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The real season starts now for LSU baseball

LSU begins SEC play Friday night against Kentucky

Kristian Garic
March 14, 2019 - 11:08 pm
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The first 17 games of the LSU baseball matter, but not as much as the next 15 SEC games.  League play begins this weekend across the SEC!  

The Tigers have had their highs and lows so far this season, the low being a sweep at the hands of Texas two weekends ago, and the high—starting out 8 and 0.  Kentucky (12-4, 3-3 on the road) comes into the weekend unranked.  The Wildcats were swept by Texas Tech earlier this season.  No. 11 LSU (12-5, 12-1 at home) opens conference play with some concerns.  If the Tigers are going to be in the mix to be a top-8 national seed for the NCAA tournament, the magic number of wins in the conference is right around 20.  

Let’s take a look at the match-ups this weekend.

KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Kentucky offense:  The Wildcats are hitting .274 as a team with 15 home runs.  Kentucky has just two hitters in their everyday lineup hitting above .300. Senior outfielder Ryan Shinn bats lead off and is the leading hitter with a .358 average and 12 extra base hits.  Junior first baseman T.J Collett leads Kentucky with 4 home runs.  Kentucky isn’t the offensive powerhouse they were a couple of years ago.  When the Wildcats do get on base, they are a nightmare for opposing defenses with 44 stolen bases on 52 attempts.  Six Wildcat players have at least six stolen bases this season.

Kentucky’s game plan:  Watch for UK hitters to be patient at the plate with an LSU pitching staff that can lose command of the strike zone.  I would expect Kentucky hitters to try and get into deep counts with LSU pitchers especially on Friday night against Zack Hess.

Kentucky defense:  The Wildcats defense is suspect this season; the team’s fielding percentage is .968, committing 18 errors. Look for LSU to try to apply as much pressure on the Wildcat defense with the hit and run along with some station to station hitting.

Kentucky’s game plan:  The Wildcats will be under significant pressure, if LSU gets on base frequently.  Coach Paul Mainieri loves the hit and run, and I expect to see a lot of it, if the Tigers are getting on base.  Kentucky wants to limit the amount of base runners the Tigers get aboard.

Kentucky pitching:  UK once boasted a great pitching staff two seasons ago, but this year the Wildcats’ team ERA is 4.47.  As a staff Kentucky has yielded just seven home runs.  Zach Thompson is their Friday night ace, and he’s been really good this year.  Opponents are hitting a poultry .178 against Thompson.  He comes into this weekend with 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings pitched with 37 strikeouts issuing just 7 walks.  Thompson is a legit Friday night starter in the SEC.  The Junior left hander averages 9 strikeouts per game.  

Kentucky game plan:  When Thompson is on the mound, you can expect Kentucky to go right after LSU hitters and get ahead in the count early.  LSU will have their hands full with Thompson Friday night.

 

LSU TIGERS

LSU Offense:  The Tigers are hitting a tick above Kentucky this season overall.  LSU’s team batting average is .297.  Before the game against Texas Southern, LSU was hitting .283, good for 10th in the SEC.  Keep in mind that’s actually not too far off from the Tigers’ CWS finals team in 2017 when they were .289 as a team.  Shortstop Josh Smith is starting to come back to earth after a red hot start to the season.  Smith is hitting right at .400 at the top of the Tigers line up.  Antoine Duplantis, Chris Reid, and Zach Watson are also hitting over .300 and that is where the production dips offensively for LSU.  Daniel Cabrera has cooled off from a hot start early in the season hitting .283.  LSU has 106 strikeouts, which is rather high considering four Tiger hitters have double-digit strikeouts.

LSU game plan:  I would imagine you will see more tweaks to the Tiger lineup.  I’d like to see the Tigers approach at the plate improve a little bit.  LSU hasn’t been very good at adjusting in the middle of the game.  I expect LSU to be aggressive at the plate early in the count trying to get the count in their favor.

LSU defense:  LSU’s defense has been much improved lately, with their fielding percentage on the uptick currently sitting at .975.  LSU did commit two errors in Wednesday’s big win over Texas Southern.

LSU game plan:  The Tigers have to be perfect this weekend.  LSU has to find a way to control the Wildcats’ running game.  Opponents are 32 of 33 in stolen base attempts. The pitchers have to play a part in holding runners on base, and not allow would-be base runners to steal a base off the pitcher; in other words give catcher Brock Mathis a chance. Kentucky will run wild, if they are on the base paths, until LSU proves they can stop them.

LSU pitching:  The Tigers pitching staff continues to be unnerving when it comes to issuing walks.  In 145.1 innings the Tigers have walked 87 batters.  Friday night starter Zack Hess is tied for the team lead with 11 free passes issued in 18.1 innings.  The team ERA is starting to come down and is now below 5.00, sitting at 4.83.  Reliever Aaron George has been a big disappointment out of the bullpen.  In 8 innings pitched George has walked 11 hitters and has an ERA of 9.00.  

LSU game plan:  Strikes are cool!  I used to tell that to my travel baseball pitchers.  LSU has to get ahead early in counts against UK.  While getting ahead in counts is a priority, so is controlling the running game when the Wildcats get on base.  I’d like to see LSU threaten base runners with some pick off attempts.

Three things I need to see from LSU in the series against Kentucky:

  1.  LSU’s offense has to show up.  You’re not going to get production out of the entire order every weekend, but the Tigers have to produce more than one-run innings to beat Kentucky.  
  2. Cut the walks down.  If Kentucky is patient at the plate, which I expect them to be, LSU pitchers have to control the strike zone and not be afraid to pitch to contact.  There is no defense for walks.
  3. Would somebody please step up and take control of the DH spot?  Saul Garza, Giovanni DiGiacomo, and Drew Bianco have all the had an opportunity to nail down that job.  At some point one of those three have grab a hold of that designated hitter position.

If you like numbers/stats you will love these:

  1. LSU has outscored opponents 33-6 in the first inning.
  2. Despite having a left handed heavy lineup the Tigers are 6-0 against left handed starting pitchers.
  3. LSU hasn’t recorded a shutout yet, nor have they been shut out.
  4. Ironically, when the Tigers commit 2 errors in a game they are 4-0 this season.  That’s living on borrowed time.
  5. LSU has played in six one-run games, with a 5 and 1 record.

 

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