Last month, I wrote an article about LSU opening its SEC schedule. I originally planned to revisit the post after LSU’s incredible three-series run of Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Tennessee, all top 10 matchups.
Well, it became four straight with South Carolina breaking into the top 10 at #6. This week, they’ll play another emergent team, #12 Kentucky to make it a cool five straight weeks of top-15 matchups. You know what they say about mice and plans.
In the midst of that five-series run LSU is 3-0-1, thanks to the weather robbing us of a game three against the Gamecocks. That’s objectively good and something you absolutely take every single year. LSU came into the stretch with the #1 ranking and to date, there’s been no reason to remove that qualifier from the name. LSU has a target on its back, and four of the best teams in the nation took aim at it, but none have been able to hit it.
But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. In fact, there are some concerns bubbling up.
Through no fault of his own, LSU is 2-2 in Paul Skenes games, and two of those losses were absolute blowouts. One of those was rain cutting his start short, but the bullpen hasn’t been able to bridge in closing out games. Paul Skenes has been one of one in the college baseball pitching conversation this year, but that doesn’t mean much at all if LSU is unable to actually convert his insane outings into wins.
And to exacerbate that issue, two of the few reliable bullpen arms in Chase Shores and Garrett Edwards appear to be sidelined for a considerable amount of time. LSU will need some freshmen to step up to fill in those roles, and that’s a mighty tall order in the cutthroat SEC.
Speaking of pitching, LSU’s Achilles heel is bleeding again: they do not have a third starter. Time and time and time and time again, LSU has been eliminated from the postseason because they lack a third quality starter. That was the defining failure of the Paul Mainieri era post-2009 and has proven to be an essential part of a competing team.
Thatcher Hurd is not that third quality starter. In his three SEC starts, he has failed to go further than two innings. Against Tennessee, he couldn’t record a single out, giving up six runs on four hits and two walks. He didn’t get the ball in Columbia due to the rainout, and maybe that’s for the best. At the time of writing it hasn’t been confirmed that he’ll get the ball against Kentucky, but if it doesn’t go well you’ll have to imagine Jay Johnson will be forced to reopen the competition for the third slot in the rotation.
Lastly, the LSU offense has been as advertised for the most part of this stretch - they’ve only scored less than five runs once - but there have been flashes where the LSU hitters have been shockingly overmatched. This isn’t to take anything away from the opposing pitchers, because they’re on scholarship at an SEC school too. But Hagen Smith, Will Sanders, and Chris Veach making the Tigers look noncompetitive at the plate sticks with me. But to their credit, they were able to hang with and eventually beat Chase Dollander.
But look, it’s a long season, and we still have over a month left of this. I didn’t come here to bury this team or complain about Kate Upton’s knobby knees. I’m enjoying the fact that LSU is having these issues ahead of their FIFTH (5th) straight top-15 run-in. I relish it. I LOVE the fact that LSU has no respite to lick their wounds and go through the motions for a game or two. Nothing has changed from Opening Day.
This is a great chance for a suddenly young and unsteady LSU bullpen to step up. Who wants to be the guy who takes the ball from Skenes in the eighth or ninth inning and lands the plane?
Will the off week be what Thatcher needs to refocus and become what LSU desperately needs? If not, who is going to step in and demand the ball from Jay on Sundays?
I want to see LSU go up against the best arms in the country because it’s the only way to prepare them for what’s coming in June. A team that makes Super Regionals and Omaha will have really good pitching and we’ll need to hit them.
This is when and how you find out about what kind of team you have, by playing the best teams week in and out. This is why the SEC is the premier conference in college baseball and dominates June. This is why we’re in the SEC.
We’re #1. Every single week from here on out is a defense of that. It will not get easier, it will not fly by. You want to be a wire-to-wire champion? This is what it takes.
Embrace the suck.