No. 24 Missouri (31-15-1, 10-10-1 SEC) is traveling to take on No. 23 Tennessee (31-14, 9-12 SEC), a team that has proven to be one of the Tigers’ biggest rivals in every Southeastern Conference sport. With a top-three spot in the SEC East and a .500 record hanging in the balance, here are some stories to think about as the teams meet in Knoxville.
Tigers are as hot as ever
Missouri is currently on its best run of the season.
Consecutive wins over Missouri State, South Carolina (three times) and Southeast Missouri have the Tigers rolling on their second five-game win streak of the season and first since conference play began. And not only has the pitching staff remained steady, allowing just 17 runs over the five-game stretch, but the lineup has started putting it all together, scoring 52 runs in the same span.
Luckily for Missouri, all five games came at home, where the Tigers’ current record sits at 21-3. Missouri has been a revelation at Taylor Stadium this year, overcoming the terrible spring weather that affects Columbia annually.
We haven’t seen Missouri play at this level all season, and it’s perfect timing that it comes before what may be the Tigers’ toughest stretch of the year. With Tennessee coming up next and No. 2 Vanderbilt on the horizon, Missouri could not have picked a better time to build a ton of momentum.
Battle of evenly matched teams
While Tennessee has been up and down the polls all year while Missouri has missed the cut more often than not, the two teams may be as close to evenly matched as any the SEC has seen this season. The Tigers sit just 1.5 games ahead of them in the SEC East, which makes this weekend a battle for No. 3 in the division.
Statistically, these teams are not so far off from each other either.
Missouri’s .272 average is only five spots ahead of Tennessee’s at .260, and it has actually been bolstered by the recent success of the lineup (more on that later). The Tigers lead the Vols in most other categories at the plate is even closer, with the most glaring being just a plus-1 differential in extra-base hits. Missouri’s lead in many offensive categories also comes into question with a closer look at RPI, where Tennessee ranks No. 9 and the Tigers rank No. 26.
On the mound, the numbers look even closer.
Enough has been made about Missouri’s SEC-leading 3.03 ERA, but the Vols are not too far behind, as they sit in third with a 3.16 ERA of their own. The two teams are just as even in many other pitching categories. The Tigers’ differentials with their weekend opponent are just plus-9 in hits, minus-1 in saves, and minus-2 in earned runs, among numerous other aspects of pitching — not to mention that Missouri leads Tennessee by just .006 in opponents’ batting average.
To sum it all up, we should see some very tight games in this upcoming series.
Tigers’ lineup is on the up and up
Missouri’s experienced an offensive resurgence over the last five games. Outside of the explosion that has resulted in 51 runs over just 43 innings, numerous hitters been putting it together heading into a daunting six-game road trip.
Chris Cornelius, the team’s most consistent hitter all season, was once again the anchor of the lineup, hitting .571 during the streak with two home runs and five RBI. Future first-round pick Kameron Misner also continued his recent hitting success, batting 11-for-22 with a home run, three RBI and eight runs over his last five.
That’s not to mention the play of some of the struggling bats in the Tigers’ dugout.
Both Alex Peterson and Austin James went into Wednesday’s matchup with SEMO with sub-.200 averages and not many highlights at the plate. Outside of Cornelius’ 4-for-4 day, though, Peterson and James were Missouri’s top-hitters.
James went 3-for-5 on the night, hitting three doubles, scoring three runs and driving in five more. Not to be outdone, Peterson hit 2-for-3 against the Redhawks with two runs, three RBI and a solo shot over the wall in left in the second inning.
Considering the tough staff the Tigers will face in Knoxville, getting production from all over the lineup will be of utmost importance.