Awesome. PodKatt has taken over the "Better Know A Regional" feature that I used to write, meaning I don't have to do it. And while it does make good fodder for a blogpost, it frees me up to rant and rave about other things.
Pod actually hinted at it when he suggested starting Bradshaw against Kent State, a team ranked lower in the RPI (#116) than Indiana (#104), West Virginia (#105), Jacksonville (#106), BYU (#110), and Marshall (#112)... all teams with a losing record.
Anyway, the possibility of juggling the pitching staff has already been brought up after Ranaudo's extended outing on Sunday. At the time, it was of the hand wringing variety, as the more myopic members of the LSU fanbase worried that Mainieri's rugged pursuit of the SEC title might have come at the cost of our star pitcher's Friday availability in the Regionals. Now, it doesn't seem like all that bad of an idea.
Ranaudo is our best pitcher. UCLA is, by a significant margin, the best team in this region. The path to the Supers goes through the Bruins. It makes sense to hold our ace pitcher until a potential matchup with UCLA because we cannot get through this region without beating UCLA. Save the nuclear option for the Bruins.
Now, I know I argued against this practice last season when Fullerton tried to save their ace for LSU, but this is a slightly different situation. This is a regional, not the CWS. The rule that every team is really good, and of roughly equal quality, doesn't apply in a regional. UCLA is a cut above UCI and LSU, not to mention several cuts above Kent St. Save the big gun for the big game.
Additionally, Austin Ross might be better suited to pitch to UCI than Ranaudo. If there is one thing that Ross does very well, it is throw strikes. He only walked 19 batters all year. He threw 81.1 innings, so he only allowed 2.1 BB/9. Ranaudo, by contrast, allowed 4.5 BB/9. It's about the only thing Ross does better than Ranaudo, but it might be the most important skill against the Anteaters.
If you remember back to 2008, UCI is a classic small ball team. They try and get a runner on, however possible, and then they bunt him over (or attempt a steal). Ross' ability to avoid free passes is a critical skill against a small ball team. As is observing the unofficial ATVS anti-small ball mantra: If the other team insists on giving you outs, by God, you have to take them. We don't need Ranaudo trying to miss bats, we need Ross pitching to contact. Let them bunt!*
*Or even better, let them steal. For a team that runs as often as UCI, they really aren't very good at it. The rule of thumb is that a team needs to steal at about a 70% success rate to be adding runs with the running game, Irvine is 36 for 63. That's 57.1%, which is horrible. I know LSU's had some problems throwing out runners (58 for 73, 79.4% success rate against), but this could be the cure for what ails us. What happens when the resistible force meets the moveable object?
If UCI is going to bunt every time they get a runner on, it's a waste to use Ranaudo. They are trying to make contact so they will make an out. The chances of a strikeout against the bunt is pretty low. Let Ross throw ‘em strikes. It might be just as effective as having a strikeout pitcher on the mound.
Of course, this could blow up in our faces horribly. What happens if LSU loses the first game with Ross on the hill and then goes into a loser's bracket game against Kent St? Then Mainieri would be faced with the horrifying prospect of getting eliminated in the regional without ever throwing his ace.
It's a risky strategy, but let's admit we probably need a high-risk, high-reward strategy to win this region. I'm not saying we should take crazy gambles, but a calculated risk like starting Ross on Friday might be the kind of gamble that LSU has to take to make it through this region.
Roll the dice.