"I don't go on those chat sites where people hide behind anonymous names and say nasty things. I don't think that's reflective of the way people generally speak. I can tell you that over these last couple of weeks I've received many supportive phone calls, e-mails and text messages."
That quote is probably code for "Of course I read the message boards. Remember that national title? I know what I'm doing." And we here at ATVS have been pretty consistent in our continued support of Mainieri, even over this pretty brutal stretch of baseball. The program is in good shape, it is in great hands, it's just that things are going badly right now.
But let's not panic, people. Watkins is hurt. Ranaudo is hurt. Both hope to be fully healthy for the postseason, when we start playing for keeps. Let's also be honest, while I'm not pleased with getting swept, LSU lost two series on the road to arguably the two best teams in the conference. You don't hit the panic button over that. The Vanderbilt series, hopefully, is just the hangover.
The last two teams on the schedule are Kentucky and Mississippi St, two teams likely to miss the SEC tournament. It's the perfect recipe for getting things back on track in time for the postseason. Win four of five of the next six, and LSU finishes the season with 17 or 18 conference wins, which is nothing to sneeze at. Step back from the ledge.
That said, these last nine conference games have been pretty brutal. LSU has gone 1-8, its lone victory and extra inning thriller. The team has been outscored 58-80 during this span or to put it in more depressing terms, LSU has been outscored by over three runs per game during this stretch. There's no way to sugarcoat it, the team has been flat out beaten over the past three weekends. These games weren't flukes.*
*OK, Ole Miss only outscored LSU by a combined four runs in three games. But that's cold comfort. LSU probably should have stolen one of those games. Feel free to think LSU was robbed and should've gone 2-7 over this stretch instead of 1-8. That makes me feel so much better.
After the jump, let's look at LSU in the last nine conference games. It's not pretty, so this might not be appropriate for small children. You've been warned.
First, the good news. The offense hasn't been all that bad. The team hit 288/358/424 over this stretch, which won't win you any awards, but isn't too terrible. The offense clearly misses Watkins, as LSU is 2 of 4 on stolen base attempts in these 9 games. There's still a gaping hole at third base and any time Blake Dean (231/318/333) feels like hitting, I'd be cool with it. Gaudet is also in complete feast-or-famine mode, hitting 222/333/528 over this stretch.
The striking thing is that Mainieri has apparently decided this is his offense. Only 11 players earned a start in the last nine games, and two of those, Dishon and Delatte, earned one start and have less than 10 at bats over this stretch. Mainieri is rolling the dice that Watkins will get healthy and Dean and Gibbs will turn it around. It's not a bad bet, really.
I will throw out one suggestion: let's cut down on the strikeouts just a tad. I'm a huge proponent that strikeouts aren't that bad, but LSU is taking it to extremes, striking out 73 times in 337 at bats. That means the Tigers are striking out in over 20 percent of their at bats. You want to break out of a slump? Put the ball in play. LSU's hitting .367 on balls in play (BABIP), the key is just getting it in play.
The problem, of course, is the pitching. Beware the small sample size, but the pitching has gone from bad to worse over the last three weekends. The team is allowing nearly nine runs a game, and the team ERA is a cover-you-eyes awful 8.25. Oh, but it gets so much worse.
The starters have combined for an 11.15 ERA over this stretch. Of the nine starts, only one qualified as a Quality Start. Only two starters in the last nine games have made it to the sixth inning and the longest outing was only 6.1 IP. Ranaudo has been especially awful, managing only 6.1 IP in three starts with a 27.00 ERA. Raise your hand if you think he's okay.
Though not as bad as Ranaudo, Matty Ott's sudden return to the land of mortals has really keyed this slump. Ott's 9-run, 3-inning start was an unmitigated disaster, but he's been poor in relief as well. He's allowed 4 runs in 8 innings, and has two losses and a blown save as a reliever. His usually stellar ratio plummeted to 11K/8 BB. That's not good. But what can you do other than cross your fingers and hope for Ott to right the ship? If Ott and Ranuado are suddenly your two worst pitchers, well, LSU ain't winning squat.
I hate to pick on our two best pitchers because they are our two best pitchers. Ranaudo and Ott have been terrible for three weeks, but that certainly doesn't outweigh all of their phenomenal work. LSU has to just hope they turn it around. We rely on those two not just to be good, but great. When they stink, we stink.
But the rest of the staff hasn't exactly picked up the slack. Over these past three weeks, too many LSU pitchers have an ERA hovering above or near double digits: Ranaudo (27.00), Cotton (13.50), Bradshaw (10.80), Bourgeois (10.13), Ott (10,03), and Matulis (9.26). It's not all bad news. Paul Bertuccini has a sparkling 0.00 ERA over 6.2 IP and Ben Alsup has a 1.69 ERA over 10.2 IP. Just something to build on.
Some of it is, admittedly, bad luck. LSU pitchers have allowed a .406 BABIP and the starters have been especially victimized by not converting batted balls into outs, suffering through a .431 BABIP. The relievers have a far more reasonable .379 BABIP, and they have a 5.82 ERA, so it's not all that ills the staff.
While our hitters are striking out too much, the pitchers aren't striking out enough. LSU has 53 strikeouts in the last nine and the starters only have 21 of those K's. LSU's starters are averaging four innings and two strikeouts per start over this slump. It doesn't take Connie Mack to see the problem here.
Two weeks left and as far as I'm concerned, every rotation slot is up for grabs. Go prove yourself now. The season isn't lost just yet, it just feels that way. Things can turn around if Watkins and Ranaudo get healthy, Ott turns it back on, and someone, anyone decides they can be a competent starting pitcher. All we need is six innings and then Mainieri can give it to Alsup, Bert, and then, hopefully, Ott.