The streak had to come to an end eventually. After opening the season with 25 consecutive wins - setting an SEC record - A&M finally dropped their first game of the season in the second game of a Saturday doubleheader against Alabama in Hoover last weekend. The Aggies wasted no time erasing that game from their memory, though, by roughing up UTSA to the tune of an 11-1 victory in Tuesday evening's game in San Antonio. A&M comes into the weekend holding a one-game lead over LSU in the SEC West standings at this entirely-too-early point in the season, but they are going up against a team that very few expected to see at the top of the SEC East standings at any point in 2015.
Missouri sits tied with Vanderbilt atop the SEC East standings with a 5-1 record in conference play, but the Tigers have not been nearly as successful out of conference. They are a bit of a puzzling team, but their series win over South Carolina last weekend served notice that they should be taken seriously. Mizzou started SEC play with a sweep on the road at Georgia, and followed that up by taking 2 of 3 games against the Gamecocks at home last weekend.
Prior to starting conference play, Missouri was swept at home by Milwaukee and outscored 15-6 in that series. They have also split a pair of midweek games with both Air Force and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in recent weeks. All of this is to say that they are still a bit hard to figure out, but they certainly are not a team that is going to come in and smash the cover off the baseball. The Tigers are the second-worst offensive team in the SEC coming into this weekend, just ahead of Ole Miss in both batting average and slugging percentage and tied with Tennessee for last in on-base percentage. The Tigers win with pitching - they are second in the league (behind A&M, mind you) in team ERA and they also have the second-lowest batting average against in the conference. Let's take a look at the pitching match ups for the weekend and a quick comparison between the Aggies and Tigers!
Grayson Long (5-0, 2.08) vs Reggie McClain (4-1, 1.74)
TV: SEC Network+; Radio: 12th Man TV, 1150AM
Grayson has responded extremely well to being forced into the Friday night starter role after A.J. Minter went down for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Long picked up wins in each of his two Friday starts since Minter's injury, working 6 innings and allowing 1 earned run with 7 strikeouts against Auburn and then delivering an impressive 14 strikeout performance in 6 innings of 1-run work against Alabama last weekend. Opposing batters are currently hitting just .184 against him, and his 43 strikeouts so far on the year lead the A&M staff.
RHP Reggie McClain is undoubtedly the ace of this Missouri pitching staff, so we could be in for a pretty good pitcher's duel on Friday night. McClain has gone 4-1 in 6 starts this season, including 2 complete games, and he leads Missouri in innings pitched at 46.2. The Tigers' junior starter was excellent in last Friday's win over South Carolina, working 8.1 innings and allowing just 2 runs on 5 hits with no walks and 3 strikeouts. He worked a full 9 innings in his previous start against Georgia, giving up only 1 run on 6 hits and striking out 8 while walking 2. His batting average against is just a hint higher than Grayson's, coming in at .189 before this weekend.
Kyle Simonds (2-0, 0.00) vs Tanner Houck (3-1, 3.02)
TV: SEC Network; Radio: 12th Man TV, 1150AM
Coach Childress decided to shakeup the rotation this weekend, giving junior transfer Kyle Simonds his first start for Texas A&M. Simonds has impressed out of the bullpen all season, having not allowed an earned run in 8 appearances, and it has been a luxury for Childress to have him in relief. However, Matt Kent's struggles in the Saturday spot last weekend against Alabama appear to have prompted a change. Simonds relieved Kent in that game and proceeded to work the remaining 5 innings, allowing 1 unearned run on just 5 hits. This is a big spot for Simonds to make his first start in the Maroon and White, so we'll see how he responds.
Simonds will face off against a true freshman who has been pretty impressive thus far for Mizzou. RHP Tanner Houck comes into this weekend having walked the fewest batters of the Tigers' starters with just 3 walks issued, and he has worked 41.2 innings over his 6 starts this year. His most recent start against South Carolina last weekend did not earn him a decision, but he worked 8 innings and allowed 2 runs on 8 hits with no walks and 8 strikeouts. He did not pick up a decision in his prior start either, giving up 3 runs on 5 hits in 7.1 innings of work with 7 strikeouts and a walk against Georgia.
Matt Kent (5-0, 3.20) vs Peter Fairbanks (2-2, 1.82)
TV: SEC Network+; Radio: 12th Man TV, 1150AM
For the first time this season, Matt Kent failed to earn a win in a start after picking up victories in each of his first 5 starts to begin 2015. Kent certainly did not have his best stuff in his start in the first game of the Saturday doubleheader, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) on 6 hits in 4 innings of work along with a walk and a strikeout. Coach Childress elected to move him back to his more customary Sunday starter role by inserting Simonds into the Saturday spot, so keep on eye on whether he can bounce back from his first rough outing of the season against Missouri this weekend.
Junior RHP Peter Fairbanks did not appear to have his best stuff in his most recent outing for Missouri last Sunday, but overall he has been quite good for the Tigers thus far in 2015. Fairbanks has allowed just 7 earned runs in 34.2 innings of work, striking out 29 and walking just 7, and opponents are hitting .234 against him. He only lasted 5 innings last Sunday against South Carolina, allowing 2 runs on 8 hits while walking 1 and striking out 1. His previous start against Georgia, however, was much better. In that game, which completed the Tigers' sweep over the Bulldogs, Fairbanks worked 7 scoreless innings and gave up just one hit, striking out 6 batters and walking 3.
OF Nick Banks (.426, 17 RBI)
C Brett Bond (.291, 11 RBI)
|Batting Avg Against||.217||.205|
The weather is going to be absolutely beautiful this weekend, so I expect that Olsen Field will be packed and rocking. This A&M team has been incredibly fun to watch this season, so get yourself out to Olsen and support the Ags! BTHO Mizzou!