We went in hoping for the turn around, and for some the weekend was over in the bottom of the 2nd on Friday. A decent start for Ranaudo quickly came unhinged as a screaming liner drilled into his left leg just below his knee. He convinced Mainieri to leave him in while clearly hobbling, only to immediately give up a 3-run homer and cause fielding errors that nearly made things worse. In relief, Bourgeois wasn't great and fielding errors compounded to put us in a 0-7 hole before a weather delay forced a stoppage in the bottom of the 5th. Due to strange TV restrictions, we would play Saturday's game as planned, then resume this one Saturday evening.
Despite the outcome, I think Saturday could be seen as the turning point of the offense. Matulis was alright, but as has become a theme for our starters, was out of gas in the 4th. Due to a short top of the 5th, or maybe with hopes of Matulis recovering enough to last another inning, CPM sent Chris out there again only to give up another run and put 2 more in scoring position. In relief, Alsup (after those 2 runners came home on consecutive sac flies) and Cotton performed admirably, but the offense was still in it's slump.
Stop for a moment and imagine this situation. It's the top of the 9th and you are down 1-7 and you still have another 0-7 game to finish. With one on and one out, Landry ignored all of that and blasted one out of the park to make it 3-7, and though that would be it for GM2 they still had more baseball to play that evening. In the continuation, the gators got a cheap sac fly in the 5th and that was it, as Mormann locked Florida down for the rest of the day. In their 1st at bat of the continuation, the Tigers exploded for 4 runs off 5 hits and Mahtook saw the plate twice. They did leave the bases loaded, but finally, mercifully we were getting the hits. Landry brought in another one on a sac fly in the 7th to make it 5-8. Florida, however, went for the kill shot and sent in their ace closer Chapman to end the rally and win the series.
Then came Sunday. Having already lost the series and desperate to keep the small spark of Saturday evening going (or perhaps planned from the beginning, judging by Hawthorne's hints about it during the Friday and Saturday broadcasts) Mainieri turned to his bullpen and saw an unused Matty Ott. Our marquee closer and clearly the 2nd best pitcher on the staff, could The Chalmation Sensation morph into a desperately needed solid starter? In a word, No.
Ott entered the weekend having only given up 8 Earned Runs and gave up 9 in his shortened 3 2/3 appearance. He faced the top of the Florida order 3 times, having particular trouble with Den Dekker. Ott showed signs of life in the 2nd with 2Ks and made you think "Well maybe he was just nervous starting for the 1st time, he's settled down now" only to be lit up for 3 more in the 3rd. Bradshaw had gone warmup before the end of the 3rd, and presumably spent the not-short top of the 4th warming. Still, Ott was sent out again and quickly came apart, giving up another run and leaving the bases loaded for Bradshaw, who gave up the slam on his 1st pitch, putting us in a 10-1 hole. Like Saturday afternoon, we made a valiant effort to close the gap in the later innings, but it was too much to overcome. Florida got the sweep, winning 6-13.
What can we take away from this series which feels as bad as the Ole Miss sweep, just without the lingering psychological damage that accompanies a loss to the Rebs? The offense, while not fully back, is certainly alot more alive than it was heading into the weekend. The team did not quit despite facing daunting challenges all weekend. I can't imagine how draining it must be to see the starting pitching essentially end the game in the 4th, go out there and struggle back, only to continually fall short each time this weekend. In the top of the 8th on Sunday, this team saw blood in the water and went after it, clearly not thinking it was a pointless endeavor. The will and desire to win is still there through all of this mess, and that alone gives me hope that it can all be turned around
Many will claim that the program and fanbase are entering uncharted waters. Alot of talk about how the last time we suffered a skid this bad was before Bertman was even a thought, and baseball was an anonymous oddity that filled the brief period between basketball and crawfish season. Panicked fears about Regional seeding and alot of questioning directed at CPM's strategies. I've even seen a mention of Smoke. Those last people are insane.
I'm not saying criticizing is unwarranted. I have my own serious questions about why Ott was even allowed to start the 4th on Sunday. But the fact remains that we are one (ONE!) game behind last year's squad that went all the way. Slumps happen in baseball and they have a dramatic effect on your standings, a slump against the toughest part of the schedule doubly so. Make no mistake, Ole Miss and Florida are the teams to beat in their divisions this year, and I believe upcoming series against Arky and USC respectively will bear this out in the standings. UNO an inexcusable and unexplainable loss? Need I remind you that we lost to the Communists last year. Yes, improvement is needed if this team plans to go anywhere but Hoover this post-season, and yes, I am sure CPM is currently researching the feasibility of starting a pitching machine on Saturdays. But, in the words of a usually verbose author, "Don't Panic."
While 7 straight losses is very dramatic, it isn't the end of the world, or even the season. If, as I believe, we are on our way out of the slump, this week lines up perfectly to speed the recovery. A mid-week at home against a might-be ranked Southeastern and a home series with East mid-pack Vandy are just what the doctor ordered to get this team going again.
Or, if you prefer, exactly what it will take to tie the worst 3 weeks in LSU Baseball history.