Last year the Tigers shocked the eventual National Champion Bulldogs in Starkville. Can they make it two years in a row?
Last year the Mississippi State Bulldogs left Omaha as national champions, but earlier in the year, the Tigers were able to do the unthinkable and take 2 of 3 from the Bulldogs in Starkville. This year, Mississippi State is much more flawed and currently is unranked with a losing record in the SEC. Can the Tigers make it back-to-back series victories over the Dogs? Let’s see what they’ll be up against.
After much overhaul from last season’s roster, Brandon Smith has become the Friday night guy for the 2022 rendition of the Bulldogs. Of his 15 appearances this year, just four have been starts, but three have come against stout SEC competition in LSU, Ole Miss, and Auburn. For the year, Smith has a 3.77 ERA in 43 innings with 42 K to just 6 BB.
Smith is your standard fastball, breaking ball, curveball guy, but what really makes him successful is his command. He’s going to sit in the low 90s with his heater, but as you can tell from 42-6 K-BB ratio, Smith won’t beat himself, the Missouri hitters are going to have to do it.
Here’s a look at one of Smith 9 strikeouts last weekend:
Strikeout No. 7⃣ for No. 7⃣
Dawgs coming to the plate in the 5th! pic.twitter.com/nvy19pxyev
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) April 22, 2022
Preston Johnson will most likely be tabbed for the start on Saturday. The Mississippi native has made 9 previous starts, and in 56.1 innings he has a 4.47 ERA with 87 K to just 27 BB. Despite hitters having just a .223 AVG against him, Johnson has made many of his mistakes by way of surrendering homeruns as opponents have 12 off him on the year.
With as astronomically high his strikeout rate is and how big he is at 6-4, 250 lbs, one would think Johnson has a big explosive fastball. However, he actually is going to sit around 92-93, but it has so much late life and ride, that hitters struggle. He will also mix in a 12-6 curve, slider, and changeup. He primarily uses the slider against righties and the changeup against lefties to get outs.
Here’s just one of those many strikeouts he has this year:
Strikeout No. 6⃣ for Beef as Ole Miss leaves the bases loaded!
Headed to the 5th with State trailing 4-1. pic.twitter.com/XiQNWXdg8Y
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) April 23, 2022
Cade Smith, of baseball powerhouse DeSoto Central High School, has been the most consistent of the Mississippi State starters. In each of his 10 appearances this year, he’s got the start for the Bulldogs and given them a quality outing almost every time out. In 55.1 innings, Smith has a 3.74 ERA with 53 K and 27 BB. His best outing of the year came just two weeks ago when he tossed 6 shutout innings against a talented Auburn team.
Per usual, Smith also has the Fastball, breaking ball, changeup combination of most college pitchers, and he’s going to sit 92-94. At times this year he has struggled with command, however, as you can tell from his 27 BB this year. He even walked 4 batters in his start against Auburn, but he’s shown a great ability to pitch around that trouble despite being just a sophomore.
Here’s a tight slider Smith used to get a punch out last week:
.@csmit122 K Counter: ❌❌
E2: Ole Miss 1, Mississippi State 0 pic.twitter.com/GZhMom5DR2
— Mississippi State Baseball (@HailStateBB) April 23, 2022
Here’s what the rest of the Mississippi State pitchers have done this year:
Getting things started right at the top of this lineup is 2B RJ Yeager. The graduate transfer has made the move to Starkville this year and excelled instantly. He’s slashing .295/.388/.604 and has 12 HR with 38 RBI all from the leadoff spot. He’s very much your modern leadoff hitter and not your standard get on and score kind of guy.
Yeager is a very aggressive hitter and loves to jump on pitches early. If he gets his pitch, it’s probably not going to be good for the pitcher, but if you can get him deeper into counts, Yeager will show more weakness. RHP can put him away with sliders away, but if they make a mistake before they can get there, there’s a good chance Yeager already has a hit.
Here’s one of Yeager’s 12 bombs this year that he hit last weekend:
RJ Yeager -‘22 Elig. pulls the hands in and gets the barrel to the inside part to keep this long ball just in side the foul pole @HailStateBB #PGDraft https://t.co/Dg6it4hJj9 pic.twitter.com/eFztUg6lIK
— PG College Baseball (@PGCollegeBall) April 24, 2022
Another one of the great hitters on this Bulldog team is Brad Cumbest. The LF is the team leader in AVG and SLG% and is slashing .331/.368/.636. He also has 12 HR and 29 RBI this year. Typically you’ll see him hit around 5th in the lineup as protection for Hunter Hines, who we will get to later, but he’s not your typical 5th hitter as you could make an argument that he’s the Bulldogs most dangerous bat. If he’s not the best, he undoubtedly is the hottest bat fresh off an SEC player of the week nod.
Like Yeager, Cumbest also loves to jump on the first pitch and be aggressive. If he can catch you trying to just get one over and get ahead in the count, he’s going to make you pay. However, his aggressiveness is also a part of his downfall. Cumbest can be somewhat impatient at the dish and doesn’t walk very much. If Tiger pitchers can get ahead on him, they should be able to take advantage of that despite his elite power and bat-to-ball abilities.
Here’s Cumbest’s game-winning extra-innings bomb against Ole Miss:
Brad Cumbest with a 10th inning bomb that proved to be the difference and the Dawgs have now won 6 straight series over Ole Miss. 18-4 since 2016 and they’ll run it back for the midweek governors cups this Tuesday.
— SEC Baseball (@SECbaseball) April 24, 2022
You’re going to want to keep an eye out for this next kid. Hunter Hines is only a true freshman, but he’s already making a major impact on the Bulldogs. He’s slashing .271/.377/.587, and he leads the team in HR and RBI with 13 and 44, respectively. While his defensive abilities may be somewhat of a question, his ability to barrel balls is most definitely not. This kid simply rakes.
Like his aforementioned counterparts on the team, Hines loves to jump on pitchers early in the count. He has 4 HR on 0-0 counts this year for perspective. But even with all his potential and overflowing raw power, Hines can sometimes try to get a little too big. He often expands the zone when he’s down in the count and that leads to a lot of strikeouts, another stat that he leads the Bulldogs in. Nevertheless, Hines is only a freshman, and he’s going to continue to improve, and the though of that is terrifying after seeing what he’s already doing this year.
Here’s what all of the Bulldog hitters have done this year:
Friday | 6 pm | SEC Network +
Saturday | 2 pm | SEC Network +
Sunday | 2 pm | SEC Network