Photo by Rebecca Warren, LSU
LSU Baseball

Defining week for LSU baseball

May 7, 2019
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Four months ago, the college baseball analysts expected Vanderbilt and LSU to be in a heated race for the Southeastern Conference championship as the calendar moved to mid-May.

The Commodores have held up their end of the bargain. Vanderbilt, 18-6 in the SEC, has a one-game lead over Arkansas in the overall league standings. Meanwhile, the Tigers have realistically fallen out of the chase for the SEC title. LSU is in sixth place – four games behind Vanderbilt.

The Tigers are still in the hunt for a NCAA tournament regional host bid. However, the four games over a five-day span this week will greatly determine LSU’s postseason status.

On Tuesday, the Tigers play host to Louisiana Tech at The Box. The Bulldogs have a RPI of 50 heading into this week’s schedule. On Thursday, LSU opens a three-game series against Arkansas in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks, national runners-up a year ago, have a RPI of 5.

If the Tigers win three of four games this week, they will have situated themselves in a good position to be one of the 16 regional hosts. If LSU splits the four games, it will remain on the regional host bubble. If the Tigers lose three games, they will have to concern themselves with just making the NCAA tourney.

It is pretty simple to understand why things have not gone as expected for LSU. The offense has been simply adequate – plagued by too much inconsistency.

Daniel Cabrera, expected to be the top offensive player, is batting less than .300. He has been dropped to the No. 7 spot in the lineup at times. Saul Garza, whom coach Paul Mainieri expected to be the No. 3-hole hitter, is batting .222. Only recently has Garza moved into the starting lineup.

But, the crux of the Tigers’ problems revolves around a totally ineffective pitching staff. The LSU weekend rotation is a mess. The Tigers have no reliable closer. The team ERA in the recently-completed series against Ole Miss was 7.07. The team ERA for the year is a very mediocre 4.55.

Back in January, Mainieri expected the top three starters to be Zack Hess, Eric Walker and one of three talented freshmen – Landon Marceaux, Jalen Hill or Cole Henry. Todd Peterson was slotted in the closer’s role.

Let’s look at what has happened to those six pitchers.

Hess won only two starts and has been moved to the bullpen. Walker has been on a roller-coaster ride as he rebounds from Tommy John surgery – a 4-4 record and a 5.30 ERA.

All three freshmen have been sidelined due to arm problems. Marceaux has a 7.04 ERA in 31 innings. Hill has not pitched since the second weekend of the season. Henry, who was ready to become the Friday night starter, will miss his third straight series against the Razorbacks.

Peterson is no longer the ninth-inning guy in the bullpen. His ERA is 4.11 and opposing hitters are batting .270. Peterson registered only two saves. Devin Fontenot, who replaced Peterson as the closer, has been bad the past two weeks.

It has been written here on numerous occasions this season how starting pitching is the most important quality for any team. In each of the last six SEC games, the Tigers starting pitcher has not even gotten six outs before allowing a run. LSU is probably fortunate to be 3-3 in those six games.

The picture is not bright for the Tigers as regards being a regional host. LSU has fallen to the No. 6 spot among SEC teams – behind Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Georgia and Ole Miss. The Tigers lost series to Georgia and Ole Miss. LSU did win a series at Mississippi State.

It is rare for one conference to have six of its teams to be a regional host. For that reason, the Tigers need a strong finish – beginning with their four games this week.

 

Here is the remaining conference schedule for the six SEC teams in the mix to be a NCAA tournament regional host team.

VANDERBILT (18-6): Missouri, at Kentucky

ARKANSAS (17-7): LSU, at Texas A&M

GEORGIA (16-8): at Auburn, Alabama

MISSISSIPPI STATE (15-9): at Ole Miss, South Carolina

OLE MISS (15-9): Mississippi State, at Tennessee

LSU (14-10): at Arkansas, Auburn

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Tags: Baseball, LSU, 2019
 
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