To say the LSU baseball team is on a roll right now would not shock many people. In the last two weekends, the Tigers have swept the third-ranked team and took two of three from the presumptive favorite to win it all on the road.
What is surprising is the way the Tigers have put together their wins. Players like Arby Fields, Tyler Moore, Jared Foster, and Kurt McCune have sent Tiger fans home from Gainsville happy and promise to do more of the same this weekend when Alabama comes to visit.
Diamond heroics have come from some unexpected places, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
There have, of course, been the usual outstanding performances from everyday players like Mason Katz, JaCoby Jones, and Kevin Gausman to be sure. But as the season wears on, the success of the team will hinge on role players that make the best of their opportunities. With injuries to starters Raph Rhymes and Chris Sciambra leaving question marks aplenty in the outfield and the lineup, the guys tapped to fill-in have proven themselves more than capable of stepping up in the clutch.
Coming into the season the strengths of this team were expected to be its starting pitching and deep bullpen. The defense was expected to be solid, but the offense was a question mark.
When conference play began, LSU was among the leaders in fielding percentage (before the Florida series) and had one of the best weekend rotations in the league. The offense could generally be counted on to get just enough runs to poke ahead at the end of the game. Most of the offensive production came from the top two thirds of the lineup.
The last two weekends have seen this trend turned on its head. In the final game of the weekend sweep against Arkansas, Jared Foster – in for the injured Sciambra – provided the game-winning hit in the 11th inning. Catcher Jordy Snikeris and outfielder Alex Edward both provided big hits in the opening game of the Florida series, and Arby Fields’ RBI triple set the table for a dramatic series-clinching win. At the end of the weekend, LSU’s 7-8-9 hitters combined for a .419 average.
But it isn’t just the offense that’s getting some help from unexpected places.
After getting off to a rocky start in the first two weekends of SEC competition, the LSU bullpen has become one of the best in the league. The first two conference foes were able to get runs across the plate against Tiger relief pitchers who amassed a 5.90 ERA following the Auburn series.
Opponents run production has decreased significantly even though the competition got tougher the last two weekends. For the Arkansas and Florida series, LSU relievers pitched themselves to a stellar 0.75 ERA. The staff now boasts 2.90 ERA through all four weeks of SEC play. In a series that saw Florida score a total of 20 runs, relief pitching gave up four of them, only two earned in 11.2 innings.
Compare that to the starters who now have a combined ERA of 3.78 through the four series, and have seen their collective ERA steadily rise over the course of conference play. It is clear that LSU’s staff is developing into a well rounded platoon with starters who can go deep into games, handing the ball over to relievers and closers they know will get the job done.
The Alabama series represents the midway point in the SEC schedule. As LSU starts to wind down the regular season and look toward postseason action, they can move forward knowing that this team is deep, able to get production from a variety of spots. It won’t hurt to get regulars like Raph Rhymes and Aaron Nola back, but what the Tigers’ utility players have been able to do in the meantime have helped to make LSU the team to beat in the SEC.