LSU (43-6; 19-5) at Texas A&M (26-22; 10-13)
First and foremost, big shoutout to Ryan Emmons (follow him on Twitter @emmonsaggie) for some help with this week's preview, as I've got a lot going on. Let's go!
Your Aggies are coming off of a successful week in which they went 4-0. The Aggies defeated Grambling State on Tuesday before sweeping familiar conference foe Missouri over the weekend. Although it may be too late for the Aggies to gain an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament (more on that later), they kept their hopes alive with the sweep. Anything less than a sweep would have been the end of those hopes for sure. Rob Zastryzny pitched a gem of a game for Mizzou on Friday night; however, Mengden was just a little bit better, and the Aggies scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 2-1 lead. It would be enough for a Friday win. On Saturday, the Aggies jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first, including a home run by freshman Hunter Melton who now leads the team in that category. Troy Stein was also robbed of a home run by Mizzou right fielder, Dane Opel. The play was ranked #1 on SportsCenter top 10 on Saturday. The Aggies would fall behind 5-3 in the top of the seventh inning only to win 6-5 thanks to some Olsen Magic: four errors for Mizzou in the bottom of the ninth and a walk off hit by Mikey Reynolds. On Sunday, the Aggies fell behind 1-0 after the top of the inning but scored in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings to take a 4-1 over the Missouri Tigers. Let's be completely real; Mizzou is NOT good, but it was nice to see the Aggies have some fight this weekend.
It's safe to say that LSU is one of the best teams in the country, and they make the trip to Olsen Field on the heels of a commanding sweep of the Florida Gators last weekend. The Tigers are in the Top 15 in the country in batting average and Top 5 in earned run average. They've lost a grand total of ONE series in all of 2013, 2 weeks ago to South Carolina, and they followed that up by sweeping Florida right out of Baton Rouge. North Carolina is probably the only other team that the Aggies have played this season that's close to being on LSU's level, and that game obviously did not go well for A&M (the Tar Heels won that game by run-rule, 14-2). You could maybe put South Carolina in that category - maybe - since the Gamecocks did hand LSU their only series loss of the year in Baton Rouge, but we also know how things went for A&M against SC so things aren't looking good for the weekend.
Unfortunately, the only chance for A&M to make the NCAA postseason for a 7th consecutive season is most likely to win the SEC tournament in a few weeks. There may be a very, very, veeeery slim chance of sneaking in with an upset series win over LSU, a sweep of Tennessee, and a deep run in the SEC Tournament. But the Aggies currently sit in the 60's in the RPI rankings, and it's going to be pretty difficult to make a big jump this late in the season. Obviously stranger things have happened, though, so it would be massive for A&M to somehow steal this series from LSU. Let's jump right in and take a look at just how much of a long-shot that may be.
Thursday (8:00pm CDT, ESPNU)
LHP Cody Glenn (5-1, 2.93, 1.04, 29 K, 13 BB)
RHP Daniel Mengden (5-3, 2.10, 0.90, 71 K, 18 BB)
Glenn is a sophomore southpaw from Houston has had a strong year in his first season as a weekend starter for LSU. Glenn did not earn a decision in LSU's late-inning win in the opener last weekend against Florida, although he pitched well and allowed just 1 earned run on 5 hits with 6 strikeouts and a walk through 6 2/3 innings. He also did not earn a decision in his previous start against Alabama despite going 8 innings and allowing just 4 hits and 1 earned run (2 more unearned) with 4 strikeouts and no walks. Glenn will feature a good fastball in the low 90's and a strong slider that he'll use as his putout pitch.
Mengden is coming off a hell of an outing last Friday night, an outing that got him his first win since the Ole Miss series near the end of March. Daniel pitched eight full innings on Friday night before Jester came in to close out the game in the ninth. In his eight innings, Mengden gave up just two 2 hits and only 1 earned run. Mengden walked 3 batters but struck out a career-high 10 batters. If the Aggies are to have a chance on Thursday, Mengden must have a similar performace.
