My hatred of Mississippi State's baseball team is visceral. I've hated the Bulldogs ever since I first started watching college baseball, back when State were the big bullies of the SEC and LSU were the young upstarts. Now, it's been nine years since the last time State beat LSU in a weekend series and let me tell you, it never gets old.
Just when you feel your hatred for State starting to wane due to the program's recent fade, you can look in their dugout and see John Cohen sitting there. That guy was sent by central casting for a sports movie villain. He's not just easy to hate, it's actually hard to not hate him. And he keeps giving us reasons, like sending out Zac Houston to throw 45 pitches just two days after he threw 65 pitches in relief. Hey, it's not his arm.
I hate Cohen so much he makes me care about the welfare of a Mississippi State player. Apparently someone has to.
LSU can never sweep a team, more on that in a second, but keeps racking up the series wins. The composite poll isn't out yet, but let's take a flailing half court heave and guess that we'll remain in the top spot. LSU is doing well in the computer polls and cruising towards a national seed. 1st in the nation, tied for 2nd in the SEC. This is a pretty tough conference.
Mainieri left Poche' in the game after he got out of the 7th inning on two great defensive plays. That's usually a sign your pitcher is out of gas, but Mainieri has a notoriously slow hook for his starters, so he let Poche' pitch the 8th. And the 9th. It's like he keeps with a risky decision until it finally blows up in his face, which it did. Poche' let up the game-tying run in the 9th, all because Mainieri has clearly lost all faith in his bullpen to get big outs. He didn't leave Poche' in the game because he had confidence in him, but because he didn't know to whom to give the ball to get the final three outs.
Alex Lange notched another win, but it has now been about a month since he turned in a truly dominant outing. The early season workload seems to have caught up to him in a big way, as he once again walked four batters over six innings. His walk totals have exploded in the second half of the season. Lange going from great to merely really good is an even bigger issue because it's now May and Mainieri still has not found a third starter.
Austin Bain lasted two innings. Two. He allowed two runs, which isn't exactly a disaster, but then Mainieri turned to Johnny Allstaff, and couldn't find the hot hand. Five pitchers took the mound for LSU and every single one of the allowed at least one run, and only Bugg pitched at least three innings. It was a tour de force of lousy pitching, as LSU got killed by death by a thousand paper cuts. No one was awful, but no one was that great either.
Since Godfrey lost his third starter gig, LSU has gone 1-2 in the final game of the weekend. Bain has accounted for those two losses, allowing 7 runs in 7.2 innings. It's time to pull the plug on that particular experiment. Mainieri has given five pitchers a chance to start other than Godfrey, and none have particularly distinguished themselves. LSU cannot make a run in the postseason without a third starter, and as of right now, we don't have one.
The good news is that the bats don't have any issues. OK, they couldn't get the game winner on Saturday to get a sweep, but that is picking nits. The Tigers had 45 hits over the weekend, and had at least 10 hits in every single game.
On Friday, every single starter had at least one hit and either scored or drove in a run. Four hitters both scored and had at least one RBI. It was a total team effort, and speaks to the strength of the team: there is no real weakness in the lineup. Even the 8-9 hitter can and will hurt you, so there's no place for the opposing pitcher to get a breath. No matter who steps up to the plate, it's a guy who can put runs on the board.
It's time to step back and just marvel at this lineup. Of the nine players with at least 100 at bats, seven are hitting at least .300 (Hale is in 7th at .333). Four guys are slugging .500, with a fifth player at .490. Five players have an OBP above .400, again with another hitter knocking on the door at the .391. Four players have stolen at least 10 bases, and Jared Foster is 7 for 7. This team is an offensive dynamo.
Which just makes the need for the third starter even more acute. It would be a shame to waste this.
No midweek game, and then a weekend tilt against Missouri, the final home series of the year. Mizzou is 14-10 in conference, and ranked 21st in the D1baseball.com poll. Not a cakewalk of a series, but one that LSU needs to win to keep pace with Vandy and A&M.