First, an apology. I’ve been really poor about writing the weekend previews the last few weeks due to life stuff and, ya know, #GymSchool. But we should be back on our regular rotation, just in time for.. oh goddammit….
Ole Miss Rebels
Record: 32-10 (10-8, 1st in SEC West)
Yeah, that’s pretty damn good. Ole Miss is a top 10 team in both the human polls and in the computers. They score a lot of runs and don’t let in many, which is usually a pretty good recipe for success. So everyone is rightfully nervous about LSU playing the Rebels, particularly coming off of a sweep last weekend. I get it, but let’s all take a deep breath and calm down.
First off, Ole Miss is only one game ahead of LSU in the standings. Now, they get a golden chance this week to extend that lead, but LSU is one series win away from tying for the lead in probably the toughest division in college baseball. So let’s slow down those calls of panic for dropping out of the top 25.
Now, there is cause for concern. LSU played poorly last weekend as the bullpen completely imploded. LSU has lost two of its last three series and has losses in all three road series of the season. I don’t want to say its all sunshine and rainbows either. There’s real concerns, though some of those concerns get lessened by the return of Josh Smith and Caleb Gilbert. Josh Smith is the big headline news, but given the way the bullpen played last week, the return of Gilbert might be even more important to the team.
Would their mascot beat Mike the Tiger in fight?
This is where we get into some mascot confusion. I like the chances of a Rebel in prime fighting shape to fight off a tiger, particularly if armed with a rifle. However, the classic Ole Miss logo looks like Colonel Sanders, and no way is grandpa taking out a tiger, no matter how badass he was at the Battle of Shiloh. Ole Miss also has adopted the bear as its unofficial mascot, so then we get into a classic matchup of predators from different environments. The big cats rule the prairies and jungles of Africa, but the bear has a real advantage if we’re fighting in the mountainous terrain of the American forest. Since the series is in Oxford, we’ll assume the fight takes place in a giant patch of kudzu. I think mobility will be the key in that kind of terrain, so I’ll give the edge to Mike, but barely. The bear is a real contender.
Ryan Olenek 397/433/526
Thomas Dillard 318/437/589
Nick Fortes 289/402/493
It’s hard to choose just three hitters, as six Ole Miss batters have at least 30 starts and an OBP above 400. Five guys with 30+ starts slug 500. Olenek and Dillard are clearly the headliners, but finding that third guy was pretty difficult. I went with Fortes because he can also steal bases, and the three hitters I’m spotlighting combined for 25 steals, 18 home runs and over 100 RBI and 100 runs. This offense can flat out rake, and just about everyone in it is a threat to go yard, get a hit, or even draw a walk. And once on the bases, they can make your life a living hell. There’s nothing the Rebels can’t do, and they can hurt you in a variety of ways.
There are no easy outs this weekend.
So. LHP Ryan Rolison (5-3, 3.19 ERA, 59.1 IP, 25 BB, 77 SO)
Jr. RHP Brady Feigl (7-2, 3.30 ERA, 57.1 IP, 18 BB, 49 SO)
Jr. RHP James McArthur (5-0, 3.17 ERA, 48.1 IP, 24 BB, 40 SO)
The good news is, the pitching isn’t quite as stout as the offense. It’s still a good rotation, but there’s not that one guy who scares you. Now, what the Rebels do have is a deep and effective bullpen, and aren’t we jealous. Parker Caracci has 7 saves, a 46/8 K/BB ratio, and a 2.52 ERA. There’s not a sigh of relief when you knock a starter out of the game, only the knowledge another capable arm is coming to shut you down.
Ryan Rolison does have three out pitches, featuring a good changeup to go with his curve and low 90s fastball. But he’s still part project rather than fully developed prospect. He’s got all of the talent in the world and a deep arsenal of pitches, but he hasn’t quite put it together into completely overwhelming stuff. Which is sort of the tale of the entire rotation. They all have the ability to turn it on and shut you out, but they haven’t quite become the fully developed products they could be. Chalk them up as concerning rather than absolutely f’n terrifying. But terrifying is still on the table.
Top 5 team playing at home with a chance to pour dirt on their blood rival? Yeah, that doesn’t look like a real recipe for success for LSU. Ole Miss is the better team this year, and they will be playing at home. LSU hasn’t shown the ability to beat anyone on the road, much less the #6 team in the nation. And while the Ole miss staff hasn’t fully become a terrifying monster, LSU’s rotation isn’t even cobbled together, as TBA is pitching on Saturday. And the less said about the bullpen, the better.
LSU’s goal this weekend is to simply stop the bleeding. Win a game, prevent the sweep, stay in contention. A series win would be outstanding, of course, but this one is probably out of reach. LSU is not so overwhelmed that stealing a game or two is too tall a task, but this team is running out of time and excuses. Start with a win.