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2017 Mississippi State Baseball Opening Weekend Preview

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Taking a look at what to expect in the season opening weekend for the Mississippi State Baseball Team.

The new 3D Mississippi State Baseball Logo Helmet.
Kelly Price: @HailStatePics

Game Times and Broadcast Info

  • Game 1: Texas Tech
  • First Pitch: Friday, 4:00 p.m.
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network+
  • Game 2: Western Illinois
  • First Pitch: Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network+
  • Game 3: Western Illinois
  • First Pitch: Sunday, 12:00 p.m.
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network+
  • Game 4: Texas Tech
  • First Pitch: After completion of Game 3
  • Radio: MSU Radio Network
  • Television: SEC Network+

It’s that time again! The Mississippi State Bulldogs will open the 2017 Baseball Season with two opponents and four games in three days. The Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks (spectacular nickname) and Texas Tech Red Raiders come to Starkville. Western Illinois will provide an opportunity to play lots of players should everything go as planned, and Texas Tech should provide one of the best challenges the team has had to face in an opening weekend in quite some time.

2016 Western Illinois Offensive Profile

  • Team Batting Average: .243 compared to Mississippi State’s .308
  • Extra Base Hits: 92 compared to Mississippi State’s 196
  • Home Runs: 18 compared to Mississippi State’s 47
  • Runs Scored: 195 compared to Mississippi State’s 405
  • Slugging Percentage: .331 to Mississippi State’s .446
  • On Base Percentage: .334 to Mississippi State’s .385
  • Strike Outs: 420 to Mississippi State’s 378
  • Stolen Bases: 56 on 85 attempts compared to Mississippi State’s 51 on 63 attempts

Western Illinois went 14-36 in 2016 and 11-19 in the Missouri Valley Conference. They were a bad hitting team in a not very good conference. Not much about that should change in 2017, so I am not going to spend any significant amount of time previewing the Leathernecks. If the Bulldogs lose either game to Western Illinois, State fans will hit the panic button, and I will likely join them.

2016 Texas Tech Offensive Profile

  • Team Batting Average: .291 compared to Mississippi State’s .308
  • Extra Base Hits: 220 compared to Mississippi State’s 196
  • Home Runs: 55 compared to Mississippi State’s 47
  • Runs Scored: 462 compared to Mississippi State’s 405
  • Slugging Percentage: .444 to Mississippi State’s .446
  • On Base Percentage: .397 to Mississippi State’s .385
  • Strike Outs: 492 to Mississippi State’s 378
  • Stolen Bases: 73 on 89 attempts compared to Mississippi State’s 51 on 63 attempts

While Western Illinois should be a couple of relatively easy wins for the Bulldogs, the Texas Tech Red Raiders won’t be. Texas Tech comes into the season ranked number 14 according to d1baseball.com, and should be one of the best teams in the Big 12.

The offense was potent a season ago, but they will be in the opposite position of Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have a pretty good grasp on their lineup with questions in the pitching staff. The Red Raiders should be solid on the mound, but questions abound in their lineup.

Texas Tech had three players record double digits in home runs in 2016, but all three of those players are gone. In fact, the team only returns three players who started all of last season in Center Fielder Tanner Gardner, Short Stop Orlando Garcia, and Second Baseman Michael Davis, Jr. Left Fielder Ryan Long and First Baseman Hunter Hargrove started about 13 of the games in 2016.

The Red Raiders lost the bulk of their offense like the Bulldogs did from 2016. The reason there is more optimism surrounding Texas Tech is because of their pitching, which we will get to in a moment.

2016 Western Illinois Pitching Profile

  • Team ERA: 6.00 compared to Mississippi State’s 3.35
  • Batting Average Against: .303 compared to Mississippi State’s .245
  • Extra Base Hits Allowed: 152 compared to Mississippi State’s 111
  • Home Runs Allowed: 32 compared to Mississippi State’s 27
  • Strike Outs: 322 compared to Mississippi State’s 576
  • Walks Allowed: 204 compared to Mississippi State’s 208

As bad as the hitting was for Western Illinois, I think the pitching might have been worse. By a lot.

