OMAHA, Neb. — The math just isn’t in favor of the LSU baseball team.
Of the 60 games it’s played in 2017, Oregon State has lost four. That’s a winning percentage of roughly 93 percent. Assuming all things are equal, the gives the Beavers approximately a 3 percent chance of losing two games in a row, something they haven’t done this calendar year.
Yet, those are precisely the odds the LSU baseball team will need to beat to keep its season alive this weekend.
With one loss, LSU’s season is over. It doesn’t matter if that loss is Friday or Saturday. The only way the Tigers can extend their season is to win on Friday, then again on Saturday.
It won’t be easy, especially considering that Oregon State just beat LSU 13-1 on Monday, asserting a little bit of dominance over the rest of this College World Series field.
What’s the matchup?
Everything will start with pitching, and LSU has its ace rested and ready for Friday. Junior All-SEC performer and Chicago Cubs first-round pick Alex Lange will toe the rubber for LSU Friday afternoon, standing 60 feet away from a team that lit up the scoreboard with a baker’s dozen runs against his teammates.
But for as well as Oregon State hit the ball on Monday, the real problem for LSU wasn’t the Beavers, but itself.
LSU pitchers walked 12 Oregon State batters. Seven of those 12 walks came around to score, and that’s not a great recipe for success.
A lot of that has to do with the patience of the Oregon State hitters. As Lange explained, PAC-12 teams tend to be more patient at the plate than their East Coast counterparts. But patience tends to fade when it puts you at a disadvantage. And no one illustrated that better than LSU pitcher Jared Poché Wednesday night.
“When you’re attacking the zone, you’re ahead a lot like Jared was yesterday,” Lange said. “It forces a team to swing. Florida State is notorious for taking a lot of pitches and working ahead in counts. But when you’re 0-1 every time, you’ve got to go out there and be aggressive and they’ve got to change their game plan up. Then, they’re aggressive early in the count [and] that plays into our favor. Strike one is imperative.”
LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri agreed that, especially with Lange, getting ahead early in counts is key. But it’s not just the first pitch. Mainieri said the most important thing for Lange is getting that second strike. If he’s facing a 1-1 count and he falls to 2-1, he has to go fastball and batters can sit on it. If he goes 1-2, he can use his fastball or his sweeping curveball, leaving batters in a tough situation.
Lange didn’t have his best game in his first College World Series start. He allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings and walked four. But Mainieri trusts Lange to bounce back. After all, that’s what Lange does.
“As soon as you start to doubt Alex Lange, that’s when he’s at his best,” Mainieri said. “He’s not perfect. Nobody ever said he was. But Alex has that pride in who he is so much that when he struggles he takes it personally and goes and does something about it… He’s so mature. He’s such a competitor. And I’ll expect him to go out there tomorrow and pitch a tremendous ballgame. And believe me, we’ll need him to.”
And here’s why
Oregon State hasn’t announced a starting pitcher for Friday yet, but whoever it is, LSU will have a tough task ahead.
One option is Drew Rasmussen. He hasn’t pitched much this year, only 22.2 innings across seven appearances. But when he’s been in, he’s been electric, allowing just two earned runs and striking out 24 batters with five walks. Across his seven appearances, he’s been the winning pitcher three times and earned a save two others.
Then there’s Jake Thompson. All he’s done in 2017 is go 14-0 with a 1.84 ERA with five complete games and a .186 batting average against en route to being named a first-team All-American. The only argument against starting Thompson would be that he threw 78 pitches on Saturday in Oregon State’s win over Cal St. Fullerton.
Either decision Oregon State coach Pat Casey makes will be a good one. And either one will be hard-throwing righthander, precisely the type of pitcher the LSU baseball team likes to feast on – just as it did to Florida State’s Cole Sands Wednesday.
Still, LSU’s batters are aware of the tough task ahead.
“They can beat you in so many ways,” senior shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “They’re very dynamic, athletic. They’re 56-4 for a reason. We knew that going into the game last time. They just proved it. We have to be ready for everything. We can’t play on our heels. We have to bring the fight to them, be aggressive, loose and go out there confident and truly believe that we will win.”
Robertson has played in a lot of games in his four years at LSU, and there haven’t been many when he could comfortably own the role of “underdog.”
So, now that the opportunity has presented itself, Robertson is all in and so are his teammates.
The six-time national champions with the biggest fan base in the country can pull the “nobody believes in us” card.
And that’s just how Robertson likes it.
“That’s fine, call us the underdog,” he said. “We don’t get to play that role very often. I’m totally fine if people consider us the underdogs and not expecting us to win. That doesn’t happen very much at LSU. If people want to say that, I’m all for it.”