It looks like LSU has been largely consistent for most of this season, but there have been some tweaks in the weekend rotation it appears. What can you tell us about the 3 guys going this weekend - Lange, Poche' and Bain - and the order in which they're being used for this series?
PodKATT: LSU will start off with Jared Poche’ in game 1. He is the elder statesman of the rotation, or at least is as much of one as a sophomore can be. His stuff won’t wow you as much as the other starters, but what he brings is consistency. He’ll get his share of strikeouts, but mostly he’s here to get the ball on the ground and let the defense take care of things. In game 2, freshman Alex Lange will be up to throw the heat. This kid’s got a fastball that seems to only get faster as the night goes on. After a few weeks of letting him attempt to reach a complete game, he’s come up with some “elbow stiffness” that’s got folks on edge a bit, so he may be on a strict pitch count. The coaching staff is trying to protect its investment, as Lange is clearly on the path of Gausman and Nola before him, headed for superstar status. BAIN in game 3 is going to be interesting. Most of the year our GM3 guy was another freshman named Jake Godfrey. Godfrey had a good start to the year, but has struggled greatly in SEC play. Bain has shined as a midweek starter and as Godfrey’s early game first relief. Due to the rainout in UGA last week, this will be his first conference start. We have high hopes that he can handle the potential pressure of a rubber match for the defacto SEC regular season championship, live in front of millions on ESPN.
With 9 players on the LSU roster batting .290 or better, it seems that the lineup has been a strength for the Tigers this season. Are there any particular weak spots in the lineup that might not necessarily be as apparent in the stats? Or is the LSU offense really as good as they look on paper?
PK: Things have actually calmed down a little for the lineup, there was a point in early April when the entire starting 9 were batting north of .310. If you want to see the real benefit of the new balls this year, this is the first time in quite a while that every LSU starter has at least 1 HR. While obviously some guys are batting better than others, I’d say the real weakness in the lineup is a bit of a groupthink mentality. Too often this year, even in SEC play, I’ve seen LSU break out with a 1 or 2 run lead in the 1st or 2nd inning, and then the entire lineup just sits on it, settling for long fly ball outs and whiffing on stuff they shouldn’t be swinging at. It’s as if they think the game is won by the 3rd and the rest of the night is BP. To this team’s credit, most of the time they get their heads on right and are able to beat back any late rallies by the opposition, but when they can’t get right in time, they’ve let games slip away.
What went wrong for y'all in the only series loss of the year to Kentucky back at the end of March? And what have the Tigers done since then to only drop 1 of the last 13 games?
PK: The 2 losses in that series are both great examples of the problems that LSU has this season when it has problems. In the Friday game, LSU tagged UK’s starter for 2 runs in the 2nd inning and sat on it until Poché ran out of gas and then it dragged out into an extra inning mess where Stallings had to go too long and eventually broke. In the Sunday game, a bad Godfrey start, combined with relief outings where no one could seem to settle in, led to another extra inning marathon where UK was able to hang on long enough to outlast the good relief arms. Since then, LSU has, on the whole, been more aggressive at the plate beyond just grabbing an early lead, but it’s a behavior I still see sometimes in midweek games. A lack of focus against a Southland conference team isn’t unexpected, but that shouldn’t happen in a series of this magnitude.
I'm going to assume based on the stats that Hunter Newman is virtually unhittable, and Jesse Stallings doesn't appear to be far behind there. Are there other spots of the LSU bullpen that the Aggies could take advantage of this weekend if a starter doesn't last 7+ innings?
PK: Picking out a weakness for the consensus #1 team in the nation isn’t supposed to be easy, but in my eyes it’s certainly the bullpen. Newman has been great, but behind him there are some worries. Stallings was leading the nation in saves at one point, but seems to have hit a wall recently. You’ll see any combo of Bugg, Reynolds, Person, Strall, and Cartwright handle the bulk of the relief work this weekend, but any one of them might have a bad outing. If there’s one thing fans don’t like about Paul Mainieri’s coaching style this year, it’s that he’ll give a guy enough rope to hang himself or save himself, but the plan b won’t be sent to the bullpen to get ready until after any disaster has already occurred. If A&M starts to tee off on one of these relievers, it could get ugly fast.
A&M got a big upset series win at Olsen Field last year against a Top 5 LSU team. The Tigers will certainly be favorites at home this weekend, but how do you see the series playing out?
PK: Against a team of this caliber, there’s no way I can even hope for a sweep. Moreover, and I don’t like that I have to say this, Alex Box Stadium has had more heartbreak than triumph lately when it comes to hugely important weekends. I’ll take the Tigers in 2, but it’s close. Nobody said winning the SEC was going to be easy.