The Beef - Friday sees the Tigers taking on a single opponent, the Cal Bears, who are checking in right around the bottom of the top-25 poll. The Bears are 9-4 on the young season, with ranked wins over Notre Dame (8-7) and Kentucky (5-1), but losses against NC State (7-5), Wisconsin (4-2), Texas Tech (2-0) and San Diego State (2-1). They have only one run-rule win on the season, but the offense looks pretty good. Team batting is .341 with 24 stolen bases in 25 attempts. The power is lacking though, as they only have 5 HR’s as a team and a team slugging of .427. They also strike out a little more than they walk, so their OBP is currently .404. Six regulars boast a batting average above .342 with Taurie Pogue leading the way at .412. Jazmyn Jackson (.367) leads the way with 8 steals, and Lindsay Rood (.409) also has four to her credit. The only pop is coming from Pogue (who has 2 HR’s). Honestly, only ten doubles and three triples in 13 games means they are putting singles together and the speed is helping them score enough, but certainly not an insane amount.
So what is carrying this team Switz? Pitching? Defense? Little of both?
Switzy - It's mostly pitching. Cal has five pitchers who have thrown this season. The main starter is senior Nina Ontiveros, whose 2-2 record looks rather funny next to her 1.38 ERA and 39/6 K/BB ratio. Foes are hitting .229 against her - a good but not spectacular number - but only walking 6 is 30 innings means they absolutely have to hit her if they want runners on base. The second arm is junior Katie Sutherland-Finch, who has the team's highest ERA (5.53) courtesy of 6 HR allowed. All told, the staff is formidable, though, with the overall team ERA sitting at a lovely 2.50, and with only 28 total free baserunners allowed (23 walks and 5 HBP) in 86 innings. And outside of Sutherland-Finch's 6 HR allowed, the team only has given up 3 others. This is a squad that has given up no more than 7 runs all year (Mizzou has put up 7 or more in 9 of 11 games played), and despite 15 errors on the season, has only given up 7 unearned runs. It'll be strength-on-strength in this matchup.
On Saturday, Mizzou will open against longtime softball powerhouse Arizona State. The Sun Devils are sitting at 17/19 in the rankings this week, with a cumulative 15-2 record so far. Both losses came to ranked teams: Kentucky (5-3) and Minnesota (10-1, but not a run rule game). They have a nice 8 inning-victory over Tennessee, but nothing much else in the way of impressive results; their schedule has been full of smaller schools for the most part. One reason for ASU's success this season: hitting. As a team, they rake at a .374 clip. Seven regulars are hitting over .400 and 2 others are above .385. They hit for power, too, with five players notching at least 3 HR already - led by the team's best, Chelsea Gonzalez who has 6 to go along with her team-best .467 average. They have some speed, with 22 SB in 26 attempts, and they make you earn it, taking 70 walks to only 51 strikeouts on the season. That leads to an OBP of .463. Better than Michigan (but not quite as good as Missouri's .487). This is a team prepared to crush the ball; any chance the Tigers might be able to return the favor?
The Beef - It is really tough to tell who the Tigers may see in the first game on Saturday because I don’t know that I have seen a pitching staff as balanced as Arizona State. Kelsey Kessler leads the way from an ERA standpoint with a 2.12 showing over 39.2 innings, but she is trailed by Dale Ryndak (2.39 over 29.1 innings) and Breanna Macha (2.84 over 37 innings) very closely. Each have five wins, with Kessler and Macha taking the losses. Kessler and Macha each have six starts, with Ryndak with 5, but all have additional appearances on top of their starts, as Kessler also has two saves (and one for Macha). Kessler is the power pitcher of the group with 50 K’s and only 7 BB’s over her innings, with batters only hitting .208 against her, though she has been tagged for six HR’s. This staff has only walked 22 in their 106 combined innings, so they are going to make you work for it. In the field, they don’t give back TOO much (17 errors in 17 games), but that has resulted in 11 unearned runs (of 48). If this game is as close as it might be, an unearned run from either team could certainly make the difference.
Finally, the Tigers will close out their tournament season with Baylor, their old Big XII foe. Gone are the days of Chelsea Thomas and Whitney Canion (and those were good days for softball no matter who won), and the Bears are currently hanging around just off the top-25 with a 11-3 record, with losses including McNeese State (3-1), and North Texas (7-5 in 9 and 7-6 in 8). Their schedule has been pretty soft so far to be honest, and I think the offensive production proves that out a bit. As a team, they are hitting .352 with seven regulars over .306. Leading the way is Lindsay Cargill, who is blistering the early season at .525. Baylor doesn’t have much speed, but Cargill is a threat to run (four SB’s in five attempts, tied with Jessie Scroggins). For power, they rely on Sarah Smith (4 HR’s and .476 batting average) and Shelby Friudenberg (3 HR’s and .378 batting average) Their overall slash line of .352/.402/.522 shows they don’t walk a ton (30 BB’s against 34 K’s).
So…the offense doesn’t SEEM to be the culprit for their early losses; was it the pitching?
