LSU doesn't have a midweek game this week, so I'm left without an easy column to write, making fun of some poor, overmatched instate school that is likely going to lose by five runs or so. We could talk about the SEC championships in both track and softball this weekend, but I think we can knock those out in a footnote.*
*I'm not going to pretend I know anything about track. LSU is ranked 12th on the men's side and 5th on the women's, but the SEC is predictably loaded. But we only note national titles in track here. Sorry. As for softball, the team won the West but dropped their final series to Georgia in disappointing fashion. Beth Torina blamed the finals schedule. Look, we don't cover softball enough to take potshots at them, but come on. Stop it. No one wants to hear excuses from a top ten team. You didn't play well, but you have the chance to get revenge on Thursday as LSU opens the tourney against Georgia. Win there, and we'll forget about the excuses and be irrationally confident headed into postseason play.
So, let's take this brief lull in the LSU sports calendar to look at the baseball team right now. With two series left, LSU sits at 19-5 and in 1st place in the West. Vandy is a remarkable 21-2 and is probably going to win the regular season title. Even if LSU goes 5-1 over its last two series, Vandy would have to lose both series against Kentucky and Bama. Sure, it's possible, but not likely. LSU has a similarly large lead over Arkansas, so there's not much drama in the SEC regular season race. It's not over, but it's over.
At the end of the day, only two stats truly matter for a baseball team: runs scored and runs allowed. We can look at how they get to these numbers, but you win games by scoring more runs than the other team. Everything else is just window dressing.
I point this out because LSU excels at both of these two things. LSU ranks second in the SEC in runs allowed with 139 (Vandy is close behind at 143, and Arkansas has the SEC lead). On the other side of the ledger, LSU leads the SEC in runs scored with 342, and Vandy trails at 340. Mississippi State is the only other team above 300, with 309. It's simple as this, LSU and Vanderbilt are blowing the rest of the conference away. Their records are not mirages, they really have been this dominant.
Vanderbilt leads the conference in each of the slash categories, hitting 314/412/449. LSU ranks second in AVG/OBP/SLG, posting a 310/395/442 line. The only reason LSU has scored two more runs is because, well, LSU has played two more games. I'd give the slight offensive edge to the Commodores.
LSU makes up for this slight edge on the pitching side, and to be honest, I don't know how Vandy is doing it. LSU is 2nd in the SEC in strikeouts, Vandy is third. OK, that makes sense, but LSU is 2nd in walks allowed while Vanderbilt ranks 13th. They give up an extra 71 free baserunners than LSU, yet only give up four more runs. Vandy is 2nd in hits allowed, while LSU is 3rd, so that doesn't explain things either. Vanderbilt is just incredibly successful at preventing base runners from turning into runs. That's a bad longterm strategy, but it seems to be working so far.
LSU looks like a team primed for a deep postseason run. I don't think anyone is that concerned with failing to win the regular season title so long as this team can turn it on come June. What's truly amazing for this team is how many players litter the SEC leaderboards.
Four Tiger hitters rank in the top 15 in SEC batting average. Three rank top ten in all three slash categories. I hate to say that makes the team "slump proof" because that is just tempting fate, but there are just so many weapons here. Really, who is the most effective hitter?
Alex Bregman 401/449/604
Mason Katz 378/462/672
Christian Ibarra 363/458/538
Lost in Alex Bregman's Todd Walker impression and Mason Katz punishing opposing hitters is how great of a year Christian Ibarra is having. Ibarra is clearly one of the top ten hitters in the SEC. And he's the #3 guy on his own team. What a luxury to have.
It's the same thing on the pitching side. While Aaron Nola is putting together one of the best years an LSU pitcher has ever had, the two other guys in the rotation both have an ERA below three. Ryan Eades is near the league lead in strikeouts.
But it's the bullpen that's truly remarkable: every single pitcher on staff who has made an appearance has an ERA below four. Think about that. Will LaMarche's 3.98 ERA is the worst on the team, and he's one of the most trusted arms in the pen. Mainieri's biggest problem when going to the pen is that he has too many options.
This team doesn't quite have the aura of the 2009 team, which at certain times I felt was unbeatable. They were a Team of Destiny. This team might be more talented, and they have better statistics in the regular season.
But this is LSU. We don't care what your regular season numbers were. We care how you did in Omaha. No pressure, guys.