We're past the halfway mark in this baseball season and I can honestly say I don't know this LSU baseball team. I don't mean I haven't being paying attention, I mean that I can't quite get a read on them. While last year's team seemed destined to win the national title pretty much all season long, this team seems pretty darn good but... I don't know. It's missing something undefined. Something, and I can't believe I'm going to say this, intangible.
In a battle of tangible production versus intangible spirit, I will take tangible ever single time. I like those things which you can measure, and it is those things which lead to winning. Baserunners lead to runs. Runs lead to wins. However, this team just seems like it can't quite put it all together. LSU sits comfortably in the top ten and on top of the SEC West, but they just don't seem like a championship team right now. Then again, it's not about being great in April. You make your bones at LSU by how you play in June.
Most of the hand-wringing has been over the pitching. Anthony Ranaudo has spent most of the season recovering from injury, and he has only pitched a total of 10 innings in 3 starts. Hopefully, this is his first series truly back on form. Chris Matulis has worked his way from the doghouse to the rotation and I couldn't be happier for him. LSU still has a question mark on Sunday, which I've already beaten into the ground, but we've got options between Bourgeois, Ross, and Rittiner. I'm not too worried about it.
Strangely, what I'm suddenly worried about is the offense. The injury to Trey Watkins has revealed a stunning lack of depth on this team. A team can afford one mediocre hitter, but having two near automatic outs near the back of the order is something that kills a lineup. The secret to offensive production isn't always having great hitters at the top of the order, it's the lack of bad hitters in the back of the order.
Mainieri has struggled all season with the giant hole at third base. He handed the job to Wet Delatte in the preseason and has spent the season watching the freshman slowly lose his grip on the starting job. Mainieri has tried Beau Didier and Grant Dozar as well, but he's seemed reluctant to use Dozar as a regular, given that Dozar is the team's backup catcher. But we're running out of options, looking at their season long lines:
One of those sort of just jumps out at you, eh? I appreciate not wanting to burn the backup catcher, but Grant Dozar is clearly hitting better than the other two options. However, Mainieri could afford to be patient when it was just one hole on the order.
And then Watkins got hurt. Watkins was hitting 315/466/511 and was also a terror on the basepaths, stealing 13 bases. Watkins had the second highest OBP on the team, pretty much exactly what you want from your leadoff hitter. He gets on base, provides pretty good pop, and runs like hell. And in his place, LSU turned to Johnny Dishon (seriously, what is up with every bench player's name beginning with the letter D?) and his 167/306/400 line in 30 AB's. Small sample? Sure, but he doesn't look like a guy who is about to go on a tear. Though, to be fair, he has stolen 4 bases in 5 attempts. Not bad for a guy who has only reached base 11 times.
(Dramatic turn after the jump)
LSU can "get by" with Dishon until Watkins returns (hopefully) in the postseason. But LSU cannot "get by" with a guy who can't hit in center and a guy who can't hit at third. Enter Kyle Koeneman.
Koeneman put up video game numbers in JUCO. He was supposed to be another power source on this team, but he's been hurt and the emergence of Matt Gaudet has meant that LSU hasn't really needed yet another slugger. Well, now we do.
Mainieri seems to like Dishon's speed, and he has shown patience at least, so Koeneman has entered the mix at third. This keeps Didier and Delatte on the bench unless we need a defensive substitute or a lefty bat off the bench (my usual solution, the platoon, is inapplicable as all of the D's at third are lefty hitters).
But if Mainieri really wants another power bat and Dishon's hitting does not improve at all, he can take the hit on defense and put Koeneman in right field, shifting Mahtook to center. Then Dozar gets the nod at third except when he starts at catcher in place of Gibbs.
It's not like we're devoid of options. The thing is, for the first time in two years, the offense looks pedestrian. And it's not because of the top of the of the order, which has been incredible. It's time for the back of the order to pick up the slack.
See? I can rip on the offense and not even mention Austin Nola's 380 slugging percentage.