the on-base below .400 (.382) and slugging at .418 is not very good at this early stage of the season if you were a power softball program. Bessie Noll has half their team HR’s (three of the six) and there is absolutely no speed for them. Their fielding has been damaging as well, checking in with 15 errors in 9 games and at .949.
So some, but not much hitting and crappy fielding. How did the Tree manage to even win those four games?
Switzy - Stanford has won via a somewhat odd combination of pitching quirks. Freshman Carolyn Lee has 7 starts and a rock solid 2.47 ERA, but is 1-3. Sophomore Haley Snider has the other two starts (and 4 relief appearances) and a 4.10 ERA, but is 3-2. Very likely, the Tigers will need to prepare for both ladies to see time in the circle. Based on results to date, we can look forward to the following: only 3 HR and 10 total extra-base hits allowed through 9 games. Few walks, few strikeouts - this is a pitch to contact duo who counts on their fielding (uh-oh...) to keep them involved. And if they aren't striking out opponents from Cal Poly and Seattle U, they aren't striking out many Mizzou Tigers. Notable: look out for the HBP - Snider has 5 already in only 29 innings (and along with 6 wild pitches).
After Stanford, Mizzou plays their only game of Friday's slate against Colorado St. Last season, the Rams were 141st in RPI. This season, they've stumbled to a 3-6 start albeit against tough competition. They lost a 1 run game to #7 UCLA and dropped a 3-0 game to Texas A&M, who has jumped to 16th in the polls this week. One of their victories was against fellow Mizzou opponent BYU last weekend. The Rams sport a .274 team BA, with little to discuss in the way of speed (7-9 in SB attempts) or power (4 HR in 9 games). They do manage to walk nearly as often as going down on strikes, but this is simply not a threatening offense. In what might be the easiest game for the Tigers this weekend, is there any danger lurking in the circle?
The Beef - Very strange to be playing one game on Friday, let alone so late in the evening. There's virtually no chance this game starts on time, so this likely finishes well into the Switzy-overnight.
Anyway, Colorado State appears to have one primary starter, and she has performed well thus far. Holly Reinke has started 5 games and completed all of them, going 2-3 with a 2.95 ERA over 39.2 innings. She has given up only 29 hits with 12 BB's and 17 K's. Hitters are good for only .197 against her. I imagine her won/loss record has been hurt by the fact she's given up 6 unearned runs, due in part to the .958 fielding percentage of Colorado State (and 13 errors), but also has given up 5 HR's. She appears to be solid enough to give the Tigers a good run if they come up against her. Otherwise, the Tigers will see pitchers who are a combined 1-3 with an ERA that would come out to be north of...I dont know...7 maybe?
On to Saturday and the crown jewel of the weekend competition in the top-10 ranked Oregon Ducks. The Quack Attack has stumbled just a bit out of the gate, losing two of three to highly-ranked UL-Lafayette down in Louisiana last weekend, while also dropping a previous game to top-20 Kentucky down in AZ to start the season. The Ducks currently boast four regulars who are hitting over .400, including Koral Costa who is checking in at .515 currently. They have 17 HR's on the year, with Costa knocking out three and Nikki Udria leading with four against her .483 batting average. At .359 as a team, the Ducks are lethal up and down the lineup. The BB/K ratio is just about at 1:1, so they are a bit of a free-swinging club, and they have enough speed to account for basically one SB per game (11) in 16 total attempts. With so much offense, can you peg why the Ducks have dropped three early-season games? (albeit to good to great competition)
Switzy - Oregon has an interesting pitching situation in that of their 3 primary pitchers, two are seniors and one is a frosh. Megan Kleist is the youngster and has paced the Ducks with a stellar 1.70 ERA. However, she took one loss against ULL and didn't pitch in the other two losses. The primary starter seems to be Cheridan Hawkins, who has the team's highest ERA (3.78) but the lowest BAA (.171). Hawkins has suffered primarily because of 6 HR allowed in her 29.2 IP. As a staff, Oregon has a lovely 2.59 ERA and BAA that is sub-.200 - but against offensive minded squads they have battled roughly to a draw. Who Mizzou faces is up for discussion; if Hawkins truly suffers from a propensity to allow the HR, I would not be surprised to see Kleist start against the Tigers. She has allowed no HR in 24.2 innings despite allowing a solid 60 points higher of BAA. It feels like Mizzou's game gives them a chance to win, but a lot will depend on the pitching for both sides. In each of Oregon's three losses, the opposing pitcher has gone the full 7 innings.
