By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Editor
With rain – yes, more rain – due to hit Auburn Wednesday afternoon, the LSU baseball team delayed its northbound departure to get an impromptu practice in that morning.
Pitchers got their throwing work in, the hitters headed to the indoor cages to take a few cuts. The bus could wait, they weren’t about to skip a practice. LSU (37-14-1, 14-11-1 Southeastern Conference) knows what’s at stake this weekend against Auburn (28-25, 10-17 SEC), coach Paul Mainieri made sure of that.
"I drew up the standings on the grease board and explained to them the whole scenario, every situation,” Mainieri said. "You could see them perking up, that they were actually affected. So I think they know what’s at stake, they understand that. There’s pressure, but there’s always pressure at LSU.
With three days remaining in the college baseball regular season, LSU could finish as high as second or as low as 10th in the SEC. The Tigers could win the SEC Western Division or could find themselves playing in a single-elimination game on the first day of the SEC tournament, depending on how it plays and how its chief rivals play this weekend.
The Tigers are actually in a better spot than some imagined after bad weather rolled through town last weekend. Mainieri said he was "distraught” after the Tigers’ series finale against Alabama was rained out because of the possible implications. LSU is currently looking up in the standings at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, two teams it combined to go 5-1 against this season.
"I’m thinking, ‘Are we going to lose out on winning a championship because of a rainout?’” Mainieri said.
Worried about this possibility, he and his son mapped out all the scenarios based on this weekend’s results, and he was pleasantly surprised.
"I wanted to know how much that rainout would hurt us … and we figured out that the only thing it would hurt is our relationship with Alabama in the standings,” Mainieri said.
Because of the tie against Georgia earlier this season, LSU holds a half game lead against Alabama in the conference standings, and therefore needs to win as many or more than Alabama this weekend. For example, Mainieri continued, if LSU wins two out of three against Auburn but Alabama sweeps Mississippi State, the Tide would jump the Tigers in the standings.
Other than that, Mainieri continued, the canceled series finale against Alabama is "almost irrelevant.”
"We still have to do one game better than Mississippi State … we still have to do two games better than Ole Miss, and we still have to do two games better than the loser of the South Carolina/Vanderbilt series,” Mainieri said.
It’s good fortune for LSU then that it’s playing SEC bottom feeder Auburn, right? The home Tigers bring a 10-17 SEC record into the weekend series with LSU, which should make them easy candidates for an LSU sweep, right? Not so fast, said Mainieri.
Across the board, Auburn’s stats compare pretty well to LSU’s. Auburn is hitting .274 as a team with three regulars checking in at better than .300, while LSU is hitting .278 as a team with two over the .300 mark. Auburn’s team ERA is a little more than half a run higher than LSU’s at 3.09, but that is by no means an indication of a bad pitching staff. LSU fields the ball slightly better than Auburn, coming in at .973 fielding percentage compared to Auburn’s .971.
So what gives? Why has Auburn lost nearly twice as many conference games as its won in its first season under coach Sunny Golloway? It’s an easy question for Mainieri to answer, because it’s an issue he’s dealt with before.
Auburn has struggled mightily in close games this season, going 6-10 in games decided by a single run. It’s been especially bad as of late, with Auburn dropping six of its last seven one-run games.
"I tell you every year that the one-run games will define your season, and they’ve got an under .500 record in one-run games,” Mainieri said. "It doesn’t mean their talent’s not good. If you’re playing a bunch of one-run games, it means you’ve got enough talent to give yourself a chance to win.”
So don’t be deceived by Auburn’s record. As Mainieri said before the team left, when playing in a league as deep as the SEC, somebody’s got to lose the games. That being said, with so much riding on this series, LSU would like to ensure Auburn stays in the loser’s column the remainder of the season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Auburn 3B Damek Tomscha
Tomscha has become a dangerous hitter in his senior season, but LSU should be well aware of what kind of damage he can do at the plate. He picked up five hits in nine at bats last season in Alex Box Stadium, including three against LSU ace Aaron Nola. Tomscha is hitting at a .325 clip this season and leads Auburn with five homers.
- LSU – LHP Jared Poché (7-3, 2.55 ERA, 70.2 IP, 43 K, 23 BB)
- Auburn – LHP Dillon Ortman (9-3, 2.01 ERA, 94 IP, 58 K, 15 BB)
- LSU – RHP Aaron Nola (8-1, 1.43 ERA, 94.2 IP, 111 K, 22 BB)
- Auburn – LHP Michael O’Neal (3-5, 3.82 ERA, 68.1 IP, 27 K, 27 BB)