Chris Cornelius steals a base

Missouri infielder Chris Cornelius looks back to first base after stealing second during a game against Florida on April 1, 2017, at Taylor Stadium. The Tigers wrap up their season with a home series against Florida from Thursday through Saturday.

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Despite dropping two out of three on the road against No. 2 Vanderbilt last weekend, No. 24 Missouri rose to its highest RPI this season (No. 14) with its one win in Nashville, Tennessee.

That 5-2 victory Saturday could put the Tigers (34-18-1, 13-13-1 Southeastern Conference) in the conversation about host sites for the first round of the NCAA Tournament this year — 16 teams are allowed the privilege — making this weekend’s home series at Taylor Stadium (6:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday) with an unranked Florida team (30-23, 10-17 SEC) all the more important.

If Missouri isn't chosen to host the NCAA first-round games, these three against Florida will be the Tigers’ last home appearances of the season. The SEC Tournament begins Tuesday in Hoover, Alabama. The NCAA Tournament selection show is May 27 (11 a.m. CT, ESPNU).

The thing to know about Florida and the upcoming series: Pitching has been the Gators’ kryptonite.

They are ranked 42nd in ELO — an algorithm that ranks all 299 Division I teams based on talent alone — according to WarrenNolan.com, placing them as the 11th-best SEC team. For reference, Missouri is 12th in ELO, good for fifth in the conference behind No. 1 Vanderbilt, No. 3 Mississippi State, No. 7 Arkansas and No. 10 Georgia.

Florida’s ranking is for good reason. It sits at a ho-hum 10-17 in conference play, the fourth-worst mark in the SEC. The Gators have struggled especially of late, losing five of their last six conference games. Granted, those losses came against No. 7 Georgia and a talented Tennessee team, but one thing is certain about Florida’s struggles in SEC play: Its pitching has been lacking all year.

The Gators’ 5.40 earned run average is the worst mark in the conference by a solid margin — South Carolina is 13th with a 5.04 ERA — and their batting average against (.273) is last in the SEC as well.

Florida is especially susceptible to power-hitting teams, allowing a league-worst 57 home runs in 2019. Missouri is ninth in the SEC with 50 home runs, and the Tigers’ biggest bats, Peter Zimmermann (seven HRs) and Kameron Misner (10 HRs), are players to watch in this series.

Another shortcoming in Florida’s pitching is its inability to get swings and misses. Only three offenses in the SEC strike out more times than Missouri, but the Tigers should be able to put plenty of balls in play. The Gators’ pitchers have recorded by far the fewest strikeouts in the conference with 383. (Alabama is second worst at 449.)

The combination of a low strikeout rate and high batting average against/ERA could bode well for the Tigers. Expect Missouri to put up plenty of runs against a Florida team that allows nearly eight per SEC game, backing a strong Tigers pitching staff.

Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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