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You’re In The Great Game Now

Let’s talk about the five words no LSU fan wants to hear.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-LSU vs TCU Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Are you afraid? You should be. You’re in the great game now. And the great game is terrifying. -Tyrion Lannister

LSU has won 16 of their last 18 games and 11 straight. During the current win streak LSU has scored 87 runs while allowing opponents only 23, and average nearly 8 runs scored a game against a little more than 2 allowed. It has catapulted them from maybe a national seed to a top four national seed and won them an SEC Championship.

Look at it, it’s fine. It’s a hell of a run. Just know that today, it won’t mean a thing.

What LSU has done over the past month is very encouraging but to LSU fans it’s very worrisome as well. If LSU wins out, then the expectations will be met and hopefully another trophy will be raised somewhere in the middle of America. If LSU doesn’t take care of business this week, it will be said that they peaked too soon, got too hot too early, and ran out of gas when it mattered the most. And from this position, I can’t say that it won’t be true. When a team breaks down like that, it’s a shock to the system and you look for a tangible branch to cling to to make sense of it all. And when it happens three years in a row as it has to LSU, you get familiar with that branch and it becomes a crutch.

But it won’t be true. Baseball is a beautiful game and Billy Beane was right, it’s hard not to be romantic about it. But it’s also a cruel game that will rip your heart out without a second thought. Over the course of a 50 plus game season, talent and execution weed out the good teams from the great teams. If you’re a good baseball team, it will probably show.

But in the regionals, all that matters is if you can get three wins before you get two losses. And in the super regionals it’s about winning two out of three. And then rinse and repeat in Omaha. It takes 10 wins before you get a maximum of six losses to win it all. It’s not easy for a fluke to win it all and it’s still designed to give an advantage to deeper teams, but if you don’t execute it won’t happen for you.

Also, I don’t believe that this team has “peaked”. I think that LSU can keep flying at the level they’re currently at, if not becoming a little better on the road to Omaha. To me, that is completely contingent on Eric Walker improving and the offense picking up their onslaught exhibited against Mississippi State and in most of the SEC tournament. It’s a pretty big ask considering the level of competition LSU will be facing, but not impossible.

Make no mistake, this has potential to be a national championship team.

Paul Mainieri has made it a point to say “If you’re scared of these games, then you came to the wrong school,” and “at LSU, we play for championships.” And that might be the most truthful thing the LSU head coach has said. LSU has been a national seed eight of the last 10 seasons, and is a national seed for the sixth straight year in a row. The LSU program under Mainieri is a remarkable testament to consistency and postseason games at Alex Box Stadium have become not just expectation, but an assumption. Fair or unfair, national championship are not the goal, but rather a plan.

And yet for seven years the crown has eluded LSU one way or another. Back to back down years followed LSU’s last national title, and in 2012 LSU ran into a sleeper buzzsaw in Stony Brook. In 2013 Aaron Nola won the Super Regional showdown between himself and Jonathan Gray before LSU did the impossible and went 0-2 in Omaha. 2014 saw LSU fail to advance out of their own regional when Houston shocked LSU on a Monday night. LSU made it to Omaha the following year, but only improved on their 2013 trip by winning a single game behind Alex Lange before being eliminated. And last year LSU once again was shocked at home when eventual national champion Coastal Carolina got the better of LSU.

Baseball is cruel at times and it is merciful at others. The NCAA Tournament finds a way to be both at the same time and for that I think it is the best postseason tournament format. In recent history LSU has had considerable success in the postseason but not quite enough to bring home hardware. From here on out, the Tigers will be tested and everything they get will be earned.

In Thursday morning’s practice, LSU looked looser than ever. They kept their Thursday practice tradition of three-man ball alive, with Josh Smith starting a slow-speed cautious dogpile when his team won. Paul Mainieri was not only joining in with the exchanges of jokes, but was leading the charge. LSU looked like they embraced the come as it may nature of baseball.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was that people will expose themselves if you let them. Starting Friday, LSU will either be exposed or wind up as the national champions and only time and execution will tell which it is.

Are you afraid?