LSU (32-2, 11-1) is off to the best start in school history so far in the 2013 season. That record will be put to the test this weekend when the Tigers travel to Fayetteville, Ar., to take on the tenth-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks (24-10, 8-4). Not only will LSU be battling a team that is on a recent hot-streak, but they will also have to do it in perhaps the most hostile environment that they will experience all season.
With it being a matchup of two highly ranked teams, the implications of the series are very important. With a series win, LSU will be firmly in the driver's seat for the SEC West lead. A series loss could bring Arkansas within a couple of games of the Tigers in the division standings. Regardless of the implications of the weekend, LSU senior Mason Katz is looking forward to experiencing the environment that will be present at Baum Stadium beginning Friday night.
"This is one of my favorite places to play," said Katz." We lost all three games the last time that we went up there, but it's a great place to play. I think those games were record attendance games for them. We're pretty highly ranked just like them. It should be a great series."
LSU coach Paul Mainieri expects the atmosphere to do the exact opposite for his players that most would expect. Mainieri expects it to motivate his team more than usual because of the added pressure that they will face.
"It's a great environment and a beautiful ballpark up there," said Mainieri. "I'm sure that they will have 10,000 fans at each of these games. Our players love to go to places like this, even though they play at Alex Box Stadium. They get a little bit of an adrenaline boost from it."
The storyline of the weekend will be the matchup between the LSU offense and the Arkansas pitching staff, which is ranked among the top rotations in all of college baseball with a collective 1.56 ERA. Couple that with LSU's .322 team batting average and it can easily be seen why the series has potential to be very competitive.
Paul Mainieri was very short and to the point about what the matchup means for the outcome of the series, something he is looking forward to watching.
"We have a great lineup to challenge their pitchers,' said Mainieri. "I'm looking forward to the matchup between our lineup and their staff. Something's got to give in this series."
Mason Katz echoed the statements by Mainieri by saying that the matchup between the LSU offense and the Arkansas pitching staff is going to be something special to see this weekend.
"Not many teams have a lineup like ours, but they have a pitching staff that has one of the lowest ERA's in the nation," said Katz. "It will be fun to see which side gets the better of the other one this weekend."
One look at the LSU lineup through the first 34 games will make it pretty evident as to how important it is that they continue their production this weekend. LSU features six hitters in their lineup with batting averages over .300, and two with averages over the .400 mark. While juniors JaCoby Jones and Ty Ross are not hitting at the same collective level as the rest of the lineup, the duo has been on a tear over the last week. Their continued production will be very important to the success of the LSU lineup as a whole.
Senior Mason Katz and freshman Alex Bregman have both been heavily relied upon in 2013. The two have responded well to the pressure that they face in the lineup by collecting averages of .447 and .444, respectively. While Bregman is becoming known as Mr. Automatic at the plate, Mason Katz has had a 2013 season so far that most players in the country can only dream of having. In addition to hitting well over .400, Katz is also responsible for 13 homeruns and 60 RBI.
As was mentioned previously, all of that success will be put to the test this weekend by the Arkansas pitching staff. Mainieri explained that from top to bottom, this might be the best staff that LSU will face in 2013.
"They have some unbelievable arms," said Mainieri. "[Ryne] Stanek might be the number one pitcher taken in the draft, much like Kevin Gausman was last year. [Barrett] Astin is a great pitcher as well. They have a slew of guys coming out of the bullpen, both right-handers and left-handers."
"After Astin goes tomorrow night, I told the team that he would be the last guy that throws under 90 miles per hour for the rest of the weekend. They have a plethora of arms that is the envy of any coach."
With the LSU lineup being on a tear that is uncommon in baseball, Arkansas features a lineup that has struggled to produce runs at times this season. Nonetheless, the lineup for the Razorbacks has still been productive. They are led at the plate by freshman Tyler Spoon (.336 average) and senior Matt Vinson (.328 average).
Even though they have been productive so far this season, the Arkansas offense has been living in the shadows of their pitching staff. Something similar can be said about LSU. With the production that the Tigers have seen on offense, the LSU pitching staff, while very good in 2013, has been overshadowed by the LSU offense a bit. Paul Mainieri believes that people forget how good the LSU rotation is, but he knows it will be on display this weekend.
"With this matchup, a lot of people lose sight of the fact that we have a pretty good pitching staff as well," said Mainieri. "I'm excited to see how their lineup will do against our staff as well. It is just a great all-around matchup."
In terms of the LSU rotation this weekend, sophomore Cody Glenn will be the starter on Sunday. There was uncertainty surrounding who would handle the role earlier in the week, with Kurt McCune being another contender for the job. However, after examining everything, Mainieri has decided to go with the talented lefty this weekend.
"Cody Glenn looked better over the weekend," said Mainieri. "The biggest thing for him is to take it out of his mind about where he is pitching. If you notice, he didn't pitch like he is capable of in our two away games against Missouri and Mississippi State. I think he will be just fine this weekend."
Here is the full breakdown of the pitching matchups for the weekend.
LSU – SO. RHP Aaron Nola (5-0, 2.55 ERA, 53.0 IP, 62 SO)
UA – JR. RHP Barrett Astin (2-1, 2.31 ERA, 39.0 IP, 28 SO)
LSU – JR. RHP Ryan Eades (7-0, 1.30 ERA, 55.1 IP, 51 SO)
UA – JR. RHP Ryne Stanek (3-2, 1.90 ERA, 42.2 IP, 38 SO)
LSU – SO. LHP Cody Glenn (5-1, 3.12 ERA, 43.1 IP, 18 SO)
UA – SR. LHP Randall Fant (2-1, 1.71 ERA, 31.2 IP, 27 SO)
Below are video interviews by TSD's Taylor Halsey with LSU players Raph Rhymes and Ty Ross about how the 2013 season has unfolded so far. They also look ahead to this weekend's matchup with Arkansas. A weekend preview by the TSD crew is also included.
TSD Baseball Interviews and Preview
Series Primer: No. 10 Arkansas
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