LSU Baseball Series Preview: Auburn

LSU Baseball hosts Auburn for a three-game series starting Friday night, so long as Mother Nature allows them to play.

Auburn (20-13, 4-8 SEC) at No. 3 LSU (29-5, 8-4)


SCHEDULE

GAME 1: Friday, 7 p.m.

GAME 2: Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

GAME 3: Sunday, 1 p.m.

**All games can be streamed online on SEC Network+**

PITCHING MATCHUPS

RHP Cole Lipscomb (4-0, 2.65) vs. LHP Jared Poché (5-1, 3.10)

RHP Keegan Thompson (6-2, 3.15) vs. RHP Alex Lange (6-0, 1.39)

RHP Rocky McCord (2-2, 3.55) vs. RHP Austin Bain (0-0, 2.45)

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Auburn comes into this weekend’s series last in the SEC West, tied with Alabama at 4-8 in conference play. Auburn has won only one SEC series, taking two of three from Mississippi State two weekends ago.

Auburn coach Sonny Golloway’s in his second year on the plains, still trying to rebuild the program.

“It’s the second year of his system, and he’s got the player that he believes in,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “I’m expecting a hard-fought series…You better bring your A-game or you’re not going to win. It’s that simple.”

LSU won all three games last season in Auburn by a combined margin of 29-4. LSU has won seven straight games against Auburn, last losing a series in 2012.

Most of Auburn’s struggles this year have come at the plate. They rank in the bottom half of the conference in most offensive categories, averaging just four runs per game in conference play. Auburn’s hitting .281 as a team with only two regular players hitting above .300.

They’ve only hit 12 home runs this season, fewest in the conference.

One of the few bright spots has been leadoff man Anfernee Grier. The sophomore outfielder ranks fifth in the conference with a .393 batting average. He also leads the team with 28 runs scored.

Auburn’s best bet against LSU will be to grind out a low-scoring game. That places a lot of responsibility on the starting pitchers, and Auburn sports two good ones on Friday and Saturday.

Keegon Thompson’s one of the best pitchers in the country. He didn’t throw against LSU last year while sidelined with a broken foot, but he’s returned this year with solid play. He ranks seventh in the SEC with 52 strikeouts, sports a 3.14 ERA and opponents are hitting .241 against him.

Cole Lipscomb has also done well in the Friday role. He leads the Auburn starters with a 2.65 ERA and has struck out 44 in 37 1/3 innings.

Auburn’s relied most heavily on Robby Clements, (3.13 ERA), Dalton Rentz (3.67) Justin Camp (2.53), Izaac Yarbrough (3.65) and Jacob Milliman (4.66) out of the bullpen.

WATCHING THE WEATHER


Mother Nature may be the biggest obstacle this weekend. Forecasts call for thunderstorms all three days, which could wreck havoc on the schedule. Mainieri hadn’t made any changes as of Thursday afternoon, but he’ll be monitoring it closely.

“The prediction is bad this weekend across the board,” Mainieri said. “But this has happened before, and we’ve somehow been able to fit them in the windows…We’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Hourly forecasts for Friday predict a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms at first pitch, though it tapers off the rest of the night. There’s an 80 percent chance of storms Saturday and a 90 percent chance on Sunday.

There will be SEC travel restrictions in place that would prevent the two teams from playing Monday. If both Friday and Saturday are a wash, then there would be a doubleheader with each game lasting seven innings.

HALE STILL QUESTIONABLE


Third baseman Conner Hale expects to play this weekend, though he was still experiencing soreness and swelling Thursday in his left elbow. Hale was hit by a pitch Tuesday and had to come out of the game against New Orleans.

He didn’t play Wednesday to rest the elbow, but he did return to practice Thursday. He took grounders and some swings in the batting cages and reported minimal discomfort.

He will sport a new elbow brace when he does return to action.

“I feel good enough to play,” Hale said. “I’ve never worn an elbow guard before. That’ll take a little getting used to, but I don’t think it’ll be that big a deal.”

While Mainieri shares his optimism, he is crafting some contingency plans in case Hale can’t go. Both Grayson Byrd and Danny Zardon played in his place Wednesday. Byrd’s still relatively new to the position while Zardon began the year as LSU’s starting third baseman.

He lost his spot though to Hale while struggling in the field. Those mistakes were still present Wednesday as he committed an error and botched another potential double play with the bases loaded.

“We’re searching for Plan B right now,” Mainieri said. “But we’ll be OK. We’ll figure something out if we have to.”

BAIN READY TO START


Freshman pitcher Austin Bain’s eager to make the first start of his LSU career. He’ll enter the weekend rotation in place of Jake Godfrey, who failed to get out of the second inning in each of his last two SEC starts.

Godfrey was better Wednesday, going five innings against Northwestern State. Mainieri said he’ll be available in some capacity this weekend and could come out of the bullpen Saturday or Sunday.

But it’ll be Bain to take the rubber first in the series finale. He replaced Godfrey last weekend and threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. Now he’s facing a different challenge.

“I’m just going to do what I’ve been doing,” Bain said. “Just keep doing my job…that’s throwing strikes and getting outs.”


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