NOTEBOOK: Mainieri keeps an eye on postseason

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, LSU has its sights set on a national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Paul Mainieri discusses what it will take to accomplish that and other topics concerning his team as the 2014 season winds down.

Three weeks remain in the regular season, but Paul Mainieri can't help but focus some of his attention on the postseason picture.

Mainieri's an admitted scoreboard watcher. He always lends an ear when the PA announcer recites the day's SEC results during home games. He jokes that he refreshes the RPI rankings "every two hours" — just in case something changes.

"I can tell you everybody's schedule and what we need to have happen," Mainieri said. "And it usually doesn't happen the way you root for it to happen."

With his team squarely on the bubble for a national seed, according to most projections, Mainieri will likely need help from the teams ahead to be a national host. That leaves LSU without complete control of its postseason fate, so Mainieri wants his team to focus only on playing the game.

"The only thing we can control is how we play," Mainieri said. "If we do our job, we have a shot at finishing in the top four of the SEC, and that's what you need to do to host the regional round."

The Tigers currently rank fourth in the SEC, a half-game ahead of South Carolina, and come in at No. 14 in the projected RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com. Last year, the SEC produced two national seeds and four regional hosts, with three of each the previous two seasons.

LSU's right on the cusp, and the Tigers will have several big opportunities to boost that resume in the coming weeks. Each of the Tigers' next three conference opponents — Texas A&M, Alabama and Auburn — rank in the Top 50 of the RPI, with two of the series happening on the road.

Winning all three would certainly solidify LSU as a regional host and make them hard to pass on for a national seed.

"If we do what we need to do in those nine games,"Mainieri said, "I've got to believe we'll finish in the top 15 of the RPI. If you finish in the top four [of the SEC], you've won 40 games and you have an RPI in the top 15, you like to think you're going to host. That's a realistic goal we should have for ourselves."


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BREGMAN GETTING BACK TO NORMAL


Alex Bregman's looked much more like his old self lately. He's recorded multiple hits in each of the last four games, the first time he's accomplished that all season. His batting average (.296) is at its highest point in almost a month.

Bregman hasn't been hitting over .300 since the Florida series, and after bottoming out at .277 on April 12, things seem to finally be heading in the right direction. But Mainieri admits Bregman's far from satisfied.

"There's more there," Mainieri said. "He's in the batting cages right now, and his standards are really high for himself."

Bregman accepted the brunt of the responsibility for the team's offensive slump and four-game losing streak earlier this season. But no longer is Bregman the only player LSU has to lean on offensively. There are five other players with at least 137 at-bats batting higher than .280.

That's helped relieve some of the pressure on LSU's star shortstop.

"We need Bregman to hit for us to win," Mainieri said. "There's no doubt about that. But it's obvious at this point he's not going to be the guy that just carries the team. We don't have that guy, but if we're good 1-through-9, and can piece some things together, hopefully we'll be good enough offensively."


Andrew Stevenson's solidified himself as LSU's leadoff man

FEW CERTAINTIES WITH LSU'S LINEUP


Mainieri prefers to think his team has about 12 "regulars" that take the field. That means crafting the lineup is an ever-changing task.

Some things are given. Bregman will be the shortstop, Christian Ibarra at third and Mark Laird in right field. Andrew Stevenson has solidified himself as the Tigers' leadoff man, and Jake Fraley's earned a spot in the everyday lineup.

But that leaves a handful of positions with which Mainieri can tinker, and he loves to have those options.

For example, Tyler Moore always catches when Aaron Nola pitches. Chris Chinea's hitting almost .500 against left-handed pitching, so Mainieri wants to utilize him against southpaws. If Sean McMullen's the designated hitter, that likely means Kade Scivicque will be at first and Mainieri has to decide between Kramer Robertson and Conner Hale at second.

But Mainieri welcomes those decisions as he thinks it signifies a solid roster top to bottom.

"I'm not sure exactly what the lineup will be like," Mainieri said. "I can tell you some certainties…But I still like to have a little bit of flexibility with some of those other spots instead of cornering myself."

LAGNIAPPE


---Parker Bugg will get his first career start Tuesday when the Tigers face Alcorn State. The freshman has a 1.65 ERA in 27 1/3 innings this season, but he's coming off one of his worst outings of the season.

On Saturday against Tennessee, Bugg walked the leadoff man in the ninth before surrendering a two-run homer two at-bats later. But Mainieri's hoping Tuesday's start will get Bugg back on track.

"We want to get him back out there right away," Mainieri said. "Those really intelligent kids have a knack for overanalyzing things when they don't go well, so I figured the best thing for him is to get him back on the horse as fast as possible."

Bugg will be the first of about five pitchers expected to take the mound for LSU Tuesday. Bugg will likely go two innings with Henri Faucheux, Nate Fury, Brady Domangue and Cody Glenn expected to pitch as well.

---LSU's starting lineup against Alcorn State will also have a lot of different faces in the field. Mainieri said he plans to start a number of reserves Tuesday, with freshmen Danny Zardon, Dakota Dean, Cade Stone and Jarrett DeHart expected to start.

"I'm going to give some guys a chance to play tomorrow night. That's not being disrespectful to Alcorn State. These guys just haven't played in a while, and I've got to give them a game. Hopefully they'll do well enough to have success."

---LSU received a slight boost in four of the five major polls after a 3-1 weekend, including a series victory against Tennessee. The Tigers moved up one spot in the NCBWA (No. 5), Collegiate Baseball (No. 9), Baseball America (No. 8) and Perfect Game (No. 5) rankings. LSU held steady at No. 6 in the Coaches' poll.

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