After winning on Friday night behind another dominant performance by Aaron Nola, LSU dropped the next two games to lose the series to South Carolina. Despite the howls that this team is slipping or that they "peaked too early", I don't see it that way. At all. In fact, I was pretty encouraged by a lot of things that I saw over the weekend.
First...the bad. Obviously, LSU didn't score enough runs in two of the three games. The little things in baseball get magnified a thousand times over in close games. Things such as hitting with runners in scoring position, executing a sacrifice, sound defense, or even just making a complete stop with your hands before throwing a pitch. We have taken these things for granted on this LSU team, especially the outstanding defense. But at times this weekend, the team did not do these little things. This is the second weekend in a row that I'm mentioning these things, and hopefully it will be the last.
Saturday had a ton of examples. In a tie game, Alex Bregman boots a relatively routine ground ball in the ninth inning to put a runner on base which starts a rally from South Carolina. Later in the inning and perhaps not totally focused after giving up a run, Chris Cotton balks in another run. In the bottom half of the ninth, LSU managed to get runners on the corners with nobody out. If they were down just one run instead of two, perhaps they can get one across. Both innings where Carolina scored runs were helped by errors.
I still believe this is an excellent defensive team. I just believe they may have lost a tad bit of focus with such an impressive start to the season and a comfortable lead in the SEC West standings.
The failure to knock in runs on Saturday had to be damn near historic. LSU managed 14 hits and got the leadoff man aboard in eight of the nine innings. However, they managed to produce just two runs. That included two situations with a runner on third base and less than two outs and failing to get the run home. Frustrating, for sure. But also not characteristic of this team.
Having said all of that, I'm still not that upset about losing the series. A lot of evidence exists that this team is excellent on defense, and I feel confident they'll show that for the rest of the season. And yes, it sucks that LSU couldn't string the hits together, but the fact that they managed 14 hits on Saturday and 30 for the weekend against a team like South Carolina is a good thing.
Overall, Katz and Bregman aren't destroying the ball any more. But it was unrealistic to think they'd both hit .450 all season. However, a number of other guys in the lineup are hitting now. Jacoby Jones rebounded nicely from his benching last weekend with five hits against the Cocks. He's all the way back to .260 now. Ty Ross is hitting the ball well right now, back over the Mendoza line at .209. and showing the ability to deliver some clutch at bats. Right now, there is not an easy out in the lineup, and that can often be more beneficial than what we saw earlier in the season when Katz and Bregman were on fire while Jones/Ross/Sciambra couldn't hit a thing.
Sean McMullen continues to produce at the top of the lineup, adding five more hits to his total and bringing is average up to .313.
LSU has been searching and searching for another right handed stick in the lineup to face lefty pitching. Jared Foster may have won that job. He had a nice weekend, going 5 for 11 at the plate while also drawing a walk.
Against righties, LSU still has the option of playing Andrew Stevenson or Chris Sciambra in the outfield or putting Sean McMullen in right with Tyler Moore in the DH spot. Based on his meeting with the media on Monday, it sounds like Paul Maineri likes having Stevenson in the lineup for his defense and speed. But Stevenson sure looked over-matched at the plate on Sunday.
On the mound, you obviously have to love what you've seen from Aaron Nola. There's just not much to say about him. He's really dialed in right now.
I really liked what I saw from Ryan Eades on Saturday. His last two starts were really shaky, and I was one who was questioning whether we were about to see a repeat of last year when he fell apart. Then on Saturday, he comes out and the first inning doesn't go real well. He gave up three hits and with the aid of an error, Carolina gets two runs on the board. Here we go again, right? We were all thinking, and you can bet that Eades was thinking it too. Instead of caving in, Eades really, really dug deep and found his stuff. He gave up just three more hits over the next six innings without allowing a run. He deserved to win the game, but LSU just couldn't get enough runs across. That was a gutsy performance, and let's hope it carries over. It sounds kind of silly but LSU needed Eades to find his confidence again more than they needed to win that game. It's a shame they couldn't both, though.
Obviously, the Kurt McCune experiment on Sunday didn't go real well. McCune had a disaster of a first inning which set the tone for the entire game. The entire LSU team couldn't pull out of their funk after that. But the sliver lining is that Brent Bonvillain came in and pitched four excellent innings. That seems like the fifth time this year he has done that. Maineri has already said that Cody Glenn will be back in the rotation next Sunday. I don't blame Maineri for giving McCune a shot. Glenn has often been good but has grossly inconsistent. McCune had looked excellent after returning from injury and deserved the opportunity. But for now, it appears the experiment is over.
Lastly, I don't think losing this series is such a bad thing because it gives this team some adversity to overcome. To this point, they really haven't had any. They're sure to face some in the post season, so it's not a bad thing to see what this group is made of ahead of time. Remember, it took an unexpected series loss to shake up the 2009 team before they really got rolling. I also recall a year ago when South Carolina lost a home series to LSU, but regrouped and went on a run to the CWS Finals.
Overall, LSU is still in great shape. They've got a 2.5 game lead over Arkansas in the SEC West. The problem is that the Hogs have some relatively easy opponents left on the schedule (@Kentucky, vs. Tennessee, @Auburn), so they're not going away. But if LSU can just manage to go 5-4 the rest of the way, they're all but a lock for a national seed...which is really the goal of any regular season.
|Vanderbilt||19 - 2||.905||39 - 6||.867||27-3||12-3||0-0||W6|
|South Carolina||13 - 8||.619||33 - 12||.733||23-4||10-6||0-2||W2|
|Florida||12 - 9||.571||25 - 20||.556||17-14||8-5||0-1||L1|
|Kentucky||9 - 12||.429||26 - 17||.605||16-6||7-10||3-1||W1|
|Missouri||7 - 14||.333||15 - 24||.385||11-11||4-12||0-1||W2|
|Tennessee||6 - 15||.286||18 - 24||.429||10-10||6-12||2-2||W1|
|Georgia||4 - 16||.200||16 - 28||.364||10-18||5-10||1-0||L2|
|LSU||16 - 5||.762||39 - 6||.867||27-3||11-3||1-0||L2|
|Arkansas||13 - 7||.650||29 - 15||.659||21-8||7-3||0-4||W4|
|Alabama||11 - 9||.550||27 - 18||.600||18-8||9-8||0-2||W4|
|Ole Miss||11 - 10||.524||31 - 14||.689||19-8||12-4||0-2||L1|
|Mississippi St.||10 - 11||.476||33 - 13||.717||24-6||7-7||2-0||L3|
|Texas A&M||7 - 13||.350||22 - 22||.500||16-8||4-12||1-2||L5|
|Auburn||7 - 14||.333||25 - 18||.518||17-9||6-9||2-0||L2|
Game 1 Highlights
Game 2 Highlights
Game 3 Highlights