Alright Switz, another weekend has come and gone and the Tigers went 4-1 again. What felt good about this recent 4-1?
It's pretty tough to argue with wins over Cal State Fullerton, Texas, and Arizona, three teams either ranked or nearly so. You and I have been talking about the potential of this Mizzou team, and I think this weekend really showed that potential. Specifically, I think the emergence of freshman Paige Lowary, now reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week, has the Tigers as well established for the future as they've been since Bailey Erwin left the team mid-season in 2013. The Tigers only gave up 16 runs in the 5 games this weekend against quality competition - and only half of those were earned runs. Of course, that says something less than good about the defense...but I'm sure we'll get to that.
Another thing I am pleased with is the patience of the Mizzou hitters. The Tigers took 4 or more walks in 3 of the 5 games over the weekend. For a team that relies on speed, baserunners are key. They put pressure on the defense and give players like Taylor Gadbois a chance to create doubles out of nothing. And as it happens, Mizzou managed to score 8 unearned runs of their own and swipe 10 bases - key components of the grinding types of wins they achieved in the Texas and Arizona games.
But being away for the weekend, I didn't have the same chance to follow along as I normally would. What did I miss that can contribute to our collective increase in expectations?
Well…I’ll go game by game here with some thoughts before we move on to this coming week.
Fullerton – Felt like the Tigers missed a couple of chances in a few of the early innings, but considering they scored three or more runs in three of the five innings they batted, I suppose that could be ULTRA nit-picky. Crane and Mack went yard, Fagan has three more hits (all singles though, which is fine), Gadbois went 2-4 with a SB and every starter had a hit. In terms of pitching, it could not have worked out much better from a pitcher management standpoint, as Tori only went 4.1 and Baxter got the last 2 outs. The runs against Tori were unearned. As good of a start to the weekend as you could ask.
Long Beach St – Another game where each starter had a hit, and another game where the staff management could not have been better. Paige tore through the lineup the first time around and then scuffled just a bit before getting out of the way for Baxter to bring home the final 3 (which is perfect usage). Fagan went yard, Gadbois went 2-4 with a couple of SB’s and Morgan Walters saw her first action and had a single. Aside from Lowary struggling a bit in the 4th was the LOB for Mizzou, which was 9.
Texas – Heck of a start by Lowary…only wish she could have finished it, but I appreciate Coach E going to Tori there to close it out and bring home the win. Only one of the three runs were earned. Taylor Gadbois had two more hits and another stolen base, but the rest of the lineup only had two more beyond that, instead taking advantage of two UT errors and four walks to score three unearned run ourselves. A win is a win though, and this should be a decent looking win at the end of the season.
UCLA – Two errors (one extremely costly) and four unearned runs short-circuited this game, but MU had a number of chances to put runs on the board early on and was not able to get that done. UCLA’s pitcher did a nice job scattering seven hits (with no walks and seven K’s) and that led to MU leaving seven on base over six innings. Tori was not real sharp, and got hit around a bit at the end of the game. Gadbois was 0-3, so you can see how important she is to the offense. Nice to see Amanda Sanchez get the bat going (though the glove failed her) with two hits.
Arizona – Heck of a way to come back from the loss and close out the weekend. Mizzou got up early, got an important insurance run late and held on for a really nice win. Gadbois was 2-3 with two stolen bases here (hopefully the theme I’ve been working towards is clear) and Randazzo went deep for insurance. An error by Genovese led to the run which Paige gave up, and Tori was strong finishing up (especially coming off of the performance the previous day) against the potent AZ lineup. Walters got a start and went 0-2, but she is clearly muddying things up in left for Coach E.
Alright…on to this coming weekend as the Tigers head south for five games at the Citrus Classic, including one (Friday, 2:30pm) against Notre Dame which will appear on ESPN3. This is a pretty solid tourney, as the now #20 Tigers (the drop seems strange to me) will take on #23 Notre Dame and Penn State (NR) on Friday, #13 Minnesota and James Madison (Receiving Votes) on Saturday and Maryland (NR) on Sunday. Weather for the weekend does not look great, with threat of rain each. What are your thoughts coming out of the gate?
This is a bit of a mixed field. Let me provide a few team-by-team notes:
Notre Dame's Rachel Nasland is legit - with an OBA under .200. She doesn't strike out a ton of hitters, but she is going to keep Mizzou off-balance. She'll be supported by dangerous 3B Katey Haus, who already has 5 HR and a slugging percentage over .800 on the season. Notre Dame also features a fairly balanced group of hitters, with only one regular below .250, and at least one HR for all but their two speedsters, Karley Wester and Jenna Simon, (who hit .380 and .327 respectively)
Penn State seems to be the easiest of the group, with a team ERA nearing 5. There's hopefully not much for Mizzou to worry about in that game.
