Entering the last few Southeastern Conference series of the regular season, Missouri baseball has some ground to make up if it wants to earn a postseason berth.
Right now, the Tigers (12-26 5-13 SEC) are tied with Texas A&M for 12th place in the SEC. Because Missouri won the series 2-1 against the Aggies in early April, it holds the tiebreaker and is the last team in the tournament.
In its last SEC series, Alabama (25-15 8-10) lost to Kentucky. The Crimson Tide won their first game 10-1, but lost both ends of a doubleheader 5-2 and 11-0.
In addition to Kentucky, Alabama was defeated 2-1 by No. 1 Arkansas and No. 6 Tennessee, and was swept at home by No. 3 Ole Miss. Bama's wins included a sweep of Texas A&M and a 2-1 win against archrival Auburn.
Alabama is clearly a better team than Missouri, but if the Tigers can scrape together a win, it's likely they will stay ahead of A&M in SEC standings. The Aggies play No. 5 Mississippi State at Dudy Noble Field Friday, and it will be a tall task for them to put together a win.
In the past, the last team to make the SEC tourney has won about 11-12 conference games. With five, Missouri is behind the pace. Missouri plays Auburn at home to end the season, and could potentially pick up two or even three wins against the visiting Tigers, who have had an abysmal season. But before then, MU also has to play Mississippi State on the road, and take on No. 4 Tennessee.
Looking ahead is important, but Missouri has enough on its plate this weekend at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Alabama sits in fourth place in the SEC West, a position that shouldn't be scoffed at considering the three better teams are all ranked in the top 25 and two in the top 10.
The Crimson Tide are led by their bats, specifically home runs. Alabama is tied for 15th in the country in long balls with 51. Missouri struggled with allowing home runs Tuesday against Kansas State, giving up two . Alabama isn't quite as proficient at going yard as K-State, but the Tigers' pitching can't give Alabama hitters anything easy.
This puts Missouri pitchers in a tough spot, because finding the corners of the plate has been a struggle this season. MU ranks 283rd out of 286 Division I teams in walks per game with 7.13. Bieser has said that most of the problems have metastasized in the pitchers' own heads, and that his staff is trying too hard to paint the black around the plate, rather than throw strikes.
One way or another, the Tigers need to figure things out because Alabama has a lineup that will make them pay. Three Tide hitters bat above .300; Zane Denton, Peyton Wilson and William Hamiter.
Hamiter is the outlier with only two home runs, while Denton and Wilson have seven and eight, respectively. Sam Praytor is the biggest threat for a homer in the lineup, leading the team with 11. Not far behind is teammate Owen Diodati with 10. Diodati averages just .257 on the year, but came up big Tuesday against UAB, going 3 for 4.
The Tigers have a tough task in Tuscaloosa, but the series is pivotal for the potential for postseason play.