Preview: Missouri to begin three-game set against Georgia Thursday

The Tigers are 4-2 in their last six SEC games.
Designed by Corey Hadfield

It’s a common opinion that good pitching beats good hitting.

Afterall, finishing a season batting .300 — getting a hit three out of 10 at-bats — is considered to be a great year at the plate. This weekend against No. 5 Georgia, No. 21 Missouri’s bats will be put to the test as the Tigers face off against the most successful pitching staff it’s encountered this season.

Missouri (26-12-1, 7-7-1 SEC) and Georgia (30-8, 10-5 SEC) rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectfully, in team earned run average in SEC conference games. In overall games, however, the Bulldogs are No. 1 in the conference with a 2.67 team ERA, 27 points higher than Missouri’s 2.94 team ERA.

Coming off a weekend series win against then-No. 8 Louisiana State, the Tigers are ranked for the first time this season. Unlike against a struggling LSU pitching staff that ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in overall team ERA, Missouri will face a stout Georgia pitching staff loaded with talented arms.

Despite the disparity in pitching, Missouri coach Steve Bieser said after the win against LSU Sunday that every SEC series is similar in difficulty because of the caliber of the conference.

“Every series is a challenge,” Bieser said. “I don’t think you can attack it any different whether they’re number two or they’re not ranked. It’s a battle; we have to embrace it.”

Georgia has two pitchers in the top-20 in the country in ERA, but junior Tim Elliott, who ranks No. 14 in the country, is the Bulldogs’ midweek starter and hasn’t had an outing during conference games. Missouri will have to face off against sophomore Emerson Hancock Thursday, who is No. 8 in the country with a 1.18 ERA.

Named to the Golden Spikes Midseason Watch List, Hancock has been impressive in his sophomore season. That being said, he’s coming off of his second loss of the season. In his last start against Tennessee, Hancock gave up two runs over eight innings in Georgia’s 2-0 loss. The Bulldogs went on to drop the series.

After Hancock, Georgia’s probables include sophomore C.J. Smith and junior Tony Locey. Both starters rank in the top-10 in the conference in overall opponent batting average. Locey is also second in the SEC during conference games in ERA.

Missouri will counter with a strong rotation of its own.

Despite a rough outing against LSU, in which he was tagged for eight earned runs, junior Jacob Cantleberry has pitched well throughout the season. Excluding LSU, Cantleberry has given up at most five runs in an outing this season.

Ace junior T.J. Sikkema is leading the team and conference with a 1.11 ERA. He is also No. 13 in the country. In his last outing against LSU, the lefty shined, tossing seven innings and giving up one unearned run on three hits while striking out 10.

For the second week in a row, junior Art Joven will start in place of senior Tyler LaPlante, who has dealt with a throwing arm injury since his start against Kentucky on April 6. Joven picked up the slack in his last start, tossing 6 2/3 innings against LSU.

“We’ve got three starters for the weekend,” Bieser said. “We’ll just have to figure out how all that works out and who’s going to throw what day. We definitely want [LaPlante] back sooner rather than later, but we have to be careful with him.”

On the offense, the two teams also match up fairly evenly, ranking similarly in a lot of the team categories in the conference. For example, Georgia’s team batting average of .267 is identical to Missouri’s average. Despite that, the Tigers have scored more runs than the Bulldogs and the teams’ on-base percentages are separated by just 11 points.

Georgia’s numbers are lower than they should be because of a 20-inning 3-2 win Tuesday against No. 24 Clemson that didn’t see a run scored for 13 innings. The Bulldogs struck out 24 times, mostly because the team was on its ninth time through the lineup.

Missouri’s high team OBP can be attributed to the high number of walks the team draws. The Tigers lead the SEC with 226 walks on the season. Junior Kameron Misner has been a big part of that. He leads the team with 46 walks, which also leads the nation.

For Missouri to win its fourth conference series of the year, the team will have to rely on its bread and butter: small ball. Despite losing the series against Tennessee, the Bulldogs only gave up six runs over the weekend. Missouri leads the conference during conference games in steal attempts and sacrifice bunts. It will have to take advantage of any opportunity the Georgia pitching staff gives it and take productive outs to plate runs.

“[Hitting sacrifices] is something that we have to continue to be able to do,” Bieser said. “Take runs whenever we get a guy in scoring position, being able to move him over to third and find another way, whether that be a sac bunt or a sac fly. Guys are understanding that that’s what works. It’s manufacturing runs.”

Missouri and Georgia will kick off the three-game series at 4 p.m. CDT today. It will be followed by the second game at 5 p.m. CDT Friday, and conclude at 10 a.m. CDT Saturday.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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