LSU did not play its best baseball this weekend, and the team won the SEC tournament. Let's have that sink in for the rest of the country: when LSU plays, by its standards, mediocre baseball, the team still wins the tournament of the toughest conference in the country. Everyone else is on notice.
The Skip Bertman dynasty was built on offense. Lots and lots of offense. A lot of that was that Bertman was one of the first coaches to truly understand the power of aluminum bats and he assembled a roster designed to score at will. The greatest LSU team of all time is almost certainly the 1997 team, and their final stats look like make believe:
673 runs, 315/412/607, 188 HR, and all 9 starters hit at least 10 homers (Larson hit 40... yes, FORTY)
The team also didn't have a single starting pitcher with an ERA below four. Chris Demouy was the team's relief ace, and he had the team's lowest ERA at 3.63.
I bring this up because this current team is now in the conversation for best LSU team ever, and it is the complete opposite of what I have always thought what an LSU baseball team is. This LSU team has scored only 399 runs, which is actually a lot in this era, but the team has allowed only 175 runs. All three starting pitchers have an ERA below three, and our ace, Aaron Nola, has an ERA of 1.94. Every pitcher who has pitched a single inning has an ERA under four. Every. Single. One. Nick Rumbleow has the team's worst ERA at 3.90, and that would make him the ace of the 1997 squad.
Right about the time Jared Foster made a perfect throw to nail a runner at the plate, I realized that LSU has finally become the anti-Skip team. This team is all about pitching and defense. Now, the offense is really good, but this team is going to live and die in the postseason on its ability to get batters out.
Mainieri has two legitimate aces and another legitimate top tier pitcher. Even a team with a truly outstanding rotation like Arkansas does not entirely match up with our entire staff. There is no team that LSU will play that will have an advantage in starting pitching. Some, like Arkansas, might be our equal, but no one will put LSU at a disadvantage.
Throw in the amazing bullpen and a defense that keeps making huge play after huge play, and you suddenly understand why Andrew Stevenson is going to keep playing despite hitting 192/279/222. Mainieri has made the call, rightly in my opinion, that preventing runs is the most important thing with this team. He is going to live and die by the defense, and hope that the offense can find the three to four runs it needs to win the game.
Think about this. LSU had four players make the SEC All-Tournament Team, and none of them were the starting pitchers or any of the hitters in the meat of the order. Heck, LSU literally got nothing from two of its top of the order hitters, Jones and Laird, because they did not play due to injury. I wouldn't trade the core of our order with anyone, but Bregman, Rhymes, and Katz did not live up to their lofty standards this weekend. They still got some key hits and scored some big runs, so don't think I'm accusing them of not showing up or anything. They just weren't dominant. It was a whole team win.
This team can win without Bregman, Katz, or Rhymes playing like All-Americans. Which should be terrifying to anyone not wearing purple and gold. How unfair is that? You get LSU's stars to play like mere mortals, and they still go out there and win the title.
The only thing that should matter to this team is winning a national title. You can only control what happens on the field, and they just need to beat the team in the other dugout. However, this team can go down as not only the best LSU team ever, but one completely unlike the others... say hi to your Pitching and Defense Tigers.
I don't care how they win, so long as they do win. This team is good enough, let's go out and prove it.