Today is a good day, for today there is baseball.
The long dark football offseason has trudged along for these many...*checks*...days. Endless hours in a void, punctuated only by...parades and championship celebrations.
Ok, so the reality of a National Championship has created a non-stop party that fused directly into Mardi Gras and threatens to last all the way to summer, when it’ll be too damn hot to do anything. Honestly, that’s a pretty great environment for an LSU baseball team to start in, letting the focus drift around campus between football’s victory lap, a resurgent whoops team, a men’s hoops team that seem to prefer giving fans a heart attack over actually winning games, and a gym squad trying to find itself. Baseball will have a few weeks under the radar to get itself sorted before the laser focus of the fan base returns.
Or they’ll lose two games to Indiana this weekend and everyone is going to call for Mainieri’s head on Monday.
I love this so much I turned it into a GIF. Thanks, Reggie. pic.twitter.com/XgqFpDPvyj— Amie Just (@Amie_Just) February 14, 2020
I wont rehash our thoughts on LSU but instead point you to our tremendous preseason primer work by Poseur and Junda covering every aspect of your 2020 Tigers.
So let’s look at the Hoosiers.
Indiana is coming off a 37-23 season in which they won their 1st Big 10 championship since 2014. Their head coach Jeff Mercer pulled off this feat in his 1st year on the job, taking over after Mississippi St hired away Chris Lemonis. Mercer is a bit of a coaching prodigy at only 35 years old. He has the rare distinction of being named the Horizon League Player of the Year (2009) and Coach of the Year (2018) both at Wright State. Indiana’s 2019 season ended with a 1-2 showing in the Louisville Regional.
Friday - Jr. LH Tommy Sommer (4-3, 3.40 ERA, 45.0 IP, 14 BB, 47 SO in 2019)
Saturday - So. RH Gabe Bierman (4-0, 3.56 ERA, 48.0 IP, 18 BB, 46 SO in 2019)
Sunday - So. RH Braydon Tucker (0-0, 2.70 ERA, 6.2 IP, 5 BB, 2 SO in 2019)
For 2020, Indiana loses their whole weekend rotation from last season’s B1G championship team, including Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Andrew Saalfrank (drafted in the 6th round by Arizona as a 4th year Junior). Tommy Sommer was Indiana’s Sunday starter last year until he was injured about a month into the season. Saalfrank took over his starting job while Sommer worked long relief and midweek starts the rest of the year. Gabe Bierman is moving up from a very effective role in the bullpen to a starting gig. Bierman pitched a 3 inning save against Rutgers last season that clinched Indiana the Big Ten regular season title, just two days after his father passed away suddenly. Braydon Tucker saw very limited action in his freshman season last year, making 3 appearances in Indiana’s early OOC schedule, and then not again until late May.
At the plate, Juniors Cole Barr and Elijah Dunham are both on the preseason All-Big Ten team for multiple outlets. Barr was the Hoosier’s starting 3B last year in his sophomore season. He batted .255 in his first full season of action, with 17 home runs and 55 RBI while fielding at .901 for the year with 17 errors. Dunham patrols left field, batting .310 last year with 8 home runs, 29 RBI, and a .434 on base percentage and 31 walks.
Indiana was picked to finish 5th in the B1G this year, not entirely surprising given how much talent they have lost from last year’s conference championship team. 10 Hoosiers were drafted last season, a record for the program. Indiana was an offensive powerhouse last season, second nationally with 95 home runs and leading the Big Ten on most offensive categories, but a large chunk of that production was drafted or graduated. There wont be any Alex Box jitters with this team and they’ll likely be looking to prove that even with the new look roster they are still a team to be reckoned with. A Tigers team that takes opening weekend lightly will give them that chance.
I hazard to give any kind of prediction this weekend because of so many question marks on both sides. On paper LSU has the obvious talent advantage, but you never really know about a team until they get on the field. Indiana could pick up right where they left off at the plate last year or maybe LSU’s starting pitching is more of a work in progress than we expect. If you force me, I’d say LSU takes 2 of three, but it could go in either direction.