A month ago, it seemed like LSU would fall just a buck short of national seed status. I had them somewhere in the 10-14 range in terms of hosting seeds and I thought they would have to turn it up to 11 to get a national seed.
Ask and you shall receive. LSU ended the season as the hottest team in college baseball, run ruling Kentucky and South Carolina in back to back games in the SEC Tournament while winning both their division, a regular season co-championship* with Florida, and an outright SEC championship in Hoover.
If you want to get down to brass tacks, LSU’s run is simple: they’re hitting, fielding, and throwing the ball well. I could say that in 1,000 words or I can say it in eight.
But among LSU fans I’ve observed that this is a sense of cautious optimism, an unspoken vibe that says that they’re concerned that the team “peaked too early”. I’ll talk more about this notion tomorrow, but for now let’s talk about the three reasons why you should be fully on board with the Tigers after their hot streak.
Eric Walker has been not just good, but (almost) reliably good.
There’s a saying that after some time, freshman stop being Freshman. Right now Eric Walker is closer to his sophomore year than he is to the beginning of his second semester as a freshman and it shows. Which is a good thing, because he’s the answer LSU has been waiting for since 2014.
In LSU’s 2014 trip to Omaha and in the 2015 Baton Rouge Regional pitching depth was the ultimate downfall for LSU. They needed to win three games but only had two bona fide starters. This year the problem was addressed with the addition of Eric Walker, and despite some stumbles he has shown up in big games and stonewalled teams to the best of his ability, most notable against Arkansas and Florida in the regular season and again against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament Final to win the championship. If LSU is going to win everything, he needs to turn in those type of outings, if not better. We know what LSU has in Lange and Poche’ but if Walker can pull the amount of weight he’s been pulling, then he can write his name into LSU lore as a true freshman. If it comes down to him to pitch in a regional championship or game three of a super regional, he needs to draw a quality outing each and every time. That’s a big ask for a freshman, but I feel like with his recent outings, he’s well equipped to handle the task. He probably won’t be able to afford to allow five runs like he did against South Carolina, but outings like he had against Arkansas (both times) and Auburn lead you to sleep easier at night.
One through nine, freshman through senior has been ready to pull the rope.
Much has been made of Kramer Robertson stepping forward when the team was scuffling and saying “I need to do better”, mostly because he did and he accomplished that. The veterans in the lineup have been the ones producing: Robertson, Cole Freeman, Greg Deichmann, and Michael Papierski. Papierski is arguably the hottest batter on the LSU team right now as he has found both his power swing and developed a great eye for the zone at the same time, creating somebody you hate to pitch to because he take you deep but who you also have to throw strikes to.
But the younger and newer faces have been producing. During LSU’s insane back end run, the top of the lineup was actually being bailed out by the back half of the order. The freshmen Josh Smith and Zach Watson have really settled in and found their swings, after some time on the bench Beau Jordan has started to come through a solid bottom half DH, and Nick Coomes has filled out his role as protection for Greg Deichmann well for being placed in it relatively late.
There will come a point in this postseason where the seasoned veterans falter, one of them goes cold and another one finds himself out of favor with the BABIP gods. When that happens, and given the nature of postseason baseball it will, LSU will have to lean on one of those players to produce. If LSU can continue their current run of things, that should not be an issue.
The fielding is superb, and fielding doesn’t slump.
LSU has a fielding percentage of .981. That’s good enough for seventh in the nation and out of teams in the tournament, LSU is fourth while being the highest one seed in terms of fielding.
If you need to see a visual representation of what that looks like, look at Zach Watson’s highlights from the SEC Tournament.
It doesn’t need to be perfect, because with LSU’s pitching and offense it very well may be. Teams under Paul Mainieri have had a reputation for being good fielding teams, but this may be one of the best. If you can rob two or three would-be hits per game with an arm like Alex Lange on the mound, with the kind of run support LSU has been giving him, that can very easily become a death sentence for a lot of teams. Michael Papierski is one of, if not the best defensive catcher I’ve seen at LSU and they have three solid shortstops on the infield, and two outfielders with range. The first baseman Nick Coomes is still learning the position but he’s been stellar in doing so and Greg Deichmann is a little more than just serviceable in the outfield.
This has been probably the most underrated aspect of LSU’s on fire streak, but down the line it can prove to be the most important.