A tale of two teams: why Missouri baseball is poised for more success at this point than it was a season ago

Even with a 20 game winning streak last season, Missouri’s 2017 team doesn’t stack up to the potential of the Tigers’ current squad.
Maneater File Photo

It’s peculiar to think that at this time last season, Missouri baseball had the exact same record it does this season. As of April 2 – in both 2017 and 2018 – Missouri sat at 21-7 overall, but the stories of each teams’ record is far from similar.

In 2017, after going on what was the longest active winning streak in college baseball at the time, Missouri had won 20 consecutive games. During the streak, the Tigers beat the likes of Eastern Michigan, Eastern Illinois, Appalachian State and Alabama.

Heading into its last seven games before April 2, then-No. 18 Missouri was set to play an unranked Arkansas team and No. 19 Florida – both at home – as well as one home game against SE Missouri State. The Gators and Razorbacks both finished last season ranked in the top-20 of Baseball America’s rankings, with the Gators finishing the season ranked No. 1 overall and a national champion.

By the end of the seven game stretch, Missouri had fallen out of its top-25 ranking and dropped six of the seven games, bringing its record to 21-7.

On paper, the differences in this year’s team don’t seem staggering. However, the story of this year’s 21-7 squad appears to be much different.

The most notable difference between these teams is both the amount of games played and the team’s record against ranked teams.

Last year, the Tigers only played two ranked opponents to this point – No. 9 Florida and No. 25 Houston. The Tigers were 1-3 in those games. Fast forward to this season, Missouri has played double the amount of games against ranked opponents and its record against them has fared much better.

To this point, 2018 Missouri is 5-3 in ranked matchups against LSU and Auburn teams that were both No. 16 at the time of play, No. 20 Wichita State, and No. 24 Miami (FL). The Tigers are also posting a better record in SEC play at this point, but only by a game. Missouri is 5-4 against the SEC this year as opposed to 4-5 last year.

With a bit of digging, it’s more than apparent these teams are different. Last year’s squad had a lot of added shock value with first year head coach Steve Bieser’s team going on a 20-game tear early, but even with the same record, Missouri’s 2018 team is a lot better suited for the road ahead, mainly because of the several names that have stepped up so far. For example, junior Brian Sharp has grown into a dual-threat role for the Tigers.

Sharp is listed as both an infielder and catcher, but he also made appearances on the mound for Missouri last year. In his nine appearances last season, he had a 3.38 ERA and gave up 11 hits in 13.1 innings. This year Sharp’s pitched more than he did all of last season, has a team-low 1.20 ERA and also recorded his first career start on the mound this season. He’s also batting .313 and his 31 hits are just ten fewer than he had all of last season.

Household names like senior outfielder Trey Harris and junior starting pitcher Bryce Montes De Oca have also done their part for the Tigers in more subtle ways.

Harris — a normally middle-of-the-order power hitter — has moved up to the two spot in Missouri’s batting order and found himself in much more of a contact hitter role at this point. He finished last season with a .268 batting average and 49 hits, but so far this season, he’s batting .354 and is already up to 40 hits.

Montes De Oca has also elevated his play, overtaking the top of the rotation and filling the void left by the No. 24 overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft, former starting pitcher Tanner Houck. Montes De Oca’s ERA to this point, 2.40, is more than a whole run lower than his final ERA from last season, 4.28.

With Sharp’s emergence and players like Montes De Oca and Harris growing into their own and filling holes from last year, the Tigers have multiple names to lean on in the long run.

2017 Missouri finished its last 28 games right at .500, posting a 14-14 record after collapsing over that seven game stretch last year.

They played six teams that finished the 2017 season ranked in the RPI top 50, with three of them in the top 25 and one in the top 10. Against those six teams, Missouri posted a 5-14 record. 2018 Missouri only has 26 games left, but it will play 15 of them against another six teams which are currently in the RPI top-50.

It’s a similar road ahead for Missouri, but with several names to rely on and some promising wins in conference play, the Tigers are more poised to tackle it than ever.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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