I hate this photo and I hate using it.
LSU did not make the NCAA tournament, the first miss for LSU in 4 years. It's the 2nd miss under Mainieri (though no one blames him for the 1st one) and only the 5th June without LSU baseball since the beginning of the Bertman era in 1984. The last time a head coach at LSU missed the NCAAs in his 5th year, he got canned. Certainly recent successes and a ring will prevent anything that drastic from happening this year. But being an NCAA bubble team and falling behind an always improving SEC is not what fans expect. Neither is having a team that makes you second guess if they should have even been in the bubble conversation to begin with.
Sure, there are plenty of questionable teams that got in ahead of us (St John's immediately jumps out at you.) but getting into this position in the first place is the real problem. Every negative about LSU's resume rings true. 7-11 road record, which drops to 4-11 if you take out non-tourney teams. Our conference record against post-season SEC teams is a grotesque 4-14. Only 1 road series victory. With the exception of the Pontiff game against USM, the only non-conf road games were in-state cupcakes. 9th in the SEC without a trip to Hoover. That kind of resume isn't going to get you into the postseason anymore.
The way to fix this is to schedule some road games. Waiting until March to have the 1st weekend away from home may help us keep the attendance title, but it obviously hurts in the eyes of the committee. The cocky excuse of "Alex Box is so awesome, why would we ever leave?" rings hollow when you're sitting at home on the 1st of June. Just being on the road is good enough, as UGA found out by getting swept at a surprisingly good Stetson to open the year. Certainly Southern coach Rodger Cador will be getting a call about restarting the home and home, and it's not too far out to think about seeing LSU head to a far-flung early season tourney at a pro park on the west coast.
Or maybe we wont have to. The other way to improve our standing is to win games. If LSU could have held on to any one of the close games in league play this season (Florida, Arkansas, Miss St., Auburn) we would have made Hoover and gotten an at-large spot that went to one of the other SEC-W teams. In most of those games, relief pitching let us down, which has been a problem for 2 years now.
Which brings us to the discussion about potential coaching changes. I don't think either Javi Sanchez or David Grewe will be fired or replaced this offseason, but if I had to bet, my money is on Grewe. The battery just doesn't seem to be improving from game to game or year to year. With the single exception of the Fullerton series, Matty Ott was still in the same slump he was last season all year. Middle relief has been scattershot. The only improvement I see is McCune, Gausman, and Eades getting better as they adjust to the college game. Tyler Jones has had a horrible year against competition that is actually alive. Sure, losing Rittiner and Bourgeois for the entire year to TJ surgery would have hurt us initially, but by mid-conference season you have to be past that and we weren't.
As for Javi, I honestly believe he gets a pass, as most hitting coaches will, due to the new bats. You may think it a crutch, but when a national seed like Texas has only about a dozen homers as a team, clearly the game has had a major shift. For all the talk lately about base running, we really haven't had that bad of a year. Yes, we lead the SEC in caught stealing, but not by a wide margin. We were also near the top in successful stolen bases and attempts, so it was more of an effect of an aggressive baserunning strategy than any coaching mistake (though wether our coaching strategies were right this year is a matter worthy of it's own discussion).
There is also the matter of putting Mainieri on the hot seat. The singular goal of this program, above beating Ole Miss or Tulane, above winning or making Hoover, is to get to Omaha and missing twice is going to get the fanbase disturbed. Now that it's been 5 years, you're going to see it a lot over the next few days, so lets get the Manieri-Laval comparisons out of the way
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That last line is a big one, and it's why I think it's still another year before any sort of hot seat talk can truly begin. The story has been told many times how Mainieri cleaned house after his first year and built a champion. There is a lot of youth on this team right now and maybe it just needs time. LSU isn't used to rebuilding years in the time that the sport has supplanted basketball as #2 in our hearts, but we may be asking the impossible. Paul Mainieri is not Skip Bertman, but neither is anyone else. Demanding that level of excellence is what we as LSU fans are going to do, but I worry that we will over-react when we don't get it.
This is not the end of our baseball coverage for the year by any means. A full review of the roster, who's a draft risk, and a rooting guide for the tourney (because what are you going to do for the next month, watch pro ball?) are all in the works for the coming days.