LSU baseball season is here, so welcome to Out of The Box, SEC Country’s weekly column covering all things Tigers baseball. Check out SEC Country every Monday at 10:30 a.m. ET for your dose of news, notes, updates and analysis on Tigers baseball!
Path to the title
The LSU baseball team begins postseason play on Tuesday when it opens action in the SEC Tournament against Mississippi State at 4:30 p.m. CT. This game has to be considered as big of a must-win game as LSU has played this season, with its NCAA Tournament hopes potentially riding on a victory.
Neither team has announced a starting pitcher yet, though it’s intuitive to assume LSU will go with sophomore left-hander Nick Bush. Bush, who owns a 3.11 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 37⅔ innings pitched this season, hasn’t thrown in live action since his start two Sundays ago vs. Alabama, but has made three starts for the Tigers this season, two in weekend victories.
If LSU gets past Mississippi State, as it did two out of three times in Baton Rouge early this season, it’ll set up the matchup college baseball fans were deprived of this season. With a win over the Bulldogs, LSU would advance to face No. 1 Florida on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. CT. LSU and Florida have not met since the 2017 College World Series, when the Gators defeated the Tigers to take home the national title.
Whereas the game against Mississippi State is a win-or-go-home style single-elimination round, the second round of the tournament is double-elimination. Regardless of the outcome against Florida, LSU would be guaranteed another game. Depending on the outcomes of two other games, LSU could find itself in the winners’ bracket or losers’ bracket against No. 4 Arkansas, No. 5 South Carolina or No. 12 Missouri. The Tigers won home series against Arkansas and Missouri but were swept on the road against South Carolina.
Given LSU’s season-long struggles on the road and general lack of pitching depth, it might be a bit over-optimistic to expect the Tigers to make a deep run in Hoover. But if LSU is willing to use starting pitchers Zack Hess and Ma’Khail Hilliard on short rest on Wednesday and Thursday, assuming the team makes it that far, survival isn’t impossible.
And beyond three games, no team in the SEC should feel supremely confident. Everything is random after that.
Remember the numbers
If there’s one thing the LSU baseball team has going for it in the SEC Tournament, it’s coach Paul Mainieri’s history. In his 11 seasons at LSU, Mainieri has coached the Tigers in the SEC Tournament 38 times. He’s gone 32-6 in those games, with as many conference championships (6) as losses.
Mainieri led the Tigers to SEC titles in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2017. Four of those six times, LSU also won the SEC West. The two times the Tigers didn’t? Those would be 2010 and 2014. And for what it’s worth, the 2010 season is a good template for LSU this year.
The Tigers went 14-16 in SEC play in 2010, one year removed from a championship run in Omaha. LSU matched up in the first round against a Florida team that had swept it in the regular season and pulled out an upset win, followed by another upset win over a Vanderbilt team that took a series over LSU at Alex Box Stadium in early May. From there, LSU rode a mercy-rule victory in the semifinals and a short-rest, extra-innings return from Game 1 starter Anthony Ranaudo to a conference title.
If ever there was a blueprint for a shocking Hoover run, that’s the one.
End of the line
With the regular season over, it’s time to check in and see which LSU baseball players rank at or near the top of the SEC leaderboards. Here’s a peek at some of the leaders:
- Antoine Duplantis: T-1 in triples (5), T-3 in hits (76), T-4 in stolen bases (16), T-13 in batting average (.333)
- Daniel Cabrera: T-7 in doubles (16), T-8 in RBI (47), No. 9 in slugging percentage (.579), No. 14 in on-base percentage (.427)
- Austin Bain: No. 1 in doubles (21), T-9 in games finished (13), T-13 in saves (4)
- Zach Watson: T-9 in stolen bases (13)
- Zack Hess: T-5 in strikeouts (94)
- Ma’Khail Hillard: T-2 in wins (9)
- Todd Peterson: T-13 in saves (4)
- Devin Fontenot: T-11 in appearances (23)
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU kicks off SEC Tournament play at 4:30 p.m. CT against Mississippi State on Tuesday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network and available for stream through WatchESPN. Every game in the SEC Tournament with the exception of the championship game will be on the SEC Network. The championship game will be broadcast on ESPN2.