Friday (6:35pm CDT)
RHP Aaron Nola (9-0, 1.92, 0.80, 93 K, 13 BB)
RHP Parker Ray (0-1, 1.85, 1.16, 24 K, 8 BB)
Aaron Nola has been pretty close to dominant this season for the Tigers. The sophomore right-hander has been LSU's ace in 2013 and has responded quite well, tossing 4 complete games so far this season, including one last Friday, and sporting an ERA under 2 while having yet to lose a game. Nola will get his typical Friday start for the 2nd straight week despite the Thursday thru Saturday series format, and saying it's a mismatch on the mound would probably be an understatement. Nola will also feature a fastball in the low 90's, plus a good changeup that will keep hitters off balance. I'd say 93 strikeouts in 89 innings is a pretty decent stat.
Although Ray did not get a decision on Saturday, he pitched a good game up until the sixth inning. He struck out the first Mizzou batter before giving up two back to back singles. The next batter hit a 3 run home run for Mizzou into the right field bullpen. Ray finished his outing of 5.1 innings with 4 strikeouts and a walk. He also gave up 3 runs on 8 hits by the Tigers. This is obviously an extremely challenging matchup for Parker going against LSU's ace, and he'll have to pitch the game of his life to give A&M anything resembling a chance.
Saturday (12:00pm CDT)
RHP Ryan Eades (8-1, 2.36, 1.27, 68 K, 22 BB)
RHP Rafael Pineda (5-4, 2.87, 1.35, 28 K, 14 BB)
Eades is the most experienced weekend starter for LSU, in his 3rd season for the Tigers, and he has had a very nice 2013 season as well. Eades earned the victory last Saturday against Florida to clinch the sweep for LSU, working 6 innings and allowing just 2 earned runs on 3 hits with 6 strikeouts and a pair of walks. Eades pitched fairly well in the start before that as well, throwing 7 innings against South Carolina and allowing 2 runs - neither earned - with 3 strikeouts and 3 walks. Eades can work a fastball, slider, and changeup on a regular basis, although he has allowed the highest opponents batting average (.260) of the Tigers' 3 weekend starters.
Pineda took the win on Sunday against Mizzou after pitching 5.2 innings for the Aggies. In his time on the mound on Sunday, Rafi gave up only 1 run on 4 hits while striking out 3 batters. The one run given up by Rafi was the only unearned run that the Aggies gave up all weekend, which is good considering how many we have given up on walks and HBP we have had over the last few weeks.
What to Watch
So, there's really no way around it. This LSU team is just scary good. They have 9 guys who have played in at least 25 games that are hitting over .270. The Aggies have 4 of those. Tigers' senior 1B Mason Katz leads the team in home runs with 13 and runs batted in with 63. A&M has hit 17 home runs as a team and has a combined 187 RBI's on the season. Like I said - scary. True freshman SS Alex Bregman sports a very impressive .401 average on the season, is 2nd in the NCAA with 83 hits, has a slugging percentage over .600, and he's also stolen 12 bases as well. You may want to skip this section because it probably falls under the NSFW category, but here's a comparison of hitting stats...
Surely a team can't be really good at hitting and really good at pitching too, right? Ahem. The weekend rotation for LSU is also pretty unfair. Cody Glenn, who will start in tomorrow night's series opener, has the highest ERA of the 3 pitchers at 2.93 and they feature a combined record of 22-2. The highest ERA on their entire staff belongs to RHP Will LaMarche, and he's sporting a 3.98 in just over 20 innings pitched. Meanwhile, A&M has 7 pitchers on this 2013 staff with an ERA higher than LaMarche's. The Tigers feature a trio of senior pitchers out of the bullpen who have been mostly outstanding this season, including closer LHP Chris Cotton (2-1, 1.82, 34 K, 10 SV), RHP Joey Bourgeois (3-1, 1.42, 27 K), and LHP Brent Bonvillain (2-0, 2.16, 27 K). Should A&M manage to actually chase any of the 3 LSU starters, things obviously don't get any easier when you go up against their bullpen. Cover your eyes again, but here's a look at the pitching stats...
Here is my best guess at the lineup that the Tigers will feature this weekend.
2 observations - that's a lot of right-handed hitters, and there's not very many weaknesses in that lineup. Which leads us to...
Destruction. Complete and utter destruction. Anything other than an LSU sweep this weekend would go down as pretty much a shock.
One last note - there is rain in the forecast for today thru Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how that affects this series, if at all. Don't forget to catch tonight's game on ESPNU and Saturday's on (*gulp*) ESPN.
BTHO Swamp Kitties!