We’ve cleared the second week of the season, and in doing so we’ve hit a weird spot in the season in terms of evaluation goes. If we look around the country, there are very few teams that remain a mystery at this point. Sure the question is slowly shifting towards “are they tournament/host/national seed worthy”, but after nine games you should have an idea of what type of team you’ll have. Case in point: in their opening game against Cincinnati last year, LSU came from behind against the Bearcats to win in extra innings. An inexperienced team coming back late to win a game behind the lone veteran presence is a very fitting summary of not only that game but the entire season.
LSU is going to be good. That much we know. But do we have any answers to the questions that we took into the season? Mostly, yes. Let’s break it down on a case by case basis.
What We Know
The starting pitching has been great, even if it’s top heavy. We knew Alex Lange was going to be Alex Lange, and his continued juggernaut status is nothing surprising. Jared Poche’ throwing 15 hit-less innings to start off the season was a surprise, but that’s simply not sustainable. At any rate, Poche’ is as good as we all knew he was going to be.
But the question lied in the next 2-3 guys up, the freshman and bullpen arms. So let’s look with how they did on a game-by-game basis, with Lange and Poche mixed in because it’s fun to type those stupid stat lines.
Alex Lange vs. Army (7): 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 6 SO, 0 BB
Jared Poche’ vs. Army (7): 7 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 4 SO, 0 BB
Eric Walker vs. Air Force: 5 IP, 2 H, 2 R (1 ER), 6 SO, 1 BB
Caleb Gilbert @ New Orleans: 4 IP, 4 H, 1 R (1 ER), 5 SO, 0 BB
Zach Hess vs Hofstra: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 6 SO, 2 BB
Alex Lange vs. Maryland: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R (1 ER), 12 SO, 2 BB
Jared Poche’ vs. Maryland: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 6 SO, 2 BB
Eric Walker vs. Maryland: 4 IP, 7 H, 3 R (3 ER), 6 SO, 2 BB
Zach Hess vs. Nicholls: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R (2 ER), 4 SO, 1 BB
There’s not a bad start in the bunch. Eric Walker got touched hard in the first inning of the game against Maryland, but he recovered well in the following three innings. Yes there’s a difference between Air Force and Maryland in contrast with Texas A&M and Florida, but for a freshman getting broken in to college baseball, they’re very encouraging starts. And they’re riding in the wake of Alex Lange and an out of his mind Jared Poche’, which means that they have the support of a nearly full bullpen behind them if they run into trouble.
As of now, there has been no word if there will be a change in the rotation this weekend that would put Jared Poche’ in line to start against #21 Texas Tech instead of Baylor, but it would make sense to let Eric Walker pitch against Baylor instead. However, it can be argued that getting Texas Tech on a one-off game also makes sense as a “baptism under fire” considering that conference play is already creeping up and there is no respite in the SEC.
The returning starters are setting the tone. Despite his three-hit night on Tuesday, I’m not counting Beau Jordan here since he’s stuck in platoon duties with Brennan Breaux. But just like the pitchers, the returning starters’ stat lines are soothing to troubled Tiger fans:
Cole Freeman: .500/.571/.611, 14 H, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 4 BB (4 HBP), 1 SO
Kramer Robertson: .484/.774/.541, 15 H, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 4 BB (1 HBP), 4 SO
Michael Papierski: .368/.579/.455, 7 H, 1 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB, 3 SO
Greg Deichmann: .357/.857/.432, 10 H, 2 2B, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 6 BB, 5 SO
Antoine Duplantis: .294/.441/.314, 10 H, 1 2B, 2 3B, 5 RBI, 1 SO
Duplantis took a while to warm up to the season, but that’s a great nucleus to a lineup. You have two pure contact hitters who can burn the basepaths in Freeman and Duplantis, two all-around hitters in Robertson and Papierski, and one big bomber in Greg Deichmann. Deichmann and Robertson have tasted some of the risk/reward of striking out with big cuts, but they’ve gotten hits more than they’ve gotten got, and as a whole the strikeout numbers are pretty low. There are going to be hot streaks to go with cold streaks, but as a whole the five regulars in the lineup are about as solid as baseball will allow.
The freshman can hang too. Jake Slaughter started the season with an eight game hit streak but Josh Smith hasn’t been too shabby either:
Jake Slaughter: .414/.552/.541, 12 H, 1 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 2 BB, 8 SO
Josh Smith: .310/.448/.432, 9 H, 1 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 4 BB (3 HBP), 1 SO
Jake Slaughter is very boom or bust. He’s at the top of the charts for LSU hitting wise, but he’s also accumulating more strikeouts by a mile. He’s a freshman yes, but Mainieri and hitting coach Micah Gibbs can’t be happy with those numbers. Josh Smith may have a lower risk/reward in terms of hits to strikeouts, but I think that’s fine for a freshman hitter. While Slaughter’s strikeout numbers can become a liability for LSU down the road, I don’t think that they will. The kids are alright after all.
What We Don’t Know
Despite a strong veteran presence and freshman impact, there is a hole in the lineup. With Bryce Jordan’s season ending injury, the designated hitter position suddenly became an open competition. Bryce Adams and Rankin Woley have split time as the DH, and have 14 and 15 at bats apiece. I don’t think that’s enough to draw a conclusion like we did above, but it is fair to compare them within those 14-15 ABs
Rankin Woley: .357/.643/.471, 5 H, 2 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBI, 2 BB, 3 SO
Bryce Adams: .267/.600/.333, 4 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 1 BB, 3 SO
Looking just at the lines, Woley seems to have the upper hand but the actual numbers are much more even. Adams started the season and Woley has held it more recently, but both have been much of the same regardless of who has been the DH. Neither have been bad, but constant turnover doesn’t give solid experience which can be crucial down the line.
What’s more is that Brennan Breaux and Beau Jordan have been splitting time in left field and the results have been more of the same.
Brennan Breaux: .333/.667/.444, 5 H, 1 3B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 3 SO
Beau Jordan: .313/.438/.421, 5 H, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 SO
Beau has been slumping to start the season and Breaux is better in the field so it’s kind of Breaux’s to lose at the moment, but as we saw Tuesday night Jordan’s bat has much more promise than Breaux’s. Just like the DH, I believe that split experience is not as preferable as a starter’s experience.
The bullpen blew up once, so be wary of it. Tuesday night, the LSU bullpen retired 11 out of 12 Nicholls batters, with the lone break coming from an error. It was impressive, but their performance against New Orleans will remain in the back of everybody’s mind. The season-ending injury to Doug Norman only hurts an already touchy situation. We know Hunter Newman and Russell Reynolds are the guys to come in at the end of games and Caleb Gilbert is the long reliever/extra starter, but now somebody needs to step up and fill in the role of middle reliever and set up man.