BATON ROUGE, La. — Throughout the 2018 season, the LSU baseball team has carried the worst-kept secret in college baseball: The Tigers can’t win on the road.
With three games left in the regular season, LSU’s home/road splits appear almost schizophrenic. While the Tigers have posted an impressive 29-8 record in the friendlier confines of Alex Box Stadium, LSU is 3-13 in all other ballparks. At Alex Box, LSU has outscored opponents by 110 runs this year. On the road? Opponents are outscoring LSU by 39 runs.
“It’s no surprise and no shock to anybody: We haven’t been great on the road this year,” sophomore ace Zack Hess said. “What better time to get a road series win than right now?”
LSU isn’t just coming upon the best time to win a road series. It’s coming upon the biggest series of the season. The Tigers travel to Auburn Thursday through Saturday for a three-game SEC series, the last one before the SEC Tournament next week. Thanks in large part to the team’s road woes, LSU doesn’t have much of anything guaranteed to it heading into the tournament. A bad weekend could leave LSU on the outside of the NCAA Tournament picture and put even more pressure on the conference tournament.
That is why LSU needs to shape up this weekend at Plainsman Park.
“Like I told our guys yesterday, it’s now or never,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s time to put the big-boy pants on and let’s go into a tough environment and get the job done. It’s no time for excuses. It’s no time for ‘Oh, we’re going to keep improving.’ Now’s the time you’ve just got to get the job done.”
Neither Mainieri nor his players could give a definitive answer as to why the Tigers have struggled so much on the road this season. Hess attributed the issues to the team’s youth. Centerfielder Zach Watson called it “tough luck.” Third baseman Jake Slaughter pointed out the Tigers have played tougher teams on the road than at home.
And Mainieri? He referenced the smaller margin for error when a team is playing away from home.
“If you have a lead, you have to be able to close it out,” Mainieri said. “Your relief pitching has to be strong. You have to be able to drive in a run when you have an opportunity to do so. You can’t play as good as the other team and expect to win on the road. You have to play better than that. You have to do something extraordinary.”
Doing something extraordinary hasn’t exactly been LSU’s strong suit on the road. Nine of LSU’s 13 losses away from home have been by 1 or 2 runs, with the Tigers blowing late leads in three of those games and stranding the tying or winning run in scoring position at least two other times.
Whether it’s been a bullpen defect or an inability to get the clutch hit, LSU hasn’t been the same team outside of Baton Rouge. Or, as senior Austin Bain would put it, hasn’t been the same team yet.
“If there’s a time to start,” Bain said, “it’s now.”
LSU baseball takes on Auburn for a three-game series this weekend beginning Thursday at 6 p.m. CT.