Head coach Paul Mainieri seems to have the Auburn baseball team’s number. LSU has posted seven straight wins over Auburn, including weekend sweeps during each of the last two seasons.
Mainieri or not, the War Eagles have struggled mightily on their own turf. Auburn has dropped five consecutive series at Plainsman Park, with the last home series victory over LSU coming in 1998.
Coming off a 12-inning win over Southern Miss, a fellow 2009 College World Series team, LSU will put their winning streak on the line against a 20-10 Auburn side. LSU is 7-2 in Southeastern Conference play, while Auburn is 5-4.
Game 1 is set for Friday at 7 p.m., Game 2 Saturday at 2 p.m. and Game 3 Sunday at 1 p.m.
Matchups from the Hill
LSU – Jr. RHP Anthony Ranaudo (0-0, 0.90 ERA, 10.0 IP, 4 BB, 11 SO)
AU – Jr. LHP Cole Nelson (4-1, 3.29 ERA, 41.0 IP, 13 BB, 38 SO)
LSU – So. LHP Chris Matulis (5-0, 2.57 ERA, 28.0 IP, 13 BB, 23 SO)
AU – TBA
LSU – So. RHP Joey Bourgeois (3-1, 5.50 ERA, 34.1 IP, 21 BB, 25 SO)
AU – Jr. LHP Grant Dayton (4-1, 4.86 ERA, 37.0 IP, 8 BB, 24 SO)
The New Look Staff
Austin Ross spent most of 2009 in the Sunday starter role. The junior was then pushed up one day for the start of the 2010 campaign, pitching as the team’s Saturday arm for the first time in his career.
Now less than 30 games into the season, the right-hander has been moved to the bullpen. LSU pitching coach David Grewe has replaced Ross with sophomore lefthander Chris Matulis (5-0, 2.57), who has emerged over the past month to become one of the hottest arms on the staff.
While the rise of Matulis played a big role in Grewe having the faith that the Saturday spot was still in good hands, the Tiger pitching coach said the move was just as much about what Ross brings to the bullpen.
“I wanted to be strong late in the game,” Grewe said. “We have won a lot of close games. If we can get quality innings out of our starters and then bridge the gap to Matty Ott, we will be pretty strong. I am really excited about the possibility of having [Ross], Paul Bertuccini, Jordan Rittiner and Matty to strengthen us at the end.
“Right now Austin will play a pretty huge role in the development of that bullpen. He is a kid that can do it. He has great out pitches in his fastball and slider, and we have seen him have quality innings this year. I think Austin is still one of the top three pitchers on the staff. Our strengths are now going to be pretty vivid at the end of the game.”
Big Bats Await
The one thing that Mainieri and his team preached about this week was their need for a big showing from each of their arms on the hill.
Auburn, one of the hottest SEC teams with the long ball last season, leads the conference in team batting average (.349) and home runs (49).
“We know they are going to be a very good offense, and they definitely hit a lot of home runs,” said LSU catcher Micah Gibbs. “We know we have to pitch well.”
The Tigers are led at the plate by infielders Hunter Morris and Justin Hargett. Morris is batting .403 with 10 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 36 RBI, while Hargett is batting .391 with 10 doubles, one home run and 21 RBI.
“Auburn can really mash at the plate,” Mainieri said. “This is going to be a very tough series against an extremely talented team.”
Watkins’ Road to Recovery
LSU sophomore left fielder Trey Watkins will have tests done on Friday to assess the progress of the injury to his left elbow.
“We are going to have an MRI done,” Mainieri said. “He is a mature kid who enjoys being on the team, and he is disappointed. But, the reality is that he is hurt.”
Watkins dislocated his elbow in a collision with shortstop Austin Nola during the Friday night game of last weekend’s series against Georgia. Watkins is expected to be out four weeks or more.
The Run Continues
During their charge to the 2009 CWS title, LSU piled up conference win after win. Through nearly 30 games in 2010, the hot steak continues.
LSU has won 16 of their last 17 SEC regular-season series, dating back to April 2008. The team hasn’t dropped an SEC road series since May 2008. Since April 2009, the Tigers have taken seven conference series in a row.
Currently ranked No. 3 by the NCBWA, No. 4 in the Collegiate Baseball and USA Today/ESPN Polls and No. 5 in the Baseball America poll, the Tigers also continue an impressive streak amongst the top of the rankings.
Since May 19, 2008, a run of 31 consecutive weeks, the Tigers have appeared in the top 10 of at least one college baseball poll.