Welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly LSU baseball column with LSU beat writer Nick Suss. Today we discuss the wild weekend that was, wonder if LSU has found its next ace, reimagine LSU’s lineup and more. Batter up!
Could that have been it?
First off, you know, wow. Just wow. That was a heck of a weekend for LSU baseball. By every account, the Tigers probably should’ve been swept. And it looked like it was going to happen. But then they stole two out of three games from Arkansas in Fayetteville.
It’s not just the fact that LSU won an SEC series for the first time in three weeks. It’s how it went down. After getting blanked by yet another Friday starter in Friday’s loss — the third time in a row that happened — LSU faced a 7-run deficit in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game. LSU’s season looked like it was at its tipping point, a loss from which the Tigers wouldn’t have been able to recover.
But then it happened. LSU forged an improbable comeback. Or, rather, Arkansas booted and fumbled its way to an improbable LSU comeback. But either way, the LSU baseball team overcame 7 runs in 3 innings to defeat Arkansas, no rodents required.
Then Sunday, the Tigers blanked Arkansas with a shutout of its own. From a true freshman. Arkansas’ potent lineup, which laced superstar starters Alex Lange and Jared Poché like a comfortable sneaker, was useless against Eric Walker, mustering just 4 hits in 9 innings, grounding out 10 times, 2 of which were double plays.
I’ll be the first to tell you that the outcome of one series is a terrible predictor of the outcome of your next series. If wins predicted wins, LSU never would have lost its series to Florida and Texas A&M. But this just might’ve been the rallying cry LSU needed.
The schedule isn’t going to get easier. UL-Lafayette, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Alabama make up 10 of LSU’s next 12 games, only four of which are at home. But now that the Tigers are playing with confidence, that hellacious stretch looks a lot less hellacious.
Are the problems still there? Yes. Remember: LSU only scored 2 runs on 6 hits Sunday and scored more runs than it recorded hits on Saturday. But this team, which had been folding under its struggles, persevered over the weekend. And that’s exactly what Paul Mainieri’s squad needed.
Is he the future?
Here’s a blind comparison for you:
Pitcher A: 6-1, 2.32 ERA, 50.1 IP, 13 ER, 33 K, 12 BB, .211 BAA, 1 CG
Pitcher B: 4-0, 2.45 ERA, 47.2 IP, 13 ER, 47 K, 12 BB, .206 BAA, 1 CG
As you can probably guess since you’re reading an LSU baseball column, those two pitchers are Jared Poché and Eric Walker. Poché is Pitcher A and Walker is Pitcher B. And, you know what, call me crazy, but I think independent of context, Walker’s numbers are better.
Sure, Walker hasn’t thrown the same volume of innings as Poché this year. Walker has recorded 8 fewer outs than Poché or, conveniently, one fewer out per start. But on the periphery, what Walker has done has been more impressive. His strikeout rate is significantly higher but his walk rate is virtually equal. Teams are recording fewer hits against him despite the fact that he’s throwing more strikes. And, most importantly, he’s getting better as it’s starting to count.
While Poché has taken steps backwards in his last three starts against SEC contenders, Walker has only gotten better. Walker has thrown 16 consecutive scoreless innings in his last 2 starts, shutting out perennial contenders in Texas A&M and Arkansas.
Walker is without a doubt LSU’s Friday starter of the future. He will in all likelihood start Opening Day next season as a sophomore. And, barring a dramatic regression, it will be completely deserved, too.
Mainieri threw an interesting wrench into LSU baseball’s lineup construction debate last week, introducing catcher and designated hitter Jordan Romero into the lineup four games in a row, three of which as a starter.
All Romero did in his increased playing time was go 6-for-15 with a home run, 2 RBI and 4 runs scored. Not to be outdone, fellow backup catcher Nick Coomes made two appearances, going 3-for-6 with 2 doubles and 2 runs scored.
Meanwhile, regular starter Michael Papierski batted 0-for-3 for the week.
