LSU in charge of the SEC West
After the Tigers' series win against Arkansas this past weekend, LSU sits comfortably in the driver's seat for the SEC West crown. LSU holds a four-game advantage over the Hogs and a five-game lead over Alabama, the next opponent on LSU's conference schedule. If the Tigers can take at least two of three from the Tide, they should find themselves in prime position for a divisional title.
Now obviously the Tigers won't get ahead of themselves. They do still have divisional foes Texas A&M (on the road) and Ole Miss on the schedule, but those teams both appear beatable and are seven and six games back, respectively, at this point in the season. Should LSU continue its winning ways this weekend, they will have all but locked up the West, and can focus its attention on keeping pace with Vanderbilt for the regular season SEC title.
Aaron Nola looking more like the ace
While Ryan Eades has deservedly garnered a lot of the focus in LSU's rotation, Aaron Nola has been equally great, evidenced by his complete game victory on Friday. Nola went the distance, struck out 10, and allowed just four hits, one of which was a two-run homer. Nola was certainly helped out by some tremendous defensive plays by Raph Rhymes, Alex Bregman and Andrew Stevenson in the late innings, but he was mostly unhittable for most of the game.
After a rocky start against Mississippi State to open the SEC slate, Nola has been ace-like in his last three appearances. He's pitched at least seven innings in each of last three starts and has allowed five or fewer hits in each game. He's surrendered just three runs compared to 27 strikeouts. When Nola's at the top of his game, it's a daunting task for opposing teams to find much offensive production in the series opener.
Call on the veteran relievers
After Cody Glenn's early removal from Sunday's game, Paul Mainieri turned to his veteran bullpen to keep a tight game close, and those relievers answered the call. Anchored by three seniors in the back — Brent Bonvillain, Joey Bourgeois and Chris Cotton — and junior Nick Rumbelow, the bullpen didn't allow an earned run for the final 6 2/3 innings (Rumbelow did allow an inherited run from Glenn to score).
With LSU also having trouble with run production in the late innings, the bullpen prevented Arkansas from breaking the game open and set up the Tigers' 10th-inning rally. While the middle relievers have been a big question mark for LSU this season, LSU has been able to count on guys like Bonvillain, Bourgeois and Cotton, and they proved why in the series finale.
Ryan Eades with an Un-Eades-like performance
While it was a tremendous weekend for part of the pitching staff, three pitchers had series they'd like to forget. Ryan Eades was the most notable after having his worst outing of the season. Eades lasted just four innings on Saturday, his shortest appearance of the year, and earned his first loss in 2013. He surrendered five runs, his highest total since the NCAA regional last year, and didn't look anything like the first-round pick he resembled for most of this season.
Every pitcher is due to have a bad game, so it's important to not jump to drastic conclusions. But for a guy that struggled so much with confidence last season, LSU will certainly hope he doesn't regress into bad form. Eades will have a great opportunity to bounce back this weekend though, facing an Alabama side that hits just .247 as a team, so look for Eades to return to his old self against the Tide.
Will LaMarche can't find the strike zone
After Eades' exit on Saturday, Nick Rumbelow pitched a pair of scoreless innings, and even though LSU was still scoreless at the point, the Tigers were in shouting distance — at least until Will LaMarche entered in the seventh. LaMarche hit the first batter he faced before a sacrifice bunt — the only out he recorded — advanced him to second. LaMarche then walked the next three batters, bringing in one run, before he left with the bases loaded. Nate Fury then allowed a two-run double, which was credited back to LaMarche.
The transfer from Chabot College in California came in with a powerful arm, but with concerns about his accuracy. That has proved to be the issue as LaMarche has struggled all season finding the strike zone. Mainieri hoped he'd be a guy he could call on in the middle innings, and possibly even close, but with outings like the one he had Saturday, it proved he has a long way to go before he can be relied upon in relief.
Cody Glenn takes another step backward
Glenn suffered another setback in his quest to solidify himself in the starting rotation. Glenn took a liner off his knee Sunday that will apparently force him to miss his start this weekend against Alabama. Glenn had been good, but not great, up until that point, allowing three runs in four innings. But with less-than-stellar appearances in all of his SEC road starts, he still hasn't convinced anyone that he's the proper solution for the third spot in the rotation.
And with this missed start now looming over his head, many are unsure whether he'll return to the rotation at all once he's healthy. Kurt McCune and Brent Bonvillain will make a case to be that Sunday starter, and if one of them impress the coaches enough, they may get a chance to take over the role full-time. Now Mainieri probably won't give up on Glenn that quickly, but for someone that's struggled with consistency to this point, missing time with an injury certainly won't do him any favors.
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