Welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly LSU baseball column with LSU beat writer Nick Suss. Today we discuss a weekend of bean ball, how LSU stacks up against the rest of the SEC, Alex Lange’s rough Friday and much more. Batter up!
You know that old saying about how a walk is as good as a hit? Well, a hit-by-pitch is as good as a walk. Except if someone walks three times in a game, it’s not going to hurt nearly as much.
Yes, in the LSU baseball team’s three-game SEC sweep of Georgia this weekend, Georgia’s pitchers plunked LSU batters 12 times, including five apiece on Friday and Sunday. Freshman first baseman Jake Slaughter got hit in all three games — five times overall — and at one point LSU had three batters get hit in a row.
Obviously this wasn’t on purpose. Georgia’s pitchers weren’t good enough to aim that successfully two or three times, let alone 12. And it’s not like LSU didn’t return the favor. LSU’s pitchers connected on three bean balls Sunday.
But here’s the fact that strikes me as most alarming, and most important too. Of the 12 times LSU batters were hit, only four resulted in runs. Meaning LSU left eight batters aching on the base paths without the consolation of knowing their pain benefited the team.
Don’t take this as a commentary on the quality of LSU’s hitters. The team scored 34 runs in three games this weekend, for goodness sake. And only one of those runs came off a home run. This team can move runners around the bases.
But is also has a tendency to overload the bases. When you’re loading the bases every third inning, teams have to pitch to you differently. And when you’re only getting low stuff and sinking stuff, it’s hard to drive in runs. In a lot of ways, LSU became a victim of its own success this weekend.
Not that they should be complaining.
This wasn’t a banner weekend for SEC baseball. Tennessee, Florida, Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State all got swept and Vanderbilt lost two out of three.
Sure, that means some of the conference’s less-heralded programs pulled off sweeps, like Auburn and Kentucky, to name two. And schools like South Carolina looked good, as did Missouri, winning its 17th, 18th and 19th consecutive games in sweeping Alabama.
To me, this looks like LSU’s huge weekend series versus Florida starting this Friday might not be as huge as we thought. Florida has lost six out of its last nine, including three straight to Auburn, and only scored more than three runs in one of those six losses. The Gators’ offense looks like it might be on the ropes.
So who is the class of the conference? Well, let’s take a look at some stats from the six unbeaten teams in conference play to check.
I think it’s safe to say that LSU is playing like the best team in the SEC West right now. But the East looks strong. Missouri’s pitching has been incredible, South Carolina’s has been pretty darn impressive as well and Kentucky is just knocking the crap out of the ball.
It’s still early in the year, but if the East can keep playing this well and if Florida rebounds soon, LSU is going to have a couple of challenges in Hoover at the end of May.
Paul Mainieri doesn’t like to panic. So let’s do it for him.
Alex Lange is LSU’s Friday starter. No matter how well Jared Poché pitches and how poorly Lange looks, Mainieri isn’t going to make this change. At least not right now.
That said, Lange had another rough outing this weekend, ballooning his season ERA north of 5.00. But almost all of the runs Lange has allowed came in two of his five starts. The other three times? He’s been lights out. So what’s there to make of Alex Lange?
Well, you can’t say he only pitches well against bad teams. Because he throttled Maryland, a team that’s gone 11-1 since it got swept by LSU. And he out-pitched Poché versus Wichita State, a team that’s 11-2 against teams outside of Louisiana.
So is it just inconsistency? Is Lange really just an unpredictable pitcher? Because he’s not a headcase. Repeatedly, Mainieri has said Lange is the most mentally strong pitcher he’s ever coached. And having talked to him, Lange has a workman’s attitude to pitching that reminds me of some of the Major Leaguers I’ve covered.
But he’s had a tough time putting it all together two or three times in a row this year. He hasn’t found a weekly or monthly rhythm to match his daily rhythm.
Given that he has to face Florida ace Alex Faedo this Friday, it’d be good if he finds it fast. If not, it might be time to panic.
As much as it pains me to say it, Cole Freeman is not perfect.
His batting average is back at .400 right now, but it dipped below there for the first time since Opening Weekend on Sunday thanks to a four-game slump that started in LSU’s 15-inning loss to UNO on Wednesday. He’s no longer LSU’s team leader in hits. In fact, he’s dropped to third. And he also lost the mantle of being LSU’s hit-by-pitch king after Slaughter’s active weekend.
But let’s not pile on. Freeman had such a strong first month of the season that he’s still batting .400 after going 3-for-18 in his last four games. Keeping his batting average up around .470 and his on-base percentage near .600 was unsustainable in every sense of the word.
But he’s still one of LSU baseball’s top contributors. Speaking of which…
I’m going to shake up the list a bit this week. New names might even enter the fold. But it’s still the same old top tier of competitors. Here are your LSU baseball player power rankings for the first week of spring.
No. 5: RF Greg Deichmann (Last week: No. 2)
Deichmann couldn’t slam any more home runs this week and he saw his massive team RBI lead vanish thanks to a surging teammate. But he’s still got an OPS of 1.115. And that’s good enough to make the list in my book.
No. 4: 2B Cole Freeman (Last week: No. 3)
His hitting numbers may be down. But let’s not forget the value of Freeman’s team-high nine steals, his team-high seven sacrifices, the 12 double plays he’s been involved with and the fact that he’s only made one error. Freeman is a selfless player, who just so happens to be hitting .400 too.
No. 3: SS Kramer Robertson (Last week: No. 4)
Kramer has scored 32 runs this season. No other LSU player is within 10 of that. If you can’t score runs, you can’t win games. And Kramer knows how to score runs.
No. 2: LF Antoine Duplantis (Last week: No. 5)
RBI is a skewed stat. Of course Duplantis caught up to Deichmann. He’s hitting with Robertson and Freeman ahead of him. But you know what isn’t skewed? His team-high 33 hits, his .921 OPS and his eight steals on nine attempts. The dude is in a groove right now.
No. 1: SP Jared Poché (Last week: No. 1)
Oh boo-hoo. He gave up one run. Get over it. He’s got an 0.25 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 23:4. He’s allowed two extra-base hits in 117 at-bats. Opponents are batting .128 against him. He’s throwing like the best pitcher in college baseball right now. And that’s enough to stick atop my leaderboard. Scoreless innings streak be darned.
The Tigers face off against Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday at 6:30 from Alex Box Stadium. Mainieri hasn’t announced who will be LSU’s starting pitcher for that game, but Todd Peterson and Zack Hess are the most likely options. After that game, LSU heads to Gainesville to take on the surging-the-wrong-way Florida Gators and potential No. 1 pick Alex Faedo.
Thanks for reading “Out of The Box.” Come back next Monday for more LSU baseball news.
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