COLUMBIA — The overwhelming reaction from Missouri players, coaches and fans regarding the circumstances surrounding the Tigers 13-10 win against Kansas State on Friday night bordered on indifference. After all, they had won. It wasn’t a moral victory, but an actual win against a conference opponent.
The particulars weren’t dwelled upon. After suffering through a five-game losing streak and posting a losing record over the past month, no one really wanted to. They’d talked enough about their struggles. Had they chosen to do so, however, their enthusiasm might have been exposed as tempered.
With the worst offensive team in the Big 12 coming to town to face junior Aaron Crow, perhaps the nations best pitcher, this weekend’s series against the Wildcats seemed to be the perfect cure-all for a team with plenty of ills. Unless Crow fighting back spasms while allowing six runs and the Tigers offense beating up on a fill-in starter with the wind blowing out count as fixes, however, it appears as though a complete turnaround will have to wait.
“Hopefully this will relax us a little bit,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said of the win. “I thought we played relaxed tonight, but at times they made runs at us and we weren’t as relaxed as we needed to be.
“Confidence is a big key to this game, and we’re struggling to get it right now.”
Whether or not the Tigers (30-15 overall, 10-9 in conference) are lacking confidence is an unknown. The players claim to have it, though it is difficult to envision a scenario when they might admit to a deficit. According to Aaron Senne, what they do have is an opportunity.
“We’ve got enough time,” Senne said. “Ten games is plenty of time to get rolling and get the momentum in our favor going to the playoffs.”
In order to do that, they’ll have to play better than they did Friday. If they want to go deep in the playoffs, they’ll likely have to play like they did at the start of the season, as opposed to the way they’ve played for over a month.
While it is easy to place the blame on the offense, which has struggled, it may be the pitching staff that has lead to the team’s slump. For a team built on pitching and defense, the offense wasn’t expected to carry the team anyway. The numbers bare this out.
In their past 24 games, the Tigers pitching staff has allowed 166 runs. In the 21 games prior to that, they allowed only 72. While the offense has scored fewer runs, the disparity is not nearly as stark. Getting Crow, who has allowed 22 runs in his past 24 innings, back to his normal self would be a step in the right direction.
“He has not pitched nearly as well as he’s capable of the last four times out, but we’re still winning his games, with last weekend being the only exception,” Jamieson said.
Crow isn’t the only culprit. The defense, once the most effective in the Big 12 Conference, has fallen to the middle of the pack. The rest of the Missouri pitching staff, widely heralded early in the season, has a chance allow more runs than any Tiger squad since 2003. The return of a healthy and effective Rick Zagone will help — in no small part because it will allow former Sunday starter Ian Berger to pitch midweek, where they’ve had major problems — but that takes an arm away from the bullpen, which has been ineffective at best. Handed a six run lead in the ninth inning, closer Nick Tepesch allowed the potential winning run to come to the plate before he was removed.
“Ryan Allen was phenomenal,” Jamieson said. “He put up zeros when we were having trouble putting up zeros. We need someone to step up in the bullpen right now, and Ryan Allen is doing it.”
If they want to reach their goal of making the College World Series, however, they’ll need more than Ryan Allen stepping up. While small, Friday was a start.