In what was probably LSU’s last ever trip to “The Cliff” in Lexington, KY, the Tigers managed to salvage only one win in a weekend where the Kentucky Wildcats looked like a superior team that was making a statement that they should be in the National Seed conversation.
Let’s talk about Friday’s second game, LSU’s win, first, because it felt vastly different from the two other games of the weekend. Alex Lange didn’t have a great outing, giving up 3 runs and a concerning 8 walks to 7 strikeouts, but fought through his control issues and some intermittent rain to hold UK’s powerful offense in check until the Tigers could get to UK’s Zach Logue. In the 5th inning, single-walk-single loaded the bases and Cole Freeman took a HBP for that inning’s first run and chased away Logue. Then Nick Coomes got a ball through the defense into left to score two more, tying the game. In the 8th, Josh Smith would score from 2B on an Antoine Duplantis single. Zach Hess gave LSU 3 1/3rd scoreless innings and earned his 4th win of the year with the 4-3 victory. Hess’s efforts also prevented the need to use Hunter Newman in relief on Friday, giving LSU extra ammo for the Sunday rubber match.
Unfortunately, LSU had no need for Newman in either of the two losses this weekend as Kentucky did as much damage to Tiger pitching as they did to themselves. LSU’s arms gave up a combined 34 hits, 12 walks, 4 home runs, and 22 runs in the losses on Friday and Sunday as the Wildcats’ unrelenting offense struck quickly and continuously, putting both games out of reach early. Credit where it’s due, what little can be given, to LSU pitching preventing any one single big inning. UK left an astonishing 37 men on base over the weekend as the Tigers pitched out of multiple bases loaded jams.
The Friday loss showed some signs of hope as LSU was able to plate runs in the 7th, 8th, and 9th, notching a 5-12 final score, and used some of that momentum to scratch out the win in the back end of the doubleheader. But that fighting spirit was not seen much on Sunday. Eric Walker got a “Welcome to the SEC” reality check as he was knocked around for 7 runs and was chased after just 2 1/3rd, notching his first loss of the year. With a wind chill in the 40s and an irritating, windy downpour, the Tiger bats fell silent as UK’s Justin Lewis threw a 6 hit, 2 run complete game, a first for the sophomore converted relief arm. Lewis notched 6 strikeouts and the Tigers only left 3 on base in the 10-2 UK win, as LSU seemed as miserable playing the game as I was watching it with Kentucky’s useless broadcast crew.
If you’re looking for a positive from the weekend, how about the contributions of Josh Smith and especially Nick Coomes. The pair of 2017 LSU newcomers combined for 7 hits and 6 RBIs, with Coomes notching a home run on Sunday and only striking out once during the weekend. Coomes’ play at 1B was solid enough that he’s probably holding on to that starting job for another week.
We are now less than a month away from the end of the regular season and the Tigers need to figure themselves out at the plate, and fast. The good news is that preventing the sweep keeps LSU just 3 games out in the West race. The bad news is that the SEC as a whole is a WWI battlefield where no one is getting home with all their limbs intact. LSU’s 10-8 SEC record puts them in a 3 way tie for 5th overall, but also 5th in the West.
LSU’s road trip continues this week with a trip to the blasphemous carpet in Turchin Stadium, then a weekend in the soft, cozy confines of The New Joe, where Alabama is playing some legitimately awful baseball. If Coach Mainieri has any new ideas for fixing what ails this lineup, best to use them now, as a homecoming slate against a formidable Auburn pitching staff is just on the horizon.