The Leathernecks only had one pitcher who had an ERA under 4.50, and he was a senior reliever who graduated in 2016. Again, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about Western Illinois simply because these are games that would be disastrous if we lost.

2016 Texas Tech Pitching Profile

  • Team ERA: 4.07 compared to Mississippi State’s 3.35
  • Batting Average Against: .260 compared to Mississippi State’s .245
  • Extra Base Hits Allowed: 156 compared to Mississippi State’s 111
  • Home Runs Allowed: 31 compared to Mississippi State’s 27
  • Strike Outs: 444 compared to Mississippi State’s 576
  • Walks Allowed: 257 compared to Mississippi State’s 208

The Bulldogs were clearly the superior pitching team in 2016, but this isn’t last year. Texas Tech is bringing back their two best starters from a season ago who went a combined 14-3.

I thought Konnor Pilkington would go up against one of the best pitchers in the country from 2016 on Friday night. Sophomore Davis Martin went 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA and struck out 61 while only walking 27 in 89.1 innings pitched. Opponents only hit .233 against him. But Texas Tech has decided to pitch Martin against Western Illinois on Friday instead of against Mississippi State Friday afternoon. Instead, Pilkington will face off against the Red Raiders’ number two pitcher, Steven Gingery.

If Pilkington does indeed have the stuff to match up with the best pitchers in the country on Friday night, he’ll get a chance to prove it in the very first game. Pilkington was 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 14 appearances, 11 of which were starts. In 43.1 innings, he struck out 42 and walked 15 while yielding a batting average against him of .229. Pilkington wasn’t asked to do much in 2016, just give the Bulldogs a chance to win. In 2017, he’ll be asked to go pitch for pitch against the best pitchers in the country and Gingery is pretty good himself.

Sophomore Steven Gingery’s numbers weren’t as gaudy as Martin’s but the were very solid. He went 4-2 in 14 starts with a 3.18 ERA in 68 innings pitched. Gingery struck out 63 and walked 31, and opponents hit .245 against him.

Texas Tech is sending Erikson Lanning to the mound for the final game of the weekend. Lanning started 11 games and appeared in three others in 2016. In those games, Lanning posted a 5.02 ERA in 52 innings pitched, and he struck out 36 while walking 18. Hitters batted .282 against him.

Lanning will go up against Ryan Cyr. For the most part, Ryan Cyr had a successful Freshman season. He made 12 appearances and started one midweek game. His record was 1-1 with a minuscule 1.04 ERA. While those stats look great, it came in a very limited sample size. Cyr only pitched 17.1 innings in 2016 and struck out 11 and walked 7. Opponents hit .233 against him in those 17 innings.

Probable outcomes for the weekend

It’s safe to assume the Bulldogs will win both games against Western Illinois. Again, if we don’t, I’ll gladly hit the panic button with the rest of you. So that leaves a scenario of 2-2 being the likely worst case scenario, a middle ground of 3-1, and the euphoric possibility of 4-0 if the Bulldogs can take both from Texas Tech. So what do I think happens?

I’m going with 3-1, and I’m optimistic about a 4-0 start. When I read this release from Texas Tech’s website, I was borderline shocked when I saw the Red Raiders are starting Martin against Western Illinois and not holding Gingery for Sunday against us. If they had, hoping for 3-1 would have been optimistic, but since the Bulldogs get to go against Lanning on Sunday, I feel really optimistic about their chance of winning that game. I think Pilkington has the stuff to out duel Gingery on Friday as well.

The Bulldogs could still lose both games, but the chances that they can pull off at least one win from Texas Tech and possibly two, increase exponentially so long as the Red Raiders stick to this plan. Maybe they are just trying to throw the MSU coaching staff off by announcing the rotation like this. I’ll be interested to see who actually takes the hill in the first game on Friday before the Bulldogs take the field. If the rotation stays this way, there is an opportunity for the Bulldogs to make some noise this weekend.