LSU (38-7, 14-6 SEC) at Mississippi State (23-22, 7-14)
Starkville, Miss., | Dudy Noble Field
GAME 1: Thurs., April 30, 6:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
GAME 2: Fri., May 1, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
GAME 3: Sat., May 2, 3 p.m. (ESPN2)
RHP Austin Bain (1-2, 2.83) vs. TBA
The Bulldogs enter this weekend one game above .500 and are just 7-14 in SEC play. They occupy last place in the SEC West and are only a half-game ahead of Georgia for last place in the whole conference.
The Bulldogs have won just one conference series this season, and that came against South Carolina, another team with a losing record. Barring a serious run in the final three weeks, MSU will finish with below .500 in conference play for the first time since 2011.
But the Bulldogs are still just two years removed from playing for a national championship, and LSU can’t overlook them this weekend.
“You don’t look at the records in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “I don’t just say that for motivation or inspiration. It’s the truth…The last thing I would ever do is take Mississippi State lightly.”
Mainieri has never lost a series to MSU. You have to go all the way back to 2006 to find the last time LSU dropped two games in a weekend to the Bulldogs.
And with the way MSU’s performed this season, you’d have plenty of company in predicting another series win for LSU. But the Tigers don’t see it so guaranteed.
“I expect to see a team that’s going to go out and compete,” said LSU shortstop Alex Bregman. “They’re going to play hard and they’ll want to win in front of their home crowd. Everybody in the SEC is a quality opponent, and we’re going to have our hands full.”
LSU’s fared well on the road this season. The Tigers are 9-1 in away games this season, 13-1 if you count the four neutral-site games. Dudy Noble Field’s a different monster though with the Left Field Lounge.
“Our team has proven that they’re road warriors,” Mainieri said. “They look forward to playing on the road…Our kids look forward to these road trips, and they like the challenge.”
MISSISSIPPI STATE SCOUTING REPORT
MSU ranks in the lower half of the conference in most offensive categories. That includes batting average (ninth, .272), slugging percentage (14th, .364) and on-base percentage (seventh, .379). The Bulldogs rank No. 12 in RBI (203), No. 10 in doubles (67), and No. 13 in both triples (6) and home runs (19).
On the positive side, MSU has drawn the most walks in the conference (217) and have struck out 252 times, second lowest in the SEC.
The Bulldogs have four players with at least 36 starts hitting .295 or higher. CF Jacob Robson leads the team with a .344 batting average, but only five of his 53 hits have gone for extra bases and he’s recorded only 8 RBI.
1B Wes Rea is the biggest power threat, ranking second on the team with four homers this season. He’s also hitting at a .314 clip.
MSU hasn’t gotten much production from the bottom of its order this season. The Bulldogs have three players with at least 36 starts batting .257 or lower.
On the mound, MSU plans to toss lefty Lucas Laster in the series opener. He’s increased his velocity but sits mostly at 88-90 mph. He has a curveball as well, but mostly uses a slider as his out pitch. He gave up four runs and lasted only two innings in his start last weekend against Arkansas.
Preston Brown, the scheduled starter Friday night, ranks second on the team with 50 strikeouts this season. Teams are hitting at least .270 against both pitchers.
The Bulldogs’ Saturday starter is still to be determined. Austin Sexton has occupied that role most of the season, and he did pick up a win against the Razorbacks.
Closer Trevor Fitts is MSU’s best option out of the bullpen. He sports a 1.69 ERA in 18 appearances this season. Aside from him though, the MSU bullpen has struggled. The Bulldogs rank No. 13 in the SEC in team ERA (4.23).
The Bulldogs have six relievers other than Fitts with at least 12 appearances this season, and all have an ERA worse than 3.85.