Vanderbilt snapped a two-game skid thanks to a stellar effort from freshman Ryan Johnson on Wednesday. They'll have to rely on more big performances from their youngsters this weekend if they want to get back on track in the SEC.
The Commodores beat Middle Tennessee State 4-0 behind eight walk-free, shutout innings from Johnson. It was a morale-boosting win for this team, but they'll have to prove they can do it against a league opponent after losing their last two series in conference play. Bullpen woes and a lack of timely hitting had stuck Vandy in a 2-6 rut before Wednesday's game.
Missouri will give them the chance to get back on track, but they won't offer the 'Dores much quarter. The Tigers have risen all the way to #14 in the national rankings and have won five of their six SEC series. The only loss in that span came against #2 Texas A&M on the road. At 12-6 in the conference, their battle against Vandy may ultimately decide who earns the SEC East title in 2015.
The Tigers have few superstars, but their balanced attack gives them run-scoring threats at every number on the batting order. Jake Ring gives them a legitimate top-of-the-order masher that Vandy will have to handle delicately, but they can't pitch around him thanks to the presence of shortstop Ryan Howard behind him. Though Mizzou only has one player who is batting better than .300 this season, all but one of their regular starters has hit at least three home runs this season. Vandy has been unraveled by the long ball this year, and that could be a big problem at Hawkins Field this weekend.
Missouri has relied on their pitching to win SEC games. They've allowed just 2.16 runs in their conference victories this season. None of their three weekend starters has an ERA over three. If the Commodores want to earn their first series win since April 5th, they'll have to find a way to get to Mizzou's hurlers early on.
Here's a quick look at those pitching matchups.
Game 1 (Friday, 6:30 PM, SECN+):
Game 2 (Saturday, 2:00 PM, SECN+):
Game 3 (Sunday, 1:00 PM, SECN+):
And, since Andrew isn't around to do it this week, I'll leave you all with this: