Road series so no photos and as of now no video highlights either. The above image is from the heights (or depths, rather) of last year's slump, but I think it's appropriate.
Unbelievably Brutal. It's been some time since LSU got swept in such a heart-wrenching way. In all 3 games LSU went from poised on the brink of putting the club back on the right track to having it all coming crashing down around them, sometimes in spectacular fashion. There are unpleasant question that beg for answers, questions about the lineup, the relief, and frankly some coaching decisions that need explanation. It is time to be worried, because right now, the season ends before Memorial Day weekend.
You've seen it as a running theme in conference play, but especially this weekend, our starting pitching would be more than adequate if it it had any run support whatsoever. Kurt McCune's near complete game on Friday was very good, recording 9Ks and only 1 walk through 7 2/3 IP while allowing 2 runs on 4 hits including a solo homer. Ryan Eades came in for the end of the 8th and gave up 2 hits before retiring the final ARK batter. McCune's Hog counterparts gave up 10 hits, almost all of them singles, but yet again LSU couldn't get anyone home, stranding 11 on base as ARK held on for the 2-0 win.
Kevin Gausman went into the weekend with some question marks but silenced some doubts as he pitched a great game. Gausman gave up 5 hits but no runs through 8 IP and generally managed to pitch himself out of any trouble. He even got some help from a strange baserunning error as an ARK runner tried to steal home from 3B on the right handed pitcher and was tagged before he reached the plate. The game remained a stalemate until the top of the 9th when Mason Katz lined one to the right wall for a 2 RBI triple to silence the huge crowd. In what may have been the best coaching decision of the weekend, Coach Mainieri sent JaCoby Jones out to immediately lay down a squeeze bunt on the reeling Hogs and they were clearly not ready for it as it brought home Katz easily. In that brief moment, you couldn't help but feel relief. We had a nice 3 run lead, and with the win would still have a shot at taking the series the next day. All we needed was 3 outs.
Mainieri sent in Kevin Berry, who going into the weekend was clearly the preferred closer. He ran into problems immediately, hitting the 1st batter and giving up a stolen base and an RBI single into left. Mainieri went out to talk and we saw footage of Matty Ott quickly warming in the pen. Berry then gave up another steal and another single to put the tying run on. On the next batter, Berry kept hanging his breaking ball and we got one last warning shot of a bomb that went foul to left before the walk off 3 run homer that ended the game, 4-3 Arkansas. I hadn't seen the team look that distraught over a loss since the end of the UCLA regional, and even then this looked worse.
The big discussion after the game was why did we not put in Ott when Berry was clearly showing signs of trouble. I didn't have a radio that night to listen to post game, but they usually don't interview Coach Mainieri after road games anyway. It's sure to be question #1 during Monday night's radio show. Did Mainieri not believe Ott would be able to save it if brought in? Did he just have too much faith that Berry would be able to get out of his own mess? Was he worried about damaging Berry's psyche by pulling him? As I've seen no reports about it (Spring Game plus budget cuts at the papers meant none of the usual LSU media went to the game) we'll have to wait to find out the reasoning.
With one final chance to salvage something from the lost weekend, LSU again had a quiet day at the plate. Ben Alsup didn't have a good day either, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits with 3 walks and a hit batter before being pulled after 4 for Tyler Jones, who as of late had fallen out of his midweek starter role. In the LSU 6th, I called on the powers of Jobu to great success, as LSU led off the inning with 2 singles and saw Mikie Mahtook intentionally walked to load the bases. ARK brought in one of their successful relievers from Friday night to face Austin Nola who blasted a grand slam to left to take the lead. Katz followed it up by getting on in a walk, but with JaCoby Jones up, Katz got caught stealing 2B and Jones struck out to put a damper on the momentum. The Hogs came back immediately with a ground out RBI to tie it before Tyler Jones was pulled for Matty Ott. The offensive struggles continued for LSU as strikeouts and a baserunning mistake by Mahtook stopped LSU from scoring again. Ott looked OK in the 7th and 8th, recording 3Ks and working around any trouble (and some horrible officiating), but did not have it in the 9th. A lead off double, a mishandled sac bunt by Hanover that became a single, and an intentional walk loaded the bases before a sac fly to left center brought the winning run home, beating a tag at the plate.
The same issues we've had since the beginning of conference play persist. Decent to excellent starting pitching gets little to no run support, followed by relief pitching that isn't getting it done against what the SEC has to offer. Sprinkle in some questionable baserunning decisions and the worst fielding percentage in the conference and you get the recipe for a 3-9 league record, good enough for last in the SEC West.
That's no reason to write this team off, however. As the main provider of Delusional Optimism(tm) on the LSU interwebs, we here at ATVS would like to remind you just how streaky LSU teams under Mainieri can be. Remember how great LSU looked this time last year after sweeping Bama at home before the disastrous weeks on the road? We just barely made the SEC tourney before sweeping it to the conference title. And who can forget the 23-game win streak in '08 that brought a middling club all the way to Omaha. Sitting in last place (and most assuredly unranked) after 4 weeks in the SEC is certainly reason to be concerned, but I don't think Mainieri is going to just sit around and hope things work themselves out. We've got a long 5 game homestand this week and I expect Mainieri to make some semi-drastic changes and give some new guys a shot to turn this club back into a winner.
NOTES OF INTEREST
- McCune hit 4 batters on Friday night, by far the most in one outing for an LSU pitcher this year and enough to move him to the top of the team in the category.
- The Mahtook-Nola-Katz grouping in the lineup was pushed up to the 3-4-5 spot for the 1st time on Sunday
- Austin Nola now has 11 errors on the year, but the worst fielding percentage of the regulars belongs to Tyler Hanover (.920) as the 3B VOID curse is slowly manifesting itself once again.
- Trey Watkins started in LF on Saturday. He failed to reach base and had a quite night in the outfield.
- Spencer Ware, fresh off a dominating Spring Game performance, returns to the team this week and could see work immediately if he's in good shape, though I wouldn't expect anything more than a pinch run or two this weekend.
I'm stretching it, but here's your Les Miles/Hat related photo of the weekend (via 30fps):
ATVS Pitcher of the Weekend - Kevin Gausman
A great outing that was lost due to matters beyond his control. You got your swag back this weekend, Kevin.
ERRORS: 48 (LEADS THE SEC)
BBCOR ERA HR COUNT: 23 (3RD IN THE SEC)
BBCOR ERA DOUBLES COUNT: 51 (TIED FOR LAST IN THE SEC)
No home games last week, so no attendance change, though we still lead the nation by about 100K tickets sold even with the week off.
OTHER ACTION OF NOTE
- SEC West leading Bama was swept at #1 ranked Vandy, Auburn swept East doormat Kentucky on the road, S Car gave up only 1 run in a sweep at Tennessee, Florida took 2 of 3 at Miss St. highlighted by an 18-0 bashing on Saturday, and Ole Miss dropped 2 of 3 at home to a cruising UGA squad. The Dawgs have won 9 of their last 12 while the natives are getting restless in Oxford.
- Tulane took 2 of 3 at UCF, and CS-Fullerton took 2 of 3 against UC-Irvine (I watched some of that game on Sunday night. Fullerton has a very nice park.)
Tuesday: Northwestern St. (6:30)
Wednesday: Alcorn St (6:30)
Weekend: Auburn (No TV)
None available as of this posting, will add when/if they come out