Switzy - The short answer: maybe. Baylor has a five person pitching staff, with three pitchers taking the bulk of the action. And there's quite a difference in the numbers for all three. Senior Heather Sterns has the most starts (6) and innings (34) and is the most likely to strike you out (50 Ks, to only 13 walks). However, her 2.12 ERA and .183 BAA are second on the team to junior transfer Kelsee Selman, who came over from LSU. Selman has started 4 games and has a 1.61 ERA and .175 BAA. Her strikeout/walk ratio, though, is worst on the club (17 K/14 BB) which could indicate some combination of BABIP magic and good fielding. She also has two of the team's three losses. Finally, Kendall Potts is the wins leader with a spotless 5-0 record, but despite a .187 BAA, she holds the trio's highest ERA (3.86). Potts strikes out just shy of a batter an inning (23 Ks in 25.2 innings) but also walks one every other (13 BB). It's difficult to say who Mizzou would face in this one, but I would guess Sterns. The ability to get a timely strikeout will be important. Worth noting also: Selman pitched against the Tigers last season in the second game of the Tigers 2-1 series victory. She came on in relief for 1.1 innings, giving up 2 hits, 3 runs (0 earned) while walking one and striking out one.
So that concludes our look at the competition (sure will be nice to review only one team a weekend, eh?). It's that time again, for us to make predictions about the rotation and lineup we are likely to see this weekend. Dealer's choice, Beef...would you rather tackle the field or the circle?
The Beef - I’ll take the easy way out and head to the field, where I think, for the most part, the players are just about settled at this point. The only question remains at second base, where I just get the feeling that Coach E WANTS to play Natalie Fleming, but just cant do it right now without her bat becoming less than the pretty staggering liability it has been to start the young season. I don’t anticipate it staying that way, but this is a tough weekend to try to get healthy from a batting perspective. I will think that Fleming gets the nod to start, but that hook could be quick from game to game if the batting doesn’t pick up.
I will say that I did not mind the move of Taylor Gadbois out of the leadoff spot and down the lineup. Nash is obviously hitting a decent bit better (which is amazing when you consider Gadbois is at .367) and she also seems to have a better eye at this point with only two K’s to seven from Taylor. Both have a 1:1 BB to K ratio, so Nash is also not working the walks which Gadbois has (and surprisingly so, as this was a part of her game over the past two seasons which I’ve wanted to see improve). So frankly, Nash is getting the ball into play, and is getting on base a great amount of the time. The speed of Gadbois down the lineup also puts a lot of pressure on the pitchers, which I am fine with. And now, that you have Nash, Sanchez and then Fagan leading off the game, it will almost be surprising when we DON’T get at least a run to start the game with the way those three are hitting.
Finally, I will be curious to see how Rylee Pierce and Chloe Rathburn do against increased competition, though a little less so for Rathburn, who has certainly seen her share of top teams from her time at South Alabama. For Pierce however, this would be a big step towards making me believe she could continue to be this (or close to) productive against the SEC if she can have a good weekend against this caliber of opponent.
So I left you the tough one. A pitching staff which has question marks and injury concerns. How do you see Coach E managing this weekend?
Switzy - Ugh.
The only way to handle this is to make assumptions. My assumptions are: Paige Lowary is going to go full steam,Tori Finucane is going to continue to be eased into more work, Danielle Baumgartner will continue to serve a big role, Cheyenne Baxter is considered primarily a reliever. With that all in mind, I think we see Lowary to lead off the action against Michigan - the toughest game of the set - and then Baumgartner against SJSU. Finucane gets the call against Cal on Friday. And for the final doubleheader, Lowary draws Arizona State and the final game once again comes down to health, with either Finucane or Baumgartner taking the circle to face Baylor.
I know you are going to ask for a prediction...let me cut you off at the pass. Last weekend, I said Mizzou would go 4-1, and they ended up 3-2. But as we discussed, those were some close games and a bit of bad luck. Nothing yet has slowed down this offense in any major way, and I don't think they'll struggle much even against the top competition this weekend. I am once again prepared to predict a 4-1 record on the weekend, with the loss either coming against Michigan or Arizona St.
How about you, Beef? Do you think this group can reach those expectations?
The Beef - I will be honest, that is a little more bullish than I am at this point, if only because of the questions with the pitching. The rotation you laid out makes the most sense to me given the competition and timing of the games. I think Tori was a little better last week than the first week, even if she was giving up some big hits, which I will take over not being able to find the plate. The next adjustment would naturally be to turn the HR’s into pop-up’s, and then you can start working on the swings and misses. I will also assume pretty full health of the staff, but the Stanford loss last week gives me a little pause (and I certainly recognize the nature of the missed opportunities we had). I am going to say 3-2 because I cant quite predict Lowary to shut down #2 Michigan and because the last game against Baylor has the biggest questions when it does come to the pitching.
Live Thread Links
- MUTigers.com link
- Michigan Stats @ 12:30pm CT Thursday
- San Jose State Stats @ 3:00pm CT Thursday
- Cal Stats @ 4:30pm CT Friday
- Arizona State Stats @ 7:30pm CT Saturday
- Baylor Stats @ 10pm CT Saturday