Season preview: Missouri baseball’s SEC schedule and the strength of its lefty-heavy rotation

The Tigers will open the season with an eight-game road trip through Florida.
Missouri outfielder Connor Brumfield points his finger to the crowd in celebration after hitting a home run in the annual Tiger Pantry charity game on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in which MU softball and baseball faced off.

Amid the winter weather in Columbia, there comes a calling card of spring. A vision of warm days and the sounds of gloves popping and bats cracking. Seasons may not change on a dime, but mid-Missouri will take one step closer to Spring on Friday when Missouri baseball opens its 2019 campaign with a three-game series at North Florida.

The Tigers play their first eight games in Florida. After three games in Jacksonville against the Ospreys, they’ll travel east for a game in Tallahassee against Florida A&M. The road trip will conclude in Fort Myers with a game against Northeastern and a three-game series against Rhode Island.

Missouri returns to Columbia for its home-opener against Alabama A&M on Feb. 26, facing a handful of non-conference opponents afterwards, including Kansas State and Northwestern. Winning early season non-conference games will be important. Missouri the last two years has gone 14-3 and 16-1, respectively, prior to the start of Southeastern Conference play, including a 16 game winning streak in 2017.

Its first SEC test is in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a weekend series against the No. 12 Razorbacks starting March 15. Along with Arkansas, Missouri will have three-game series at Texas A&M, No. 13 Georgia, Tennessee and No. 2 Vanderbilt throughout the season. It’ll also host No. 10 Ole Miss, Kentucky and South Carolina, No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Florida during SEC league play.

In addition to SEC opponents, MU has a handful of in-state games, including a home-and-home against Missouri State and home games against St. Louis and Southeast Missouri.

Talking to the media Wednesday, coach Steve Bieser reflected on his team’s upcoming season.

“It’s the toughest schedule we’ve had in my three years here,” Bieser said. “We’re lining up some very quality opponents and we’ve got to go out and compete in the SEC.”

Missouri hopes to build on a 34-22 record in 2018, but it’ll look to improve without junior catcher Jake Matheny, senior outfielder Zach Hanna, and sophomore Cade Bormet, who are out for the season with injuries. All three are taking medical redshirts, per a team spokesman.

In their absence, the Tigers will lean further on junior Kameron Misner, particularly on offense. After missing the last 22 games of 2018, he’s back to full health and was named to the preseason Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list and a preseason Second-Team All-American. It’s likely scouts will have eyes on him throughout the season, so much so that Bieser sees 2019 as Misner’s final year in black and gold.

“Whether you’re [junior] T.J. Sikkema, Kameron Misner, or a senior, you’re down to your last year at the University of Missouri,” Bieser said. “Those guys will be draft guys and we expect them to go high enough that they’re not going to return for their senior year.”

Despite the praise, Misner said he’s struggled during intersquad play this winter and sees it as a testament to how good the pitching staff looks.

“I think I’ve had maybe two hits in 50 at bats,” Misner said. “They’re looking really good, and they got a lot of potential this year.”

Missouri will be sporting pitching rotation that’s predominantly left-handed. Led by Sikkema – who will come out of the bullpen to start the year as he recovers from sickness – it will include junior Art Joven and senior Tyler LaPlante.

“It’s something that not many teams see, and that’s an advantage in itself,” Sikkema said.

The keys to a successful season have been laid out. Among them, the team will have to play well in mid-week games.

“Coach Bieser makes it pretty well known how important the mid-week games are,” Sikkema said. “You can’t lose many of those.”

Missouri will also have to win games against big SEC opponents — the team went just 12-18 last season during league play. Bieser says going .500 in league play is the magic number to stay competitive for for the postseason.

“We’ve been right there every single year,” Bieser said. “Bolstering the offense and being able to score a little bit more will put us over that hump.”

With a strong schedule, Missouri will have a chance to prove it’s better than last place in the SEC East, where the team was ranked in the SEC Baseball Coaches Preseason Poll.

When asked about a certain series that he’s looking forward to this season, instead of responding with a ranked team, Misner gave the answer any athlete who’s been waiting months to play would: “Opening weekend,” he said. “I think the first weekend will be pretty fun.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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