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Weekend Preview: Houston College Classic

LSU gets some interesting non-conference competition and a chance at revenge.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Hooray interesting baseball.   LSU participates in the Houston College Classic this weekend, so we finally get some stiff competition.  Plus it's in Minute Maid Park, so we get the extra bonus of seeing the Tigers play in a modern MLB stadium.  I'm sure the team is fired up to be playing in Minute Maid, but I think most of us fans are excited about seeing this team face some top notch teams.

Friday - #16 Houston Cougars (8-5)

Team Hitting Stats - 0.277 BA, 7 HRs, 0.390 OBP, 0.382 SLG %
Starting Pitcher - RHP Andrew Lantrip (3-0, 0.46 ERA, 19.2 IP, 0.180 OBA, 16/3 K/BB)

The toughest test of the weekend is the first game.  LSU gets Houston's best starting pitcher with sophomore RHP Andrew Lantrip.  Lantrip has been stellar in three starts so far.  He boasts a 0.46 ERA in 19.2 IP with a strikeout to walk ratio of 16/3, and has only given up one run total on the season.  His fastball hangs in the low 90s and he has a slider to keep batters off balance.  He's also been very efficient, throwing 68% of his pitches for strikes in his first three starts.

Houston doesn't have the deepest of lineups, but they have several quality bats in the lineup.  The Cougars have four players hitting above .300 with Chris Iriart leading the way at .348.  Iriart also leads the team in home runs with three, and slugs at a .587 clip.  Kyle Survance might be a headache if he gets on the base paths, having stolen 11 bases in 13 attempts.  Survance is also tied for second in hitting at .333.

Overall, Houston should be a fun match-up for LSU.  It could be one hell of a pitcher's duel if Lantrip and Jared Poche both have their A game on Friday.  If either falters, both teams have enough solid bats in their lineup to make the other pay.

Saturday - Baylor Bears (6-5)

Team Hitting Stats -0.280 BA, 3 HRs, 0.355 OBP, 0.399 SLG %
Starting Pitcher - LHP Daniel Castano (0-1, 4.00 ERA, 9.0 IP, 0.356 OBA, 9/2 K/BB)

Baylor has already had an up and down year thus far.   They started out by sweeping a ranked Cal Poly and winning aseries vs Kent State but got swept by Cal State Fullerton on the road last weekend.

Daniel Castano has had a rough start to his 2015 season.  He was roughed up a bit in his first two starts, only going three innings in each of them.  If LSU can get to him early, they should be in good stead against the Baylor bullpen, where every player has an ERA above four.

Aaron Dodson and Logan Brown lead the Bears at the plate.  Dodson leads the team in batting and slugging at 0.429 and 0.750 respectively, but he has only played in seven games thus far.  Dodson hit extremely well against CSF last weekend, going 6/14.  Logan Brown is one of two players that have started every game for Baylor. He's hitting 0.359 with a 0.487 slugging percentage.

LSU looks to out match Baylor in just about every statistical category.  I don't expect a blow out or anything, but LSU is clearly the better team.  A loss here would be a surprise.

Sunday - Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-4)

Team Hitting Stats -0.259 BA, 2 HRs, 0.316 OBP, 0.334 SLG %
Starting Pitcher - RHP Derek Burkamper (1-0, 3.00 ERA, 12.0 IP, 0.233 OBA, 7/2 K/BB)

Nebraska has basically done the opposite of Baylor since the season started.  They were swept opening weekend against UNLV, but have won back to back series against BYU and Loyola Marymount.  The Huskers are trending in the right direction, but it's easy to say that this tournament will be the best competition they've faced thus far.

Burkamper had a really solid outing last weekend against Loyola Marymount.  He went seven innings, giving up only two hits and one run.  In his first start, he gave up three runs in the first inning, but has only given up a single run since then.

The big bats in the Nebraska lineup are sophomore Ryan Boldt and senior Blake Headley.  Boldt is having a really good start to the season thus far, hitting 459/512/568.  He doesn't have great power, but his job is to get on base and score.  Boldt leads Nebraska with 10 runs on the season.  Headly leads the team in extra base (6 - 5 doubles and 1 triple) and RBI (13).  Basically, Boldt gets on base then Headley gets the hit to score him.  Neither has a home run.

Again, another team that LSU outmatches on the stat sheet.  Nebraska has three solid bats in the lineup and some good arms in the pen, but nothing else that really scares you.

Keys to the Weekend

Level Heads:  Is it cool to play in an MLB stadium? You betcha.  But you can't let the environment overwhelm you.  I imagine that the adrenaline will be flowing for the first game, but hopefully the team settles down and plays well for the other two games.

Outfield Defense: The unique outfield of the Juice Box could be a problem.  Centerfield in particular is going to be a big challenge because of its odd shape.  Andrew Stevenson's speed will be critical to limiting extra base hits, and hopefully keeps some runs off of the board.  Also, while highlight reel catches are fun and amazing, I'd be happy if the outfield were more risk adverse and didn't take too many chances.  Keep the ball in front of you and limit runs.  On the flip side, if LSU hits the balls into the gaps our speed should be a boon.  I wouldn't be surprised if extra base hits were plentiful.

Take What They Give You: The hitting for LSU has been on a roll, hitting four home runs and 11 extra base hits in the last three games.  While the home runs have been nice, I wouldn't expect to see many this weekend unless LSU pulls the ball to the foul lines really well, something they haven't really done much.  The Tigers have been finding the gaps though, and that'll pay dividends in Minute Maid.

Horrible Prediction

I think the team will be amped to face a really good Houston team and to get some revenge for the 2014 Baton Rouge regional.    I expect them to come up fired up and ready to play.  If we manage to beat Houston, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a letdown in one of the other games.  I think the Tigers take 2 of 3 in Houston before moving on to SEC play next weekend.