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Bats Go Silent, UCLA Sends LSU to the Loser's Bracket

I told y'all UCLA scared me.

Small ball'ed to death
Small ball'ed to death

In their opening game in Omaha, LSU tried to beat UCLA at their own game. We all saw how well that worked out. The Bruins live for 1-1 games in the late innings that will be decided by the perfectly placed bunt or the one mental error. The Bruins have thrived on that exact scenario all season long. LSU hasn't, and the team blinked.

The postgame chatter has largely pointed the finger at the LSU defense. Those two errors on the scoreboard will do that, but it is missing the bigger picture. LSU lost a game 2-1, and we're going to blame the defense? The problem was that LSU got caught playing UCLA's game, the actual details of how that will eventually blow up in your face is incidental. It was simply inevitable.

OK, I know it's hard to argue that the defense didn't lose the game when the key play of the game was a truly brutal error by Alex Bregman in the eighth, allowing the winning run to score. Bregman chose a bad time to play like a freshman. He had a miserable night at the plate, as Laird was about the only guy getting on with any consistency and Bregman followed up both of Laird's base hits with a non-threatening at bat. However, it's the defensive miscue that will get the headlines. You simply have to make that play, and 99 times out of 100, he does. It was just a bad time for #100.

Aarom Nola got tagged for his first loss of the season, another instance of extremely bad timing, allowing two unearned runs. However, that clean sheet is extremely misleading. After a brilliant start in the first three innings, Nola looked downright mortal throughout the night. He then allowed the leadoff hitter in every inning to reach base from the 4th inning to the 8th. Rumbelow would follow the example and allow the leadoff man to reach in the 9th on a passed ball strikeout.

That's six times the Bruins had a man on first with no outs. That's pretty much the dream scenario for a small ball team. They can sacrifice two outs for two bases and hope that you make a mistake for them to get that last 90 feet home. It might not happen the first time, but give a team like the Bruins six cracks at it, it's going to work.

Looking at the Runs Expectancy table, a team will score, on average, 0.63 runs with a runner on first and 0 out. The Bruins successfully got the runner to second with 1 out in every inning. Every inning. That simply can't happen. It doesn't change the run expectancy, but it does show that the Bruins offense was working the way it should. You give a team that many chances, eventually they will score.

And that's what happened. People harp way too much on batting average with RISP. Oh, if only our team could have gotten more clutch hits. That misses the point. It's about simply having base runners and the chance to score. UCLA never got a base hit with a RISP, but they had twelve opportunities to get one, or to have something good happen. With that many chances, eventually a sac fly and an error made the difference.

LSU, on the other hand, couldn't get the leadoff man on until the 9th inning, at which point Rhymes promptly hit into a double play. I didn't mind the call, nor the original call to bunt. You can play for one run there, but once it's a 2-0 count, let one of your best hitters swing away. That's how you got here. I'm not going to second guess Mainieri for putting the bat in the hands of an All-American and telling him to get a big base hit.

Mason Katz hit a big home run in the fourth, and the offense just shut down. He LSU would only get one base hit from then until the ninth inning, and Katz would break the streak by reaching on error. LSU wouldn't really threaten until the ninth.

That's the issue. In a tight game, LSU couldn't get base runners. The offense failed to show up and put pressure on the UCLA pitchers. We can talk defense and errors until we're blue ion the face, but UCLA puts pressure on the defense with their speed and makes those plays happen. LSU could only manage one run all night, and that's on the offense. The Tigers only had a runner on second with one out once in the entire game, and that was the first inning. UCLA, the light hitting team, did that in the last six innings.

You can't score with no one getting on base. People want to point the finger at the defense, but that was just a cracked dam succumbing to the build up of water pressure. The real culprit last night was an offense that didn't show up. One run won't do it.