Few teams boast the college baseball and tradition of the LSU Tigers.
A historic powerhouse, they trumpet six national championships, the most recent of which came in 2009. They've been to 27 national tournaments, including the last three and six of the last seven. They've been to 16 College World Series brackets. Since 2008, they've failed to advance to a Super Regional only twice.
On paper alone, this is a series that Boston College is in some deep trouble with. LSU is well-polished, well-coached, and one of the elite programs in the nation. Last season, they won their first two games in a regional they hosted before dropping two straight to the Houston Cougars.
Beyond their talent on the field, though, LSU enjoys the best home field advantage in the nation. Skip Bertman Field at Alex Box Stadium is one of those places college players dream of playing. There is not a single Boston College Eagle who could've played on a field in front of the amount of supporters wearing purple and yellow. Routinely drawing 10,000 or more fans per game, there's a reason LSU has the reputation that they have.
If I'm Mike Gambino, though, I'm reminding my team that despite the reputation LSU has, despite the logo on the front of the jersey, despite the fans in the stands, the dimensions around the baseball diamond are exactly the ones buried under about 14 feet of snow in Chestnut Hill. I'm giving the team the same pep talk Norman Dale used before the state championship game because, quite honestly, it's true.
LSU Tigers: 3-1 (0-0 SEC)
Last Time Out: L, 6-3 Nicholls State (2/18/15)
The Tigers struggled both on the hill and defensively against the Colonels early on. Staked to a 1-0 lead, Nicholls got insurance runs in the third when they put runners on the corners. After stealing a base, a sacrifice fly plus an error pushed two runs across for a 3-0 lead. They never looked back.
Around The Horn
Make no mistake about it: LSU is filthy. This team has the talent in its lineup to make one a very (and I mean VERY) deep run into the national tournament.
Shortstop Alex Bregman was drafted out of high school in the 29th round by the Boston Red Sox but instead chose to forego the draft for LSU. The Brooks Wallace Award winner in 2013 as the best shortstop in America, he was named National Freshman of the Year. Named a First Team All-American in 2013, he is wide recognized as one of the premier hitters in the nation.
But Bregman's hardly a one-man show. Kade Scivicque is one of the purest power hitters in the lineup, and he's already gone yard once this year against premier pitching (Kansas).
Conner Hale hit over .300 last season, then went to Cape Cod over the summer and helped lead Falmouth to the league championship series. He had five RBI against Kansas.
Chris Chinea and Mark Laird combined for seven hits and seven runs scored against the Jayhawks. Andrew Stevenson led the team last year with a .335 average. Jake Fraley hit .372 with 29 RBI while starting 27 games and appearing in 49. Danny Zardon hit .268 off the bench.
Bottom line? This isn't a run-of-the-mill lineup, which means BC has to be able to pitch out of jams and use job assignments to a T. Their starters need to be able to throw six innings, and they need to be able to get out of jams. Against Nicholls, the bats had six hits through the first three innings, but the Tigers stranded eight runners. They really struggled to put runs across in a game they should've won big in. That means BC has to be able to strand runners—something they've had problems with in the past.
On The Bump
If there's one area of concern for LSU, it's going to be their pitching. They've run out of Nolas, with Aaron graduating after last season. A first round pick of the Phillies (seventh overall), he's the future of the Philadelphia pitching and already making his way through the minors. He's expected to crack the major leagues some time this year after advancing as far as Double-A Reading last summer.
With Nola gone, the ace's role falls on Jared Poche', a sophomore lefty who threw six shutout innings, allowing only two hits, against the Jayhawks to pick up his first win of the season. Poche' went 9-3 last season with a 2.45 ERA, and he was a dominant innings eater. He threw 91.2 innings last season and struck out 52, exactly double the amount of walks he issued. He's capable of throwing up into the high 80s on his heater, and he has good command over his breaking stuff with a change up capable of hitting 80. His curveball, as a lefty, has some nasty movement.
Behind Poche' is Alex Lange, who threw five shutout innings for a win against Kansas. A big righty at 6'4", he has an easy delivery and is capable of hitting 90 on the gun with his heat. His breaking pitch is well into the 80s, and he commands a slider that is going to give hitters nightmares.
More than likely, BC will see that duo along with Jake Godfrey, another power righthander drafted out of high school last June (21st round by Atlanta). He will touch the low 90s on the gun with his heat with solid command over his breaking stuff. You'll see a trend here.
On the back end of the bullpen, at least for now, is Jesse Stallings. Stallings has the mental makeup of a closer, and he's already delivered with saves in both of his first two appearances. He's struck out four and allowed only a single hit in two innings of work. He, too, can hit the 90s, and he has a smooth, almost effortless delivery with deceptive release.
With scouting reports that, on paper, pretty much means BC is screwed, you'd wonder why I say pitching is a weakness. But as good as the scouting reports read, LSU is dealing with substantial inexperience. Nicholls was able to rack up six hits before the end of the third and staked their pitchers out to a 6-0 lead. A team with some speed, which the Eagles have, should be able to run on Scivicque, who has a slow release down to second. That will get runners in scoring position and force LSU to make bad plays. They'll rush some throws from the outfield, and they can be error prone. The key is to be clutch with men on and to make the most of those opportunities.
#14 Miami is heading up to Gainesville to take on a top five team at Florida.
At the same time, North Carolina takes on UCLA in a huge non-conference series for the ACC. These games were moved down to Orlando, FL because of field conditions in Chapel Hill.
Virginia has a multi-game series at home against teams like Marist and LaSalle. That should be a slaughter house.
Music To Listen To Over The Cheers of 10,000 Tiger Fans
Here's to hoping Bobby Boucher shows up and executes a power bomb, Captain Insano style.
Fun Fact Of The Week
Skip Bertman Field at Alex Box Stadium opened in 2009. With the exception of the first year, the Tigers averaged over 10,000 fans. Last year's 11,006 fans per game was more than twice the amount of average fans per Eastern Michigan football. It was also more than the UAB Blazers per game attendance in football. #RIP
Since 2009, LSU's won over 200 games at home and lost under 50. Over the last two seasons, they've lost only 13 games when playing in their own yard. Their 31 wins at home last year was greater than or equal to the amount of wins nine teams had overall in last year's tournament. They won as many games at home as BC lost over the course of the whole year, for what it's worth.
But while they played 39 games at home last year, they played only 19 on the road.
LSU played like crap against Nicholls State. The Colonels beat up LSU pitching pretty badly over the first few innings, scored some runs, induced a couple of mental mistakes. They didn't stop LSU from getting their hits, but they stranded the runners. It was very much a bend-don't-break attitude, and it worked through the first half of the game. Once LSU woke up from Mardi Gras, though, they took it to the Colonels and played well enough to score runs. At that point, though, it was too little too late.
You have to think that performance is going to wake up the sleeping tiger (pun intended). BC's going to find themselves against a team with something to prove, which isn't a good sign. They'll also need to play at their utter best in order to not lose all of the three games. Quite honestly, I can't predict this in my right mind to be a BC victory.
LSU sweeps this weekend, but it's all in how you lose. If BC can keep the games close, I'll be sufficiently impressed heading into the Snowbird Classic against Nebraska-Omaha and company.