Finally, to close off the weekend, the Tigers celebrate a "last really good Gary Pinkel moment" reunion matchup with the BYU Cougars. BYU enters with a solid 7-3 record, but has struggled against ranked opponents. They dropped one 15-3 against Tennessee, and fell to Notre Dame 4-2 in an 8 inning contest. They also lost to Colorado State. BYU is a solid hitting team with a fairly deep set of bats. They are hitting .289 as a team with 9 HR and 13 SB (in 14 attempts). Five of their HR are from catcher Libby Sugg, but five regulars are hitting over .300. They do strike out at a fair clip (56 on the season so far). A quick glance at their schedule, though, shows that in 6 of their wins, they have allowed 2 or fewer runs. Just how much should we worry about the BYU staff?
The Beef - I think the BYU staff is not terrible, but they have been left hanging a bit by their defense, which is checking in with a .958 fielding percentage on 12 team errors thus far. Junior McKenna Bull is the primary starter for the Cougars and who I would imagine they would throw at us in the final weekend game. She is 5-2 on the season with a 2.41 ERA in 8 starts. She has 6 complete games, which has helped her wrack up 52+ innings of work, giving up 57 hits and 16 BB's. Her saving grace has probably been the 62 K's and only 3 HR's in her batting average against of .274. Basically, it feels like she has given up a lot of singles, sprinkled in the occasional walk, but has earned the big strikeout when she has needed it to keep the runs mostly off of the board.
Alright, five games on the weekend, and it is a little tough to predict who the pitching staff might be based solely upon the results of the past weekend. I could see Coach E going for Lowary and Baumagartner on Thursday, trying Tori again on Friday, with Lowary against Oregon and then probably Baumgartner again unless Tori is coming around. How do you see the staff and the weekend playing out?
Switzy - As the logic I have used to devise this schedule is likely to be rendered moot by the actual lineup, here's how I envision the pitching staff for the weekend:
- NC State - Lowary
- Stanford - Finucane
- Colorado State - Baumgartner/Baxter
- Oregon - Lowary
- BYU - Finucane if healthy; Baumgartner/Baxter if not
Healthy might well be interchangeable with "pitching well" in this scenario, but I don't have the information to make that determination.
As for results, I think it all hinges on Tori. For the Tigers to come through these multiple multi-game day tournaments (does that even make sense?) it's going to take two pitchers. Lowary may be the ace of this staff, but she's not getting used the way aces are sometimes used in softball; she's not even going to get used the way Chelsea Thomas did for a couple years. If Tori is healthy, I think the Tigers can pull off a 4-1 record this weekend, with a middling chance of going 5-0. But if she's not ready, I think there's a little too much offense in some of these squad for Baxter and Baumgartner to handle. In that case, 4-1 would be a great result, but 3-2 would be more likely in my opinion. Overall, given the information I actually have, I'm going to officially predict the Tigers go 4-1 this weekend.
That's about it from me. Your prediction and final thoughts, Beef?
The Beef - I think the pitching lineup you laid out would be the preferred one, but I am preparing myself for the fact we may not be quite there yet. Can Baumgartner go up against a Stanford and win? Interesting question. I know Coach E has been high on her through the fall and likely through last weekend. But Stanford, while not a great Pac-12 team, is still a Pac-12 team. If she is ready for that challenge, the depth of potential pitching really starts to deepen. I think the trap game is BYU, regardless of whether we come off a win or a loss against Oregon. I think we get through Thursday and Colorado State late Friday night, and the first big test of the season is both how we deal with Oregon and how we respond against BYU right after.
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