The 2013 LSU baseball team started off as a wrecking ball, fizzled late and ended the season with a thud – a winless trip to the College World Series.
The 2014 version of the Tigers’ squad doesn’t seem poised to make the same mistake.
This year’s LSU baseball team is white hot in recent weeks, playing its best ball in the final weeks of the season to secure itself as a contender to push forward in the NCAA Tournament, which begins this weekend at 16 host sites throughout the country.
For the Tigers, the sharp play is a 180-degree turn from the inconsistent and sometimes sloppy play that the team mustered for the opening month of SEC play.
But most importantly, the team is peaking at the right time, as LSU makes a push to try and win its coveted seventh College World Series Championship.
The Tigers’ surge is all about offense.
In the first half of the season, LSU struggled to muster consistent hitting power from its lineup. As a result, the team had a very difficult time scoring runs.
In a 10-game stretch from March 21-April 5, the Tigers scored 35 total runs and posted a 5-4-1 record – pedestrian numbers for LSU’s standards.
In those games, the Tigers were swept by Florida and lost a game to Tulane.
That stretch was the low-point of LSU’s season offensively. But truthfully, the month before and the month after the downturn weren’t so hot either, especially when one considers that the Tigers had the best offense in the SEC just one year ago.
Sure, LSU’s elite pitching was good enough for the team to stay afloat and win a bunch of games. But everyone sort of knew and understood that the Tigers weren’t a realistic College World Series contender until the team’s fate turned offensively. Aaron Nola may only do so much. He’s the best college baseball pitcher in years, but without offense, what all can he do?
But after three months of bad offense, LSU has experienced two or three weeks of outstanding to close out the season.
And it all came out of nowhere.
After scoring just three total runs in two games of a home series with Alabama (winning one and losing the other), LSU flipped the switch and became an offensive juggernaut overnight.
It all started in a 27-0 shellacking of Northwestern State – a game that would have been worse had it not been called off after six innings because of a lightning delay.
The Tigers tore the cover off the baseball on that night, smacking 23 base hits, including five home runs. Shortstop Alex Bregman had a dream night in the win, going 4-for-5 with two home runs with eight RBI.
Critics (like myself) said after the Northwestern State game that LSU couldn’t sustain the offense and that the game was a statistical anomaly.
Since that offensive flurry against the Demons, the Tigers have continued to be a powerhouse to close out 2014. The Tigers ended the regular season by hammering Auburn three-straight games for a sweep, outscoring the SEC’s other Tigers by a 29-4 margin in the victories.
From there, LSU rolled to the SEC Tournament where they continued to push forward, scoring a run-rule 11-1 demolition of Vanderbilt and then a 7-2 drumming of Arkansas. The Tigers closed the tournament in style, run-ruling the Razorbacks in a rematch before riding dominant pitching to a victory over No. 1 Florida in the SEC Championship game.
Where the offense came from, one may never know, but it was all delivered at the right time for the Tigers, who desperately needed it to make a push.
So now, the question becomes this: Will the old LSU or the new LSU take the field in the NCAA Tournament?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I can see it playing out either way.
Don’t sleep on the names of the teams in the Baton Rouge Regional. Southeastern has a very, very good ace who is going to challenge the Tigers in the opening game of the tournament. We don’t know much about Bryant and peg them to be the first team eliminated from the weekend, but don’t sleep on Houston as a legitimate threat. Prior to the weekend, the Cougars were one of the teams predicted to be in line to host a regional of their own. As it stands, they are now coming to Baton Rouge to lock horns with the hottest team in the NCAA. But they are more than capable of throwing a little cold water on the flame.
At the end of the day, the Tigers’ challenges are the same today as they were at the beginning of the season.
We don’t know who the team’s third starter will be. Throughout the season, a mix of guys have had that role, but none have really thrived and taken the gig full-time.
We also still don’t know fully what to expect from LSU’s bullpen. We know that Joe Broussard is the team’s closer. And he’s a very, very good lockdown guy at the back-half of the pen.
But some of the other roles down there are a little bit shaky.
And then, of course, there’s the questions about the offense. Can they keep up this electric surge they are on right now? It’s not likely. But when they cool off, will they cool to a sizzle or will they cool to a level that is improved from the anemic numbers they posted early in the year?
We will find out the answers to these questions in the coming weeks, but for my money, I am betting on LSU.
Baseball is a sport of rhythm and momentum and the hottest team is the team that often wins it all.
And right now, that’s the Tigers.
Because of that reason, I think another trip to Omaha may be in order.
If the bats stay hot, these Tigers just might win a game or two while they’re there, too.