All hail the Rally Possum.
What started as a curiosity is now a full blown phenomenon. It was cute when LSU rallied from a five-run deficit in the seventh inning after baseball's first Possum Delay, but LSU has since ripped off eight straight wins to put itself back in the conversation not just for a host site, but a national seed.
It would be nice to say that it is the magical properties of the Rally Possum which has caused a talented yet inconsistent club to finally get their stuff together and find the greatness that always seemed just out of reach. It's a neat story, and I like neat stories. Besides, the Rally Possum is one of those "only in Louisiana" kind of things.
While there is some element to the fact the team is playing better, as eight wins in a row is eight wins in a row, it's not like this team transformed itself in that seventh inning delay. No, the biggest factor in 2016 LSU suddenly channeling the 1996 team is the schedule.
I don't deny the powers of magical rodents, but playing the two teams in dead last in each SEC division certainly helped. Tennessee and Arkansas are each 7-20 in SEC play. These are the kind of teams a great team is supposed to sweep.
However, there was a midweek sweep of a two game road series in Notre Dame, forced into a doubleheader by the weather. It's not like the Irish are having a great season either, as they are sub-500 in the ACC and a coin flip to even make the conference tournament. But still, better than your standard midweek game, and it was at least on the road.
But wins are wins, and the team desperately needed them. You can attribute it to an easy schedule, youth finally adjusting to regular playing time, or even the possum. It doesn't really matter that much, as the important thing is that this team is getting wins at the precise moment it needed them. That's what good teams do. I know, shocking analysis, good teams win games.
However, LSU is rounding into an impressive ballclub. They still lack any sort of threat off the bench aside from O'Neal Lochridge, but the offense ranks second in the SEC in runs scored, just one run behind league-leading Vanderbilt (and to be fair, just one run ahead of Texas A&M). LSU ranks 3rd in OBP, 2nd in batting average, and 4th in slugging. This is a productive offense that isn't just sitting around waiting for the home run (36 on the year ranks 9th).
We certainly don't want to get ahead of ourselves here, but the lack of home run power goes from a negative to a positive if this team makes it to Omaha. The ballpark there saps power, and we've learned the hard way that an offense that relies on the long ball is doomed to fail in Omaha. Even legit home run balls hit right on the nails will likely die on the track.
LSU's secret offensive weapon runs contrary to most modern baseball analysis: they don't strike out. Strikeouts, the sabermetric thinking has traditionally gone, are not that bad of a thing. Strikeouts are a byproduct of power. Show me a list of guys with tons of strikeouts, and I'll show you a list of guys who hit a bunch of home runs.
Since LSU has eschewed the home run this season, it also means that it gets the benefit of not striking out. Which doesn't seem like that big of a deal, as outs are outs, but here's the thing: less strikeouts means more balls in plays. This is the old Tony Gwynn theory of hitting: don't strike out, don't hit home runs, just put a ton of balls in play and you'll hit .300. Sure enough, LSU hits .298 as a team. Even better from a tactical standpoint is that college defenses aren't as good as the Majors, and a lot of those batted balls don't just turn into hits, they turn into errors.
Auburn has committed the most errors in the SEC with 83. LSU opponents have committed 99 errors on the season, which would be the worst in the SEC by a wide margin. Good things happen when you simply put the ball in play, and LSU is exploiting this inefficiency, whether intentionally or not, by racking up hits and errors on the sheer volume of balls in play. Even more encouraging, this is an offense that is built for Omaha, where fly balls go to die.
The Rally Possum may not carry LSU through this weekend series against Florida, but the team's ability to force the other team make plays could pay dividends in the postseason. It's not magic, it's math.