Back in August, you could have told me that LSU can sweep an SEC series by only scoring 5 runs total and I would have believed you. That's how much confidence I had in the LSU battery of Alex Lange, Jared Poche, and Jake Latz.
Then for the second year in a row, Latz was ruled out for the majority of the season before the Spring semester even began and all of a sudden, the hue changed in the room.
Where the 2015 LSU team simply bashed opponents to death, with the chink in the armor being the lack of a solid third starter, and that proved to be the downfall for the Tigers.
2016's team was supposed to be the inverse, a team that relied on surgical pitching to carry the team until an offensive identity began to form. I was prepared to have a lot of sub-two hour games at the Box. Then the Latz injury put the pitching staff where they were last year.
But the difference is that the pitching staff, while remaining the same, only trends up from last year. This is all just my observation and isn't based on any set of numbers at all, but I've always noticed that a pitcher, especially a bullpen arm, sees their biggest growth from their sophomore to junior year. That's because the general progression of an average bullpen arm follows this trend: spot duty as a freshman and an increased role as a sophomore before challenging for a starting/late inning spot as a junior and senior.
LSU has a LOT of juniors who are following that blueprint. The most notable being Austin Bain, who started six games as a sophomore out of necessity. While it wasn't ideal last year, this year that pays off because now you have a guy who you know is comfortable starting on weekdays, which sounds fairly insignificant when you look at the midweek results, but becomes absolutely crucial when the SEC Tournament and postseason rolls around.
Also, LSU adding Riley Smith became bigger than Paul Mainieri would probably admit he meant it to be due to the Latz injury. Smith is a transfer from San Jacinto Junior College, who rode him en route to a JC World Series. I wrote more about smith in a blurb in the position preview, but it has since been officially projected that he will be your third starter to at least start the season.
On the other side of the coin, things are far less stable. All that's left from the 2015 is Jake Fraley, and he was far from the most productive member of the team. Kramer is back, Papierski will start (and he will be great), and the Jordan twins along with Greg Deichmann will get the chance to show us what they have. Outside of that, everybody else is a question mark. Bryce Adams, Cody Ducote, Jordan Romero, and Cole Freeman are callups from the JuCo ranks, but the jump from Delgado to SEC is nothing to shrug at. Brody Wofford, Antoine Duplantis, Trey Dawson, and O'Neal Lochridge are all freshman.
That may sound bad, but if the offense enters dire straits, Mainieri can feel free to alter the lineup and make as many drastic changes as he sees fit, unlike say last year when shuffling the batting order was controversial. Remember, Mikie Mahtook's freshman year was a product of Mainieri tinkering with the lineup deep into the season.
LSU could come out and pick up the offensive production from last year by just plugging and playing, or they could be living run to run for damn near the entire season. Either one would not surprise me at all.
Just be patient and sit back and soak up the Alex Box sunshine.