Is this a changing of the guards for LSU behind the plate? Probably not. Papierski is too valuable defensively to remove from the lineup, especially when you have the luxury of using a designated hitter. Were LSU forced to bat its pitchers, it would need more offensive output from its catchers. But as the lineup stands, a defensive specialist in Papierski is an affordable luxury.
That said, expect Romero to challenge for as many reps as he can get at designated hitter. His bat is too hot right now to keep him out of the lineup for very long, especially with so many big games coming up. Beau Jordan has looked good at DH, and taking him out of the lineup might be hard. But having a lot of hot bats at valuable positions is a good problem to have, especially coming out of the slump LSU was just in.
Where is LSU baseball ranked?
By virtue of winning three of four games last week, the LSU baseball team is up in every major poll. Here’s how far up:
- Baseball America: No. 9 (Last week: No. 15)
- Perfect Game: No. 12 (Last week: No. 18)
- D1 Baseball: No. 9 (Last week: N0. 13)
Was this dramatic of a rise warranted? Possibly. Interestingly enough, the poll that ranked Arkansas the highest last week (Perfect Game, No. 10), still thinks the least of LSU. But, as you all well know, polls are meaningless at this point in the season. The only thing they’re useful for is comparing you to your competition before you face them.
So, let’s qualify that criteria.
- Kentucky: No. 15 (BA), No. 15 (PG), No. 10 (D1)
- South Carolina: No. 17 (BA), No. 8 (PG), No. 14 (D1)
- Auburn: No. 10 (BA), No. 18 (PG), No. 11 (D1)
- Mississippi State: No. 13 (BA), No. 20 (PG), No. 21 (D1)
Of LSU’s last six SEC series, four comes against teams ranked in all four polls. The other two series will be this weekend versus Ole Miss and a series in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the Crimson Tide.
Your weekly LSU baseball power rankings
It’s time to blow up the top 5. Here are my picks for the five best LSU baseball players of the season, reflecting this week’s developments.
No. 5: OF Zach Watson (Last week: NR)
It’s gotten to a point where I can’t ignore Watson any longer. The freshman has made 20 starts and is still slugging .500 with a .338 batting average. He has 8 extra-base hits, as many as both Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis. And he’s yet to make a major defensive mistake as a freshman in center field. The No. 1 in-state recruit from last year is starting to look like it.
No. 4: SP Jared Poché (Last week: No. 1)
As I said earlier, I’m shaking things up. And this includes Poché falling outside of the top 2 for the first time all season. He’s still been great. His 2.32 ERA and .211 batting average against are nothing to scoff at. But he’s gotten progressively worse against better competition, contributing to his fall.
No. 3: SP Eric Walker (Last week: NR)
Another freshman making his debut on the power rankings, Walker has been too good to leave off the list. Am I ranking him too high by putting him ahead of Poché? Maybe. But he has 14 more strikeouts than Poché with the same amount of walks allowed and a better batting average against. What’s not to like?
No. 2: 2B Cole Freeman (Last week: No. 4)
Freeman’s batting average looks like it’s plateauing around .350, which isn’t a bad sign. His on-base percentage of .459 is still ludicrous, as he’s notched 42 hits, 15 walks and 11 hit-by-pitches. And his selectivity is just incredible, as he’s only grounded into 1 double play and struck out 8 times this year. By comparison, Duplantis has 4 double plays and 12 strikeouts.
No. 1: RF Greg Deichmann (Last week: No. 2)
Teams started pitching to Deichmann again this week. Teams regretted it. Deichmann went 8-for-17 last week, recording 2 hits in every game and driving in 5 runs with 1 home run. The madman now has 10 home runs, 37 RBI and an OPS of 1.058, all of which are team highs by a massive margin.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The Tigers head to Metairie, La., for a neutral site game versus Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic. The game is set to start at 7 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on CST. It will be played at The Shrine on Airline, formerly Zephyr Park, home of the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
Thanks for reading “Out of The Box.” Come back next Monday for more LSU baseball news.