After surviving until May without dropping a single SEC series, that run came to an end last weekend when No. 2 LSU lost its series to Auburn.
While game one went incredibly well for the Tigers, they were outplayed on both sides of the field in games two and three, the latter of which they were run-ruled in.
Auburn was fresh off a top-five win the previous weekend and LSU was bound to drop one eventually, but those games still left fans with questions moving forward.
The concerns surrounding the bullpen continued to grow, most notably in game three when third starter Christian Little surrendered five earned runs without getting an out.
It was stated following the game that there could be pitching adjustments made moving forward, and at the moment, their day-three starter is undecided.
There are plenty of guys that can fill that role, including Thatcher Hurd, Riley Cooper, Javen Coleman and the freshmen in Griffin Herring and Gavin Guidry. But as it stands, it’s a mystery and the prospect of making changes of this nature at this point of the season is unsettling.
To say the LSU bullpen has been a point of concern throughout the season would be an understatement to say the least.
Still, it’s the first time LSU has had to bounce back during conference play, and it has a great opportunity to do so. It’s facing off against Mississippi State, who currently occupies the bottom spot in the SEC West despite earning a national title just two seasons ago.
The Bulldogs sport a six-game losing streak and just two SEC series victories heading into today, but that doesn’t mean they’re a pushover. They’re 18-5 against teams outside the conference with a series victory over Arizona State (RPI No. 38) and a win over No. 25 Southern Miss. And of course, the SEC is widely considered the toughest conference in baseball, possessing 11 teams inside the top-34 in RPI.
“You can’t take anyone lightly in this conference. If you’re in the SEC, we take you seriously and we for sure don’t take any game lightly,” LSU shortstop Jordan Thompson said on Thursday. “The best team that day could win, it doesn’t matter if you’re the best team on paper or not.”
While Mississippi State doesn’t rank high in most offensive stat categories, sitting at No. 77 in the country in scoring, the Bulldogs are tied for No. 25 in home runs. Five players on the roster have eight or more home rus this season, with Hunter Hines being tied for third in the country with 22.
“That doesn’t happen by accident,” designated hitter Cade Beloso said on Hines. “They have great players; things might not just be clicking for them.”
The Bulldogs don’t fare better in defensive categories either, placing outside the top-200 in overall ERA, WHIP and fielding percentage.
Right-handed pitcher Cade Smith has proven decent in recent weeks though, pitching 20 combined innings in his last four outings, where he surrendered just ten earned runs and attributed a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.1. Its bullpen sports a rarity as well, possessing an ambidextrous pitcher in freshman Jurrangelo Cijntje, an anomality neither Jordan Thompson nor Cade Beloso have ever faced.
“Most people only throw 95 miles an hour with one arm, that kid can do it with both arms,” Beloso said on Cijintje. “I’d lying to you if I said I wouldn’t be excited to one, face him or two, see it in person. Credit to that kid for working hard to get both arms.”
While the regular season is set to conclude in just over a week, there’s still plenty at stake heading into these last two series for LSU. Despite possessing the best overall record in the conference, it occupies the No. 3 seed in the SEC tournament with No. 3 Arkansas and No. 5 Vanderbilt each holding a half-game lead over the Tigers in conference play.
Just a few hours before tonight’s midweek matchup against Northwestern State, clouds and thunder filled the sky and put the instate matchup in…
There’s still the matter of securing a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament as well, as those teams have the opportunity to host a super-regional if they advance past their regional round. While head coach Jay Johnson acknowledged the importance of that, he mentioned that it wasn’t what the team was focused on right now.
“They want to play here, obviously. We’ve played well here for two years,” Johnson said. “Our players are so good at peak performance, and that’s just focusing on the task at hand and really, that’s tomorrow and this series.”
“All those other things are in front of them as possibilities because they’re talented and they’ve done a really good job of controlling their mindset. And I think they know that’s the recipe for their success.”
This weekend should be interesting, as fans hope for a bounce-back win and most wonder who the starting pitcher will become Sunday. With a series win against Mississippi State, the Tigers would finish the regular season winning every conference series hosted at Alex Box Stadium.
Game one is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. CT on Friday. The game will be streaming live on SEC Network.