I have always enjoyed trips to Baton Rouge and this year is no different. As scary as it can be to roll into Death Valley on a Saturday night, college baseball games tend to bring out the best of each fanbase. Maybe it's the more relaxed atmosphere and attire of sitting in the grandstands, drinking a brewskie in shorts and a t-shirt, but there usually isn't as much animosity during the Spring as there is in the Fall. Now if you still show up wearing purple and gold in RF, then you can definitely expect to have booze thrown at you.
Our unranked Rebels will travel to Baton Rouge to take on the #4 ranked Tigers. The Tigers lead the SEC in team batting average and are just 2nd in team ERA. In preparations for my trip to Baton Rouge, I reached out to PodKATT at And The Valley Shook to find out more about their top ranked LSU baseball squad.
1. What was it like watching Ole Miss make it to Omaha while LSU got booted in its own regional? (Feel free to answer with as much snark as possible)
PodKATT: Probably as bad as it felt for you to watch LSU go to Omaha 16 times in the last 30 years. Seriously, Super Regional weekend was just the absolute worst. We got to spend the first weekend without baseball watching Ole Miss and fricken USL play, knowing one of them was going to Omaha. I was thinking about burning Tigue Moore Field in Lafayette, but that shitty carpet the Cajuns use doesn't hold flame very well.
2. Who from the 2014 squad does LSU miss the most and why?
PK: Aaron Nola wasn't drafted in the first round for nothing (though it was by the Phillies, so the best we can hope is that he makes it to his first trade without any serious injuries). This team has looked great this season, but there's no doubt we'd be better off if we still had the only sure thing in the SEC on Friday Night's last year. Our young pitching staff is coming along nicely, but there's only so much we can learn in the weak OOC slate LSU always plays in. I'm going to be nervous about it all weekend.
The only other loss I can think of is Christian Ibarra from 3B (graduated, you'll see him coaching 1B this weekend as a GA). He was a rock there the last few years and replacing him early on this year was a revolving door of suck and errors. Connor Hale has held down the bag the last couple of games, though, so maybe it's not such a big deal.
3. How would you rate the young pitching staff's performance so far? With which weekend starter are you most/least confident?
PK: I'd pretty much rank the starters in the order they'll appear: Poche, Lange, then Godfrey. Poche's the experienced sophomore who came on strong towards the end of last season and has earned that Friday night role. However, I had kind hope that one of the highly touted freshmen would have passed him for the Friday gig already. Poche has a ceiling, and I fear his limitation will come back to haunt us in conference play. Lange is a firecracker with a deadly fastball. He showed a lot of confidence in the win over Baylor in Houston last weekend and I still think he's going to take the Friday gig at some point this year. Godfrey has had a bit of a rougher time adjusting to the college game. He's had some minor control issues that have seen him give up a bunch of walks and hits, but he's finding his way. He gave up 8 hits and 2 runs to Nebraska last weekend, but I think in that game he also learned how to battle and he ended up staying in for 7IP. The kid's got some confidence back, and it's going to be great watching him get better this year.
4. Junior SS Alex Bregman (.338/.397.554) and senior 1B Connor Hale (.338/.362/.508) seemed to highlight this squad leading into this season. Who do you think is the undervalued and under the radar player of this team?
PK: It would have to be one of our unbelievably fast outfielders, Stevenson or Laird. Both guys are in the lineup for their gloves, and I've seen multiple outlets say they're the fastest outfield in the country. They're tall rangy guys who usually do their jobs quietly, and rarely miss when a dramatic catch is needed to make the out. They're not bad at the plate either. Neither of them swing for power, but they'll get on base and be a nightmare. They've stolen a combined 19 of 23 attempts so far this year, thanks to that speed. They're also sac bunt nightmares, Laird has even outrun his own bunt to the 1B side once this year. The new balls have brought back the power somewhat this year, but Laird and Stevenson let LSU make something out of whatever we can get on base.
5. After LSU's strong non conference record leading up to SEC play so far, what do you think would be a disappointing/acceptable/
exceptional SEC record this season?
PK: Winning the SEC outright is a tough task for anyone, but it's certainly within LSU's ability, especially given the amazing luck of missing both Florida and Vandy this year until Hoover. Winning the West alone will be tough, but I think we're all expecting to finish in the top 2 of the division at least. The worry, as I'm sure it is with every team with young arms, is that the new guys crack under pressure and the season spirals out of control. Hopefully, i'll be a lot less worried about this after this weekend.
6. This weekend's series prediction?
PK: PAIN. AND BRISKET. With all due respect to our OOC, LSU’s bats are going to be facing their first real test of the season against competent pitching, and I worry this dream of the whole starting lineup batting over .300 comes crashing down. There will likely be some significant adjustments needed in any case. I’ll say we take 2 of 3, with the risk that one or more of the Freshman starting arms cracks under pressure and them damn dirty Rebels sneak out with the series.
Thanks a bunch to PK and everyone else at ATVS. Check out their page and his questions/my answers here. Hopefully we get a chance to meet up, eat good food and watch good baseball. See y'all in the Red Stick.