The defending National Champions.
LSU hasn’t carried the title in a decade, and head coach Paul Mainieri is trying the fit for the first time.
As much as the players and staff might believe that teams always give LSU their toughest effort, there certainly is truth in the idea that the 2010 season, as defending champions, has drawn some extra focus from the Tiger opponents.
While the team has slipped around and past teams to save midweek games throughout the year, Tuesday night dealt the group their first loss. With the players visibly hung over from the events of the past three days, getting up against the 10-29 Privateers didn’t seem a priority. New Orleans’ players clearly had a different outlook, and their 11th win out of 40 came with the approach.
The weekend prior, LSU dropped all three of their games in Oxford, Miss., seeing the Rebel bats answer every call that the Tigers had and then some.
Anthony Ranaudo lasted less than two innings, giving up nine runs on nine hits in what quickly turned into his worst outing in purple and gold. The staff’s second ace arm, closer Matty Ott (1-1), appeared just once, pitching 3.2 innings of two hit, one run ball. The sophomore eventually faded, putting runners on before giving up the winning hit in the bottom of the 11th.
With four weekends of conference baseball left, the sweep helped catapult the Rebels up and over the Tigers in the Western Division standings. Both teams are at 11-7 in the SEC, with Ole Miss holding the tiebreaker. The pair trails Arkansas, who at 13-5 sits atop the West and in second place in the overall standings, one game behind first-place South Carolina.
For Mainieri the message on Wednesday was that the book has not closed. With time still on the clock, the Tigers aren’t looking to pack the bags and call off any shot at being set up for Omaha.
“Even though [the UNO loss] was a very bitter pill to swallow, we have to put it in proper perspective,” Mainieri said. “I made lots of points to them about that. One of the points I made was that I expected to flip on my computer and see we dropped in RPI from 11 to 35. We dropped from 11 to 13.
“You have 14 games remaining in the regular season plus the SEC tournament, and all those games are going to be against high RPI teams,” he added. “If we can have some success, then it is not unreasonable to think we can still sneak into the position of a national seed, and at least a regional. I needed them to understand that those goals are attainable for us.”
LSU travels to No. 6 Florida this weekend before a series against Vanderbilt, at Kentucky and then back home to finish the season against Mississippi State. The lone midweek games, both at Alex Box, will be against Southeastern Louisiana on May 4 and Tulane on May 18.
If the crystal ball reads wins, then good pitching must be in store.
Thus far the staff, without the consistent arm of Louis Coleman or the fully healthy arm of Anthony Ranaudo, has looked far from “Omaha-like.” Minus Ranaudo, the staff’s dominant arm is Ott, who will continue to occupy the closer role. So far the inability to consistently bridge the gap to the nation’s leading save man in 2009 has cost the Tigers the use of one of their only reliable men on the mound. Through 41 games, Ott has appeared in less than 30 total innings, which equates to less than 8-percent off the innings the Tigers have played.
While Ranaudo and sophomore southpaw Chris Matulis appear to have locked up their weekend starting spots, the Sunday role, and most of the relief opportunities in between, are still up for grabs.
The takers don’t seem to be stepping forward in numbers.
Joey Bourgeois has piled up a 6.41 ERA in 11 starts. Austin Ross, a one-time Saturday starter, has now seen his numbers slump to 3-4 and a 5.54 ERA in 15 appearances. Michael Reed’s five starts and 11 appearances turned out no decisions and a 9.15 ERA.
“Our pitching has always been a struggle this year,” Mainieri said. “I am trying to find things. I have been giving certain guys chances after chances after chances and they aren’t coming through. It’s time to give someone else a chance.
“In the fall [Zach] LaSuzzo couldn’t throw strikes, but after his last three outings he has come out and had an electric fastball and demanded it,” he added. “And I think the time has come for Mitch Mormann to get a major opportunity to see what he can do for us.”