Wednesday, May 15, 2013

MIZZOU MATCHUP: Kentucky Wildcats

Head Coach: Gary Henderson (158-121 in 5th season as Alabama Head Coach)

Taylor Stadium at Simmons Field - Columbia, MO
Thursday @ 6 PM CT
Friday @ 6 PM CT
Saturday @ 1 PM CT – Fox College Sports

Kentucky (29-22, 10-17 SEC) @ Missouri (16-30, 9-19 SEC)

Missouri will close out their season with a weekend series at home against a Kentucky team that has spent much of their year in Baseball America’s top 25. They have struggled lately, dropping five of their last six conference games, which includes getting swept at home by No. 1 Vanderbilt last week. Vandy taking over the top spot marks the first time all season North Carolina has relinquished it. Mizzou will try to at least break even at home this year coming in 10-11. Kentucky will try to do the same as they are 7-9 on the road.

Projected Lineup
RF Kyle Barrett (L) .351
LF Zac Zellers (R) .239
P A.J. Reed (L) .291
C Greg Fettes (R) .250
2B J.T. Riddle (L) .286
CF Austin Cousino (L) .256
3B Max Kuhn (R) .251
1B Michael Thomas (R) .240
SS Matt Reida (L) .235

Position Players
The lineup below is the best that I can anticipate for Thursday’s game, as it changes up a bit when AJ Reed is not on the bump. The rest of the weekend, expect Michael Thomas behind the plate, Greg Fettes taking care of the DH duties in the middle of the order, and Reed moving over to play first.

This is the most lefty-heavy lineup the Tigers have faced this year, which can cause problems for the back end of their rotation. Leadoff man Kyle Barrett is making a statement as a freshman, leading the team with a .351 average and .405 OBP, mostly getting on with singles. He has to rely on teammates behind him to move him over though as he has only swiped four bases, something they’d like to see more of out of the leadoff spot. They can’t really complain though with the amount he reaches.

He sets up all around athlete A.J. Reed, who resides in the three spot in the order. Reed, who earned first-team Freshman All-America honors from Baseball America and Louisville Slugger last season, will likely be drafted next month for the second time (25th round by NY Mets out of high school in 2011). His 13 dingers and 51 RBIs are both more than twice anybody else on the team, and his homer total puts him third in the SEC (Mississipi St. C Hunter Renfroe leads with 15). This naturally gives him the best slugging percentage on the team by over .100, at .548.

Kentucky has power spread throughout the lineup, with six players that have gone deep on three or more occasions. This makes for a very strong and consistent lineup top to bottom; they just have struggled putting it all together to close out the season. They will look to use this weekend as a tune-up for the SEC tournament, as they have the capability of going deep in the postseason if they return to the form they were at when the season began.

Projected Pitching Matchups
RHP Eric Anderson (0-3, 3.98 ERA) vs. LHP A.J. Reed (2-7, 3.81 ERA)
RHP Brett Graves (1-5, 3.95 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Cody (3-3, 4.82 ERA)
LHP Rob Zastryzny (2-9, 3.64 ERA) vs. LHP Corey Littrell (5-5, 3.92 ERA)

These matchups may be a little off depending on what Kentucky coach Gary Henderson wants to do going into the SEC Tournament, but regardless all three projected pitching matchups should be fun to watch. Two-way player A.J. Reed can get lit hit from time to time, as his batting average against is .293, highest of any starter the Tigers will see this weekend, but he does not walk many. Corey Littrell and Kyle Cody both have decently high strikeout totals, so the Tigers should jump on them early in counts. Relying on walks will not work, as all three have shown they are very efficient.

Matchup Wrap-up
Do not be fooled by their SEC record, this Wildcat team has the capability to go deep in the conference tournament when they put it all together. On the flip side, Missouri has the opportunity to capitalize off Kentucky struggles of late and finish the season on a high note. If they play well, we could see the Tigers as a low seed in the tournament; but if they proverbially poop the bed, it could mean watching from home. Kentucky defense can be suspect at times, while 58 errors may not seem like too many over 51 games, but those have resulted in 51 unearned runs. Their errors have come back to hurt them many times.

Other SEC games this weekend (all 5/16-18):
Alabama @ (1) Vanderbilt
(11) Arkansas @ Auburn
Florida @ Georgia
(23) Ole Miss @ (2) LSU
(14) South Carolina @ (24) Mississippi State
Texas A&M @ Tennessee

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