The baseball season is long, even in college, and it is best to never get too hot or too cold tempered. It is the team that stays level headed that can work through the grind of the season, and then peak at the right time that will bring home the ultimate prize.
But then sometimes you get swept in the season series by Tulane. So after a season of cautioning patience as the team figures things out, now is the time to consider panicking.
Before we come down with a full case of the Chicken Littles, let’s at least point out the positive things about the baseball program right now. LSU is 10-8 in the SEC, tied for fourth in the West, three games out of first. The good news is, Alabama (2-16 in the SEC) is this weekend’s opponent, giving LSU an excellent chance to right the ship, get a sweep, and jump up the standings. Furthermore, Auburn is the only West team that has not gotten their shot at padding their record against the Tide.
And look, LSU’s underlying stats aren’t that bad. LSU ranks 3rd in batting average, 2nd in OBP, and 4th in slugging. That’s a good offense, and one that has scored 281 runs, good for 3rd in the SEC. So why have the runs suddenly dried up?
LSU has scored three runs or less in nine of its SEC games, and they have at least one game with three runs or less in every weekend series save the opener against Georgia. Not surprisingly, when LSU fails to score, the team loses. LSU is 2-7 in SEC games in which the offense scores three runs or less.
Frustratingly, there’s not one symptom you can point to as the problem, other than the black hole of offensive production coming from the catcher position. Michael Papierski is hitting 211/355/344, and Jordan Romero’s power surge from last year has evaporated.
Nick Coomes had started to fill the gap of offensive production, hitting a robust 333/419/492 in just 63 at bats, but he’s been pressed into duty at first base because Jake Slaughter has never found his stroke, mired in a season long slump of 263/356/360.
Still, that’s not a debilitating scar in the order. Papierski is also crushing it behind the plate, as opposing base stealers are just 23 of 42 against him, close to a staggering 50% success rate. Mainieri rightly knows he can’t pull that kind of defensive production from the lineup, and even a good lineup can afford one below average hitter in the ninth slot.
No, the problem isn’t the bottom of the order guys not producing, it’s that the top of the order is pretty good instead of great. Outside of Greg Deichmann’s eye popping 669 slugging and 14 homers with 49 RBI, none of the stars are acting like stars. They are instead acting like pretty good players.
Take Kramer Robertson. He’s been terrific with the glove, and he’s an undisputed team leader. He’s hitting 284/409/444 with 6 steals to go with it. That’s really good. It’s just not superlative. And that’s what LSU lacks right now. Superlative offensive performances from its best players.
That’s a ridiculously high bar, but that’s the bar that’s been set. Check out the SEC leader boards. Not one LSU hitter is in the top 10 in average, Deichmann (2nd) is the only in the top 10 slugging, and Cole Freeman (7th) the only one in OBP.
Other than Deichmann, no LSU player appears in the SEC top ten in hit, total bases, home runs, RBI, or walks. Kramer does lead the SEC in runs scored and he’s tied for 9th in doubles. So there’s that. Duplantis and Freeman are both top ten in stolen bases as well. But that’s it.
No one has truly been bad, but no one has been great. If you want to win a title, someone needs to be great. Deichmann is the only guy who is living up to his maximum potential right now on the offensive end.
See how I delayed getting into pitching? Yeah, that’s been the real problem. While the offense has lacked guys being great, the pitching has lacked guys even being good. LSU’s 4.02 ERA ranks 11th in the SEC.
Most of LSU’s underlying numbers are pretty good. LSU ranks in the middle of the pack in hits allowed and near the leaders in strikeouts. But two things are killing the Tigers right now: walks and strikeouts.
LSU has allowed 158 walks (11th) and 40 home runs (14th). That’s a lot of free runs LSU is giving up, and usually there’s a guy on base when they give up the long ball, compounding the error.
The infuriating thing here is that LSU leads the SEC in fielding percentage. LSU has a 0.70122 team Defensive Efficiency, meaning they turn a batted ball in play into an out over 70% of the time, which is above the SEC average. If the pitching staff could just keep the ball in play and let the defense do its work, run scoring would dramatically decrease.
We’re at the point that it’s no longer a mini slump that he will work his way through, it’s a full blown crisis with Alex Lange. Lange picked up his first win in SEC play all year against Ole Miss, bringing his record to 1-3. Pitching wins aren’t everything, but it does tell the story here. Outside of a 1-0 loss to Florida, it’s not like he’s been a hard luck loser. He has simply not been his dominant self this year.
Jared Poche’ started off the season with a no-hitter, but now his ERA is up to 3.28. He has not won a decision since March 31, a 7-4 win over A&M, so hardly a dominant outing. What was supposed to be a dominant one-two punch at the top of the rotation has instead been largely outmatched against other team’s aces.
There’s been virtually no help in the pen either. Hunter Newman’s injury has sent shockwaves through the bullpen and no one has really stepped up to take his place. Only one healthy pitcher on the staff who has thrown more than 10 innings and has an ERA under three: Nick Bush.
Mainieri has a ton of options in the bullpen, it’s just that none of them has come through. There’s virtually no one I have any confidence in to get a critical out, so I can only imagine how he feels. When your starters are scuffling and there’s no one in the bullpen to put the fire out, well, it leads to bad things.
The time for excuses is over. The team needs to pull out of this nosedive right now. Losing to a sub-.500 Tulane is completely unacceptable for a team that harbors national title aspirations. Right now, this is a .500 team that will not improve until the team’s aces start acting like it.
If they can’t find their former form, it is going to be a rather short postseason.