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Baseball Weekend Preview: Kentucky

LSU opens conference play with a strong challenge.

Mark Mahan/UK Athletics

LSU has run out of time.

It’s been two weeks since the disastrous trip to Austin, and in those 14 days the Tigers have struggled to become the team we thought they’d be at this point. Head coach Paul Mainieri has experimented a little with the week plus since the team has returned to Baton Rouge, but tonight the real season begins when LSU hosts Kentucky on the Opening Night of SEC play.

Times and Probables

Game 1: 7 p.m., SEC Network +, 98.1 FM

Kentucky: Zack Thompson, JR LHP (2.78 ERA, 22.2 IP, 5.29 K/BB [37/7])

LSU: Zack Hess, JR RHP (4.91 ERA, 18.1 IP, 1.91 K/BB [21/11])

Game 2: 6:30 p.m., SECN+, 98.1

Kentucky: Grant Maccciocchi, JR RHP (1.32 ERA, 13.2 IP, 15.00 K/BB [15/1])

LSU: Cole Henry, FR RHP (2.84 ERA, 12.2 IP, 2.75 K/BB [11/4])

Game 3: 2 p.m., SECN+, 98.1, 100.7 FM if basketball reaches championship game in SEC Tournament

Kentucky: Taco Bell Anderson, 8th year SR (4.20 ERA, 69.0 !P, 3.14 K/BB [28/9])*

LSU: Eric Walker, SO RHP (6.92 ERA, 13 IP, 1.17 K/BB [7/6])

*it’s a joke you marks

At A Glance

For the longest time, Kentucky was one of the few college baseball teams in a power conference that you had to look at with a “Coors Effect” filter. The now-old Cliff Hagan Stadium had a short porch in right of 310 feet and the numbers reflected that. It’s early, but with the new Kentucky Proud Park’s 320-foot fence those numbers seemed to have chilled just a bit. We’ll touch on that more later.

The Wildcats enter the weekend one game better than LSU at 13-4, but don’t let that fool you for a bit. It’s a bit too early to lean on RPI, but Kentucky has the 164th best strength of schedule.

Their only real test resulted in three of their losses, a sweep at the hands of Texas Tech in Lubbock. In that series, the Wildcats were outscored 36-15.

Outside of that, the rest of the schedule isn’t a real murder’s row: opening weekend at Austin Peay, a game against Eastern and Northern Kentucky, Canisius, a 13-2 loss to Boston College, a series against Middle Tennessee State, and two games against SIU-E an Western Kentucky.

Say what you want about the Austin debacle and the game two meltdown against Cal, LSU has been much more challenged than the Cats. Whether or not that is a factor remains to be seen

At The Plate

Coltyn Kessler: .447/.522/.553, 17 H, 4 2B, 5 RBI, 1.20 K/BB (6/5)

Ryan Shinn: .368/.493/.702, 21 H, 10 2B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 1.44 K/BB (13/9)

Jaren Shelby: .317/.425/.450, 19 H, 5 2B, 1 HR, 19 RBI

TJ Collett: .303/.385/.606, 20 H, 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 1.50 K/BB (12/8)

Collett is obviously the power bat in the lineup, and why yes he is a left-handed hitter, just like hitting leader Coltyn Kessler. Can’t knock the hustle though, batting that close to .500 this deep into the season is impressive no matter how you slice it. He’s one of those players who is going to get his no matter what, LSU just needs to control what happens around him. He was absent for the Texas Tech series, but has gone for 6-9 (nice) in his last three games back with the team.

I’m really big on Ryan Shinn as well, a plus defender in the outfield who has really come through with the bat this year.

On The Mound

Carson Coleman: 5.40 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 8.1 IP, 1.83 K/BB (11/6), .179 BAA

Daniel Harper: 2.87 ERA, .92 WHIP, 15.2 IP, 3.50 K/BB (14/4), .185 BAA

Outside of Thompson and Macciocchini, Kentucky’s pitching depth is kind of a tough read. Thompson is good and Macciocchi has had a great start in his two starts, but again the quality of opponents muddles the picture. UK has eight pitchers currently holding batters to under .200 BAA, and three of those players have less than 6 innings pitched.

Coleman appears to be the endgame guy, as he only has one save but a powerful arm. Daniel Harper is the inning eater, making eight appearances and no starts. The fact that he’s striking out 14 batters on under 16 innings pitched and still holding a sub-one WHIP is pretty decent. I imagine if he doesn’t start Sunday then he’ll either be leaned on heavily Friday or Saturday.