With a record of 22-4 and 4-2 in the SEC, LSU enters as one of the hottest teams in the country both at the plate and on the mound for Coach Smoke Lavale. Hitting .344 as a team with 37 home runs while the pitching staff has an ERA of just 2.83, the Fighting Tigers have all the tools once again this year and Coach Steve Renfroe said this weekend will be a big challenge for his team after winning two on the road last weekend at Tennessee.
"We are hosting what we think is one of the top two or three teams in the nation," Renfroe said. "Obviously, everybody else thinks the same thing. I know Smoke is awfully proud of this club and everybody I have talked to says it may be one of the best LSU teams in years and the numbers back that up. So, we are going to have to play our best baseball.
"We really need to have quality starts from our starters to keep us in the game. That is going to be a key for us is if we can have starters to go well into the game and keep it from being a slugfest. Obviously, we have not scored a lot of runs. That is not our strength and we don't need to get in that kind of weekend with the LSU Tigers. We are looking forward to it. It will be a great challenge."
The job of keeping LSU from exploding this weekend will once again go to the trio of Mike Felix, Arnold Hughey and Josh Bell. A true freshman, Felix will start Friday night's opener against right-hander Justin Meier from LSU. Felix is 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA this season while Meier counters with a 4-1 record and an ERA of 2.51.
Josh Bell leads Auburn in home runs and RBI in addition to being the team's third starter.
Saturday Hughey (4-1, 4.91 ERA) will have the challenge of out-dueling talented Clay Dirks for LSU. A freshman lefty, Dirks is 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA this season and has struck out 37 batters while walking just eight. Sunday should be a fan's dream as Bell (2-0, 1.65 ERA) faces LSU's Nate Bumstead (4-0, 4.15 ERA) in a battle of power versus experience and finesse. Renfroe said this LSU rotation is as good as Auburn will see this season.
"Meier is a dominant arm," Renfroe said. "He is a power guy. He's got a fastball, slider change-up. He runs it up there really good. The lefty is actually a power lefty. He has got power breaking ball, live fastball, good arm and throws strikes. Bumstead is a little different. He is the guy last year that was probably 9-1, I think. He was 8-0 when we went in there and we beat him and I think he won out after that. He didn't lose much. He's a little different. He is going to be a change of pace guy. He's gonna really make you hit his pitch, groove it in and out, change-up, change off change, different things like that."
At the plate the Tigers are led by leadoff hitter J.C. Holt. The speedy center fielder has been the perfect catalyst for a powerful LSU offense this season, hitting .425 with four home runs, nine doubles and 21 runs batted in this season. He is 6-7 in stolen bases this season and has earned 11 walks. His on-base-percentage of .488 leads the team as well. Renfroe said that Holt is the key to the series for LSU's offense in his opinion.
"Well you get a leadoff guy that is batting .400 and he just sets the table for those big guys," Renfroe said. "He's a great baseball player. He takes runs away. He plays center field as well as anybody in this league. Really knows how to play the game, run the bases, handle at bats and is just a really fine baseball player. When a team is prolific offensively and they have a guy that is on-base all the time for those big guys it just seems to ignite them."
Also dangerous in the LSU lineup is big Jon Zeringue, who is hitting .404 with eight home runs, 28 runs batted in and a team-leading 13 doubles. Catcher Matt Liuzza has been a pleasant surprise on offense as well with a .340 average, six home runs and 23 runs batted in.
Auburn continues to be led offensively by sophomore Clete Thomas. The center fielder leads the team in six offensive catagories, hitting .356 with 26 runs, 36 hits, three triples, 13 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .468.
One player to look for continued improvement out of is left fielder Sean Gamble. Since moving to the top of the order he has become more productive and he has a history of performing well against LSU. In his career Gamble is 14-30 against the Fighting Tigers and he has hit safely in all seven games against LSU. In fact he's recorded multiple-hit games in six of those seven contests.
Game times for this weekend's series are 6:30 p.m. on Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. Sunday's game will be carried live by Comcast Sports Southeast.