Three Up