Missouri is finding out pretty quickly that the way you end the season means a hell of a lot more than the way you start it.
Three weeks ago today, the Tigers were in the top 25 of almost every major college baseball poll after taking two of three from Tennessee and compiling a 12-10-1 Southeastern Conference record. With 14 conference wins giving them a very good shot to make the NCAA Tournament and 15 solidifying it, it felt like Missouri’s last two weekend series versus Vanderbilt and Florida (as well as a first round matchup in the SEC Tournament) would see the Tigers playing for a higher seed rather than fighting for their postseason lives.
Missouri was unlikely to reach that 14-win mark against the nation’s second-ranked Commodores, but three games against the underachieving Gators and a game against what, to that point, seemed like it would be a team in the No. 9-11 range would have locked down a regional berth.
But we all know how the last two weeks have gone.
The Tigers managed to take Game 2 against Vanderbilt, ending the Commodores nation-best 13-game winning streak in the process and putting themselves just one win away from that 14 mark. Missouri crashed back down to Earth after getting swept by Florida at home, though, and it then bowed out of the SEC Tournament in a 2-1 loss to Ole Miss.
The Tigers’ performance over the last couple of weeks must be a tough pill to swallow for Steve Bieser and his squad. They were close — oh so close — to locking down their spot in the NCAA Tournament, but a 1-6 run to end the season might be what keeps them on the outside looking in for the seventh straight year.
If that happens to be the case once the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed at 11 a.m., this team would only have itself to blame. Missouri would have wasted a stellar season from one of the country’s top pitching staffs as well as its last season with projected first round pick Kameron Misner.
Still, the Tigers weren’t vying for a two-seed in the tournament three weeks ago for no reason. Despite hitting a wall over the last two weekends, Missouri still has as strong a résumé as any other bubble team.
Here’s a look at some stats that help build the Tigers’ case for a postseason spot:
- Besides ending Vanderbilt’s winning streak, Missouri also handed the Commodores one of only five home losses
- The pitching staff ranks sixth in the country in ERA (3.24), 16th in K/9 (9.90) and 26th in WHIP (1.28)
- Missouri is one of just 21 teams nationally with a top 30 RPI and strength of schedule
- The Tigers have four wins over top 15 RPI teams, all in conference games on the road
- Missouri was one of just 17 teams with six wins against top 25 RPI teams (as of about a week ago)
Clearly, Missouri has some qualities that make it worthy of a regional spot and also gives it the potential to be a dangerous tournament team. If the college baseball rankings went all the way to No. 64, the Tigers would almost certainly find themselves in those polls. And let’s not forget that the Rebels team that might have ended their season — a team they took two of three from earlier in the season — lost to Vanderbilt by just one in the SEC championship.
A few hours from now, all this lobbying for Missouri could be moot. The Tigers may be out for no other reason than the committee just didn’t want to send 11 SEC teams to the tournament.
But there is still hope, and hope is all Bieser’s squad has going for it heading into the selection show.