Last night’s dramatic come-from-behind victory over No. 15 TCU signaled that things could be different for Missouri Baseball in 2023.
The Tigers have not qualified for the SEC Tournament since 2019. They have been the cellar dwellers of the SEC missing the 12-team cutoff for postseason play in 2021 and 2022.
In recent seasons, it’s been a struggle for Missouri to find the right collection of guys to get outs on the mound. In 2021, the Tigers had a team of ERA of 7.24, the worst in the SEC. In 2022, the ERA improved slightly but Missouri still sat last in the conference with a .265 BA. The Tigers were simply overmatched on the mound almost every time they played elite competition these last two seasons, but this weekend it was the Tigers who were dominant on the mound.
While none of the starting pitchers made statements with their performances, the Missouri bullpen was absolutely shutdown. After the 4th inning, Missouri allowed just 4 ER across all three of their games at Globe Life Field this weekend. For the math guys out there, that’s a 2.25 ERA across 16 innings.
What’s even more impressive about the backend bullpen success the Tigers had this weekend is that they were punching hitters out with ease and not even letting the ball get in play. Across 17.2 innings of relief, Missouri’s bullpen struck out 29 batters. That’s a ridiculous 14.77 K/9 from the bullpen as a unit.
Likewise, over the course of this weekend, Missouri didn’t surrender a single homerun. Yes, I know that playing in an MLB ballpark limits the number of homeruns because of the size of the stadium, but Missouri was the only team in Arlington that can say they didn’t allow a dinger this weekend.
While both the 14.77 bullpen K/9 and not allowing any homers are unsustainable, both are fantastic signs for the future of this season. When teams know your bullpen is going to strike a lot of guys out and not allow very many runs, that not only intimidates the other team, but it inspires confidence in your own ballclub that you’re never out of the game. We saw that happen last night when Missouri began their comeback with Sam Horn entering the game and giving the Tigers 3 scoreless innings out of the pen.
What was so impressive about this bullpen, too, was that each night you had a different name stepping up to give you big innings and a chance to win the game. On Friday you saw Tony Neubeck go 3.2 scoreless innings with 9 strikeouts. On Saturday, Rorik Maltrud silenced a Texas comeback attempt with 2.2 innings of scoreless, 1-hit ball and 4 strikeouts. Then of course on Sunday the two-headed monster of Sam Horn and Zach Franklin gave the Tigers 6 innings and 10 punchouts which allowed Missouri to erase a 4-run deficit. In the 5th inning, D1Baseball’s win probability predictor gave TCU a 99.9% chance to win the game.
One thing Horn and Franklin bring that Missouri hasn’t had a ton of in recent years is velocity. Between them and Austin Troesser, the Tigers have three arms who can run it up in the mid 90s regularly. As a hitter, 97 mph belt-high is the last thing you want to see when you’re trying to mount a comeback.
Having depth like Missouri showed this weekend will be crucial to its success later this season. Against FIU next weekend, we should get to see even more arms out of this Tigers bullpen, and after seeing how they looked this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple more names make their case for innings.
While it was only three games and the season is young, Missouri’s bullpen looks like it could be the X-factor that finally gets the Tigers competing in the SEC.