LSU and Mississippi State are very familiar opponents in all sports, especially baseball. But since the Tigers have last played the Bulldogs, the outlook in Starkville has shifted a little bit. To talk about these changes, we have wrangled in Justin Strawn from For Whom The Cowbell Tolls.
ATVS: Much has been made of Mississippi State's bullpen arms being stretched thin, but yet they continue to win. How are the Bulldogs managing it and do you believe it's sustainable this weekend?
Justin Strawn: It's baffling how the Bulldogs have been able to win like they have, and do it with a seven or eight man pitching staff. We're approaching the Super Regional, and there is no clear cut number two starter on this team. Andy Cannizaro and Pitching Coach Gary Henderson have tried to ride the hot hand for the number two guy from week to week. Sometimes it has worked, sometimes it hasn't.
But the reason the Bulldogs haven't collapsed is because of four guys who have emerged to be consistent in the roles they have been placed. Konnor Pilkington is the ace, and when he is on, he is as good as they come. When he's off, he can still eat up innings. Peyton Plumlee began the year as a starter, but struggled in that role when SEC play began. He then emerged as a consistent producer as a long reliever. On many occasions in 2017, he has entered difficult situations and gotten the Bulldogs out of trouble. Then he gives the team three or four innings of quality relief.
The one constant all season has been Riley Self and Spencer Price. The two have been lock down guys out of the bullpen to close out games since the first game of the season. They've been overused, and it showed in the SEC Tournament. But they seemed to be back to their old selves in the Hattiesburg Regional. If Mississippi State can get to the 8th inning with a lead, they're a really tough team to beat.
I think it's very sustainable for this series, much more so than the Regional was. The hardest part of the postseason with the attrition this pitching staff has had to deal with (8 pitchers have been shelved because of Tommy John surgery) three games is doable. How the Bulldogs managed to get four wins in two days is still one of the most impressive feats I have seen any team pull off in any sport. The one thing I thought, and everyone else who follows this team thought, was a game one loss in Hattiesburg would be the final nail in the coffin. But this team continued to come up big when everyone had written them off and won a regional in the most improbable manner. Managing the pitching staff this weekend will be a breeze compared to last weekend.
ATVS: 2016 series aside, LSU has had State's number. Do you feel like that there is a mental hurdle State has to climb over as well as a physical one? Does this series being Cannizaro's return to BR amplify that?
JS: Many seasons, I would say yes. But with this team, no way. When LSU swept the Bulldogs to close out the regular season, the Bulldogs were starting to show signs that the physical toil of the season with so few pitchers had finally caught up with them. It wasn't a mental hurdle. This team is a coach's dream as every bit of coachspeak you always hear is 100% true for this team. They stay in the moment. All they think about is what they can do in the present at bat to help the team. It sounds very cliche, but it's the only way to describe this team. The Bulldogs seemed to have found a second wind in Hattiesburg. I don't know if it will carry over to this weekend or not, but I feel much better about their chances going into the Super Regional than I did when LSU came to Starkville to close out the season.
Andy Cannizaro returning to LSU will be a story, but again, the team won't care. They just wanna play baseball. Mississippi State will obviously have to answer questions about it as the weekend gets closer, but once the series starts, it won't even cross their minds.
ATVS: What is your earnest expectation(s) and prediction for this weekend?
JS: I've learned to not have expectations with this team. With the sheer number of devastating injuries the team has suffered, they probably shouldn't have even made it to the SEC Tournament, much less be playing in a Super Regional with a trip to Omaha on the line.
It would be silly to predict the Bulldogs to win. LSU is playing as well, if not better, than any team in the country right now. LSU swept the season series. The Bulldogs struggled to end the season, but showed why you can't simply count them out last weekend in Hattiesburg.
I'm predicting the Tigers to win. But if the Bulldogs regained the magic they used earlier in the season this past weekend in Hattiesburg, I wouldn't be surprised if they pulled it off when no one thought they could. It's what they've done all season.