Minnesota is the strongest team in the rankings out of this group, but their schedule has been devoid of major competition thus far. Nonetheless, their stats show a complete squad, one that will test all facets of Mizzou's game. The Gophers ace is Sara Groenewegen, who carries a 0.97 ERA and a wild 83/8 K/BB ratio into the weekend. Oh, and an OBA of .140. But the real eye-popping numbers are on the offensive side. SIX Golden Gophers are hitting .395 or better, 3 of them over .500. They have 24 HR in 14 games, 29 SB, and a team slugging percentage of .664. To win this one, Mizzou is going to need a rock solid performance in the circle and in the field - but this is the kind of test important to have prior to SEC play, much like the Arizona and UCLA games last weekend.
James Madison only has 9 games under their belt so far, and with mixed results (5-4 overall). Their pitching seems solid, but not spectacular. Their team batting, though, is lacking, with only 5 HR on the season, too many strikeouts, and not much speed to help make up for the power failure. This one should definitely go to the Tigers.
Maryland has a respectable 2.78 team ERA, but only has 3 regular position players hitting over .256 through 9 games. That's a lot of holes in the lineup. However, the Mizzou bats will probably be forced to square off against Kaitlyn Schmeiser, who has a 74/8 K/BB ratio in 67 innings of work. A solid performance from Schmeiser could make Mizzou really work for the win, but this should be another victory.
I think this shapes up as another 4-1 weekend, but I'm leaning more toward a possible sweep than toward a 3-2 record this weekend. A lot is going to depend on the performance in that opening game against Notre Dame - if the Tigers set the tone, they should get chances to possibly conserve their energy for Minnesota and remain fresh through the final day.
Care to quibble with my predictions, Beef? And what do you see happening with the rotation and lineup this weekend?
With as much decent pitching as we might see, 4-1 feels pretty solid to me for a guess. If I had to roll out a pitching lineup, I’d go Finucane and then Lowary/Baxter on Friday, with Finucane-Lowary again on Saturday and Joanie Wholestaff (start whoever is fresher) on Sunday. Feels like a solid pitching lineup, though I really want to see Paige start improving just a hair against lineups the second time through. Right now, her performance (which has been great, don’t get me wrong) has sometimes SCREAMED perfect closer to me, but there is no real such thing in softball (NCAA leader in saves last year was seven…most teams play 50’ish games). I think Tori still has some room for improvement (though getting solid fielding behind her would help) and Baxter has availed herself nicely thus far this year, which is encouraging. I think the unearned runs makes me FEEL like the pitching staff has been a little less dominant than some of the stats say, so the nit-picking is what it is.
As always, I hope for the offense to be solid from top to bottom. The middle of the order did BETTER this past weekend (and against better competition than the first weekend), but that has to keep coming around. I am starting to believe Coach E could be right about the best offense he has coached, but they are not there yet. Left field is an open competition at this point and Kelsea Roth has got to start figuring it out pretty soon, or first base may become the same.
Any parting thoughts?
I think you are on regarding the rotation, unless Earleywine decides to give Baxter a start (against Penn St.), which would all but guarantee Lowary pitching the Maryland game. But I'm not sold on him doing that. Joanie Wholestaff is great - did you make that up?
In the lineup, and against a couple lesser squads, I expect to see some shuffling at those positions as coach determines whether to continue limiting the at-bats of some of the potential key players for Mizzou's teams in 2016 and beyond. A couple good games in a row will probably buy a Morgan Walters or a Natalie Fleming a semi-permanent place in the lineup, regardless of who they displace. One new bright spot for the Tiger offense, though, is that Kirsten Mack seems to be making her way into the regular lineup as a hitter - playing at DH twice last weekend, and getting on base every game.
I recall, however affectionately, that Mizzou baseball used to run Johnny Wholestaff out there on Sundays a couple of years ago, having everyone pitch one inning. Took me a second to change the name for Softball.
I liked seeing Mack start to solidify her position in the lineup, along with Sanchez starting to earn that mid-lineup spot (and Randazzo and Genovese holding down the bottom of the order). With the top of the lineup, that gives us 6-7 very strong pieces. Just need to finish off the others or understand what sort of rotation makes the most sense. Seems like Sprague has earned the first PR off the bench, though I do wonder when/if Kingsley will also start to help with that (or even if she still has a shot to earn back the #8 or #9 spot in the lineup.
Same time next week?
You've got it, my friend