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Baseball: KU (15-15) at Missouri (20-7)

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KU will be in Columbia this weekend playing a three game series with the Missouri Tigers.  MU is off to a surprisingly good start, carrying a 20-7 record (2-1 Big-12).  The Tigers are ranked in two of the four national polls (#25 and #28), and their RPI ranking of #32 justifies these optimistic placements.

I say "optimistic" because it seems to me that Missouri and K-State are 1st-half only teams.  I have only followed Big-12 baseball for a few years but already I've been fooled by these teams getting off to good starts and then fizzling two years in a row so now take a cynical view of their long term prospects.  Maybe 2007 will be different and MU or KSU will keep their steam up as they move into April and May.  We'll find out soon enough.

Regardless as to past history, MU looks very solid right now and the Jayhawks will need to be on their game to win this series.

Likely Starters
Friday 6:30: Nick Czyz (2-4, 3.69 ERA) vs. Aaron Crow (4-0, 2.15 ERA)
Saturday 2:00: Zach Ashwood (3-2, 5.67 ERA) vs. Rick Zagone (4-0, 3.65 ERA)
Sunday 1:00: Andy Marks (3-3, 6.10 ERA) vs. Greg Folgia (2-2, 3.49 ERA)

All three games will be broadcast in the Lawrence area on KLWN (AM-1320).  It looks like the MU broadcast can be heard on-line at this site if you are out of the KLWN coverage area.

MU holds the edge in the all-time series 192-120.  KU defeated MU two out of three last year during the regular season and than once again in the Big-12 tournament.
Full MU stats here
Full KU stats here

Missouri in a nutshell
MU has not played an easy schedule this year, five of their seven losses have come to teams ranked in the RPI top-100.   Against these upper teams the Tigers are 7-5.

0-1 vs. Oregon State (#17)
1-1 vs. Arizona State (#26)
0-1 vs. Memphis (#31)
2-1 vs. Nebraska (#46)
2-0 vs. Louisiana-Monroe (#70)
1-0 vs. Dallas Baptist (#71)
1-0 vs. Texas State (#85)
0-1 vs. Creighton (#97)

KU fans have many reasons to dislike Missouri.  Last year the final game between the two teams got out of control breifly in the conference tournament. Both benches emptied in the 2nd inning when Ryne Price hit a homerun and found an Missouri player unwilling to surrender the base pads as he rounded third.


(In the first picture Ryne Price is blocked from rounding third and in the following shot Coach Price helps get the game back in play after the altercation.  Order was restored and KU went on to a 4-3 victory and the title game vs. Nebraska.  Images from KUAthletics.com)

One more reason to not love Missouri is their team website which does not list player On-Base or Slugging averages.  Even without full information a few Tiger batters having solid years can be identified .

#3 Evan Frey: 83 at bats, .337 BA, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 6 SB.
#20 Ryan Lollis: 102 at bats, .333 BA, 2 HR, 31 RBI, 7 SB.
#7 Kyle Mach: 69 at bats, .333 BA, 1 HR, 9 RBI.
#14 Trevor Coleman: 60 at bats, .317 BA, 2 HR, 20 RBI.
#4 Brock Bond: 92 at bats, .293 BA, 19 RBI, 7 SB.
#28 John McKee: 95 at bats, .253 BA, 3 HR, 26 RBI.
#51 Jacob Priday: 89 at bats, .225 BA, 1 HR, 15 RBI.

As a team the Tigers are hitting .277, with an unknown On-Base and Slugging percentage.  They are scoring 6.8 runs per game so they are getting it done at the plate.  This is a bit hard to understand. Their batting average is not very high, they have only hit 10 homeruns in 27 games, and their running game is good but not great at 36 stolen bases.  Of note on the above list is the struggling Jacob Priday.  Priday is a two time All Big-12 selection, last year he lead MU with 11 homeruns and 49 RBI's.  Is he styling for the scouts this year?  Has he been hurt?  Whatever the reason for his struggles let's hope he doesn't discover the cure this weekend.

As has been the case over the last several years MU's team strength is their pitching.  The team ERA of 3.06 is phenomenal at the NCAA level.  All three starting pitchers KU will face are having great years.  The Tiger bullpen is also well-stocked.  Kyle Gibson appears to be their closer, having already recorded five saves and put together some very solid numbers.  33.2 innings, 19 hits, 5/35 BB/K ratio.

Missouri has not lost a home game this year (10-0) and are coming off a big road series win at Nebraska.  KU needs to win a conference series badly and there is no sweeter place to do so than in Columbia, Missouri.  Marks and Ashwood both pitched fairly well last week vs. Oklahoma State and Czyz has been solid all year.  All that has separated the Jayhawks from a winning Big-12 record this year has been the lack of a few big hits in key situations.  Let's hope it all comes together for the team this weekend and the Jayhawks start the second half of their season strong.