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Defending Mainieri’s Late Game Strategy

I’m a surprised as you are that I’m defending him

SEC Network

LSU went on the road last weekend to play a struggling Florida team, and needed a huge comeback on Sunday to avoid a sweep. LSU has matched up against elite competition twice this season, and both times, come home a loser.

Now, in fairness to Florida, they may have been playing some poor baseball, but that is still a really good team. The Gators were still ranked in the top 15 in nearly every poll even before winning the series, and they boast perhaps the best pitching staff in the country. Yes, the offense has been a major issue for them, but this wasn’t like losing to a directional school.

However, losing a major series, particularly one early in the SEC schedule, has been the trigger for the entire fanbase to panic. LSU is a terrible team that isn’t built to win close games with an idiot for a coach who will surely botch any chance the team has to win. Or something like that.

Now, I hate to be in the position of defending Paul Mainieiri, as few people have spent more time writing about his coaching deficiencies than I have. He’s inflexible, ignores pieces on his bench, and has a slow hook for his starters and a quick hook for his relievers, even when they are effective. His in-game management will never be his strong suit.

But are we seriously killing a guy for not bunting with a runner in scoring position and no outs in the ninth inning? The bunt was on with no outs and a runner on first, but a wild pitch advanced Smith to second without costing LSU in the out. And we want to look this gift horse in the mouth by still giving away an out and moving the runner to third?

Honestly, what would be the point? LSU was struggling at the plate and facing a fresh pitcher. I want the offense to have as many bites as the apple as possible. You move the runner to third, yes, a fly ball could score the run, but just for one batter. After that, you have one chance left to get a hit. Leaving the runner on second and preserving outs meant that LSU hitters had three chances to get a base hit. Given the way they were hitting, I wanted the extra chance and not sacrifice an out.

Let’s also not forget that the next three LSU hitters all struck out. Now, it was a pretty awful strike zone, as the umpire seemed to believe in more a strike amorphous, constantly shifting blob than a zone, but still. We’re going to blame the coach when three hitters come up with a chance to extend the game, and all three fail to even put the ball in play?

Besides, on Sunday, Mainieri made a similar call and it worked out. His team couldn’t string together any hits and create any real pressure, and seemed doomed to lose 4-0. But in the 8th inning, THREE different times a runner got on first with less than two outs, and on each occasion, LSU swung away. And hit a home run.

Sometimes letting the players hit works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Not every failure to score is a total condemnation of the coach. And I’m never going to rip on a coach for failing to bunt when the runner is already in scoring position.

LSU had a bad weekend of baseball, but they did manage to salvage the series with that late 8th inning rally. Swinging away worked out, and the offense finally came through. And while it stinks to lose a series, it was on the road to one of the best teams in the country.

LSU is still ranked in the top ten nationally, and by avoiding the sweep, LSU sits at 4-2 in SEC play. That’s only one game out of first in the West, behind two teams that LSU is still yet to play. It’s way too early to panic, especially because this series was not the disaster some fans seem to want it to be.

Alex Lange pitched a gem, but lost 1-0. That stinks, and it hurts as a fan, but it happens. Not every close loss is a referendum on the team or the coach. In fact, it rarely is. Let’s not write off the 2017 season just yet.