Welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly LSU baseball column with LSU beat writer Nick Suss. Today we discuss why this weekend’s series loss isn’t much of a red flag, dissect the real red flag LSU baseball is facing, update our player power rankings and more. Batter up!
5 reasons why
LSU lost two out of three games to Florida this weekend. The losses dropped the Tigers to 4-2 in SEC play and to No. 6 in the country per the D1 Baseball Top 25.
And the two losses were ugly. In the first two games, LSU baseball hit 1-for-28 with runners on base, 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position and were outscored 9-1.
But I’m here to tell you that LSU’s series loss to Florida isn’t a harbinger of impending doom. If anything, it’s an expected regression. Here are five reasons why.
Reason 1: Simple math
In LSU baseball’s SEC opening series versus Georgia, the Tigers went 33-for-99 at the plate. That’s a .333 batting average. Against Florida, the Tigers went 24-for-96 at the plate, a .250 batting average. It’s the difference between getting a hit once every three at-bats and once every four at-bats.
But if you average the weekends together, you get a .292 average. And what did the Tigers hit for the whole season last year? .295. It’s simple regression. Good weekends and bad weekends even out. This was just a bad weekend.
Reason 2: LSU did the hard part well
More often than not, getting on base is harder than moving people around the base paths. And LSU didn’t really have a problem getting on base versus Florida. 24 hits, 8 walks and 6 hit-by-pitches in three games means LSU still got an average of nearly 13 runners on base per game. And sure, 22 of those 38 base runners came in Sunday’s win. But you can’t discount a win. It happened.
And it wasn’t as if LSU was only wasting runners with a low slugging percentage. The Tigers lost six outs on the bases off 3 caught stealings, 1 double called out trying to leg into a triple and 1 double play grounded into. The sample is small, but LSU’s offense wasn’t as terrible as it looked.
Reason 3: Florida’s pitching is good
Florida might have the best pitching rotation in the SEC, and it was pitching angry after getting swept by an Auburn team that had no business sweeping it the weekend before. LSU definitely won’t face a pitching staff as talented, motivated and fresh again this season.
By the time LSU has to face Florida again — if ever — those arms will have two months of an SEC grind weighing them down. It’ll be advantage bats, no doubt.
Reason 4: LSU’s pitching was good too
Alex Lange turned out a masterful eight-inning complete game on Friday night, dueling Florida’s Alex Faedo to the last instance. Jared Poché struggled a bit and Eric Walker did too, but LSU’s bullpen also looked pretty strong. Other than Hunter Kiel, who allowed 3 runs in 0.1 innings, the rest of LSU’s bullpen allowed 1 run in 8 innings, striking out 7.
Reason 5: It’s really early
If it was the middle of May and LSU just turned in a performance like that, the panic lights would be blinking everywhere. But it’s still March. LSU baseball has at least five more series that’ll test it like Florida did. If the Tigers lose those series, it’ll be time to worry. But losing two out of three in your first real test of the season, it’s not much to lose sleep about.
Now, if the Tigers turn in a similar performance this weekend against a struggling Texas A&M team, we’ll talk. But for now, don’t worry, LSU baseball fans. It really wasn’t as bad as it looked.
All that said…
If there is one thing I’d be worried about if I was an LSU baseball fan, it’s the Tigers’ home-road splits.
LSU baseball is 16-1 at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge and 2-6 everywhere else in the country. And sure, four of those six losses are to top-10 opponents in TCU, Texas Tech and Florida. But if LSU has to travel anywhere other than Baton Rouge for Super Regionals, the Tigers likely will have to play a top-10 caliber opponent in their home park.
There really isn’t a way to simulate playing on the road other than going out and doing it. And this weekend was LSU’s first extended road test of the year, given that LSU’s series in Houston was with a very pro-LSU crowd behind it.
But it’ll be interesting to monitor how the Tigers look when they travel to Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama next month. Arkansas and Kentucky have looked pretty good this season, and Alabama is usually a tough test, so looking strong in those road environments might be paramount to LSU’s postseason confidence.
LSU hit 3 two-run home runs in the eighth inning of Sunday’s win, breaking a stretch of nine straight games since LSU hit multiple home runs in a game.
Perhaps most impressively, though, the 3 home runs came from Josh Smith, Beau Jordan and Cole Freeman, three players who combined to hit one home run all year prior to Sunday. And that’s pretty consistent with LSU’s home run production as a whole this year.
Other than Greg Deichmann, who leads the team and is tied at the top of the conference with 8 homers, no other player has more than two. But three Tigers have 2 and another seven have 1.
With 21 team home runs, LSU ranks sixth in the SEC behind Arkansas, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Alabama. To rank that highly with only one player with more than two home runs is quite an achievement, and a commentary on how balanced LSU’s lineup has been all season, especially with Bryce Jordan out for the season.
Your weekly LSU baseball player power rankings
There’s going to be a bit of a shift in this week’s power rankings, and for the first time we have a new No. 1. But the players really aren’t changing that much. Check it out.
No. 5: LF Antoine Duplantis (Last week: No. 2)
After an otherworldly series versus UGA, Duplantis came back down with a soft-hitting series versus Florida. His batting averaged dropped to .346, he went 0-for-2 trying to steal bases and he lost the team lead in RBI. He still leads the team in hits though, meriting keeping him on the list.
No. 4: SS Kramer Robertson (Last week: No. 3)
Robertson has a .928 OPS and has 33 runs scored on 32 hits. On any other team, he’s the leader of the bunch. But a rough weekend and his team-high 6 fielding errors add up to a slight dip.
No. 3: 2B Cole Freeman (Last week: No. 4)
Freeman is one of four SEC players with an on-base percentage of .490 or better (.491) and has 8 sacrifice hits versus one double play grounded into, which is really hard to do. His run total is a lot lower than you’d expect for someone with such a high on-base percentage (21, fourth on the team), but his situational hitting and defense carries him up a spot.
No. 2: SP Jared Poché (Last week: No. 1)
Don’t get me wrong. Poché is still having an MVP-caliber season. But he showed flashes of his old self this weekend, walking a lot of batters and loading the bases with mistakes. His 0.90 ERA still ranks among the 15 best pitchers in the country and his 0.73 WHIP ranks eighth in the nation. But he falls a slot because he can’t pitch every day and one everyday player just continues to rake.
No. 1: RF Greg Deichmann (Last week: No. 5)
Deichmann added home run No. 8 of the season midweek versus Southeastern Louisiana, scored 3 runs off a double, a single and a walk in LSU’s Sunday win and tied Robertson for both hits and walks on the season. Not to mention his homers are still tied for the SEC lead and his .685 slugging percentage ranks behind only Mississippi State’s Brent Rooker among SEC competitors.
The right fielder has also looked great defensively this year, a veteran presence beside LSU’s freshman center fielder Zach Watson. He hasn’t made an error since he flubbed a fly ball in Jared Poché’s no-hitter in the second game of the season.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The Tigers host Tulane tomorrow night from Alex Box before getting ready for an upshifted weekend series versus Texas A&M beginning on Thursday. Tuesday’s game versus Tulane will be available for stream on WatchESPN and all three of this weekend’s games versus A&M will be broadcast on national television, SEC Network, ESPNU and ESPN2 respectively.
Thanks for reading “Out of The Box.” Come back next Monday for more LSU baseball news.