Baseball vs Vanderbilt

LSU baseball players watch the game Saturday, April 3, 2021 during LSU’s 4-5 loss against Vanderbilt in Alex Box Stadium on Gourrier Avenue in Baton Rouge.

After just nine SEC games, LSU baseball is staring its worst start in conference play since 1969 right in the face.

A 5-4 loss to Vanderbilt on Sunday capped off a series sweep making it the second consecutive weekend that the Tigers were swept by an SEC opponent. There was a common theme in these two series and in every SEC series so far, a lack of offense. In each of the three games against Vanderbilt, the Tigers were held to just four hits and were unable to score more than four runs in any of these games. Head Coach Paul Mainieri addressed the offense as a major issue and says that it must improve to be competitive in the SEC.

“It’s really hard to mount much offense when you are only getting four hits in a ballgame,” Mainieri said.

LSU is batting just .201 as a team in SEC play which is something that will hold any team back in a conference as tough as the SEC. One of the factors that many believe has led to this is the youth and inexperience in LSU’s lineup. In LSU’s typical starting lineup, only two of its nine starters have SEC experience. LSU’s lineup is made up mostly of true freshmen and players who’s only experience came in the shortened 2020 season that did not include SEC play.

This can be something that plays a factor when you look at how LSU has lost most of its conference games as well. LSU has lost five games in SEC play by three runs or less and has had major trouble all season winning close games. A team with a young core like LSU can easily struggle in games like this as it lacks the veteran leaders who have experience in these games. This is a trend that Mainieri has noticed and emphasized its importance going down the stretch this season.

“I think in a lot of ways we’ve been competitive,” Mainieri said. “But in other ways we’re not getting it done in the close games which is what you have to do.”

Pitching, especially from the Tigers’ starters, has been more of a bright spot overall, but that changed in the series with Vanderbilt. Landon Marceaux gave up eight earned runs in his start in game one and Jaden Hill suffered a torn UCL in game two that will hold him out for the remainder of the season. This is a huge blow for an LSU pitching staff that was beginning to hit its stride and find some stability in the rotation. As of now, no decision has been made on who will replace Hill in the weekend rotation, but whoever gets the job will have a tough task of trying to replace Hill’s production on the mound.

There was reason for major concern for the team coming out of the Vanderbilt series. Apart from just suffering the sweep, the overall team moral seemed to be at an extremely low point after the series finale. Multiple players were season in the dugout looking almost in disbelief at the result and the energy coming from the team after the game was noticeably down. Mainieri himself was worried about how his team would respond in the next week, but the Tigers put together a solid performance in their midweek game against McNeese State in a 14-1 win.

“We didn’t have a great practice and I was really concerned that today we were going to show up very flat,” Mainieri said after the win. “But we came out and I thought we played a really good game.”

The win was a good morale boost for the Tigers coming off a series sweep and can help build momentum heading back into the SEC schedule. Mainieri was happy with the result and believes it will give his team a boost going into the weekend.

“You’d much rather come off a win and get ready for a big weekend series in the SEC than play a bad ballgame and lose,” Mainieri said.

Although the road ahead does not get any easier for the Tigers, it does not get much harder either. After facing three top 10 teams in a row, LSU will travel to unranked Kentucky this weekend to try to get back in the win column in conference play. It will still be a tough test for the Tigers being on the road in the SEC with a slightly different rotation, but the Tigers have more than enough talent to win this serious and be competitive in the conference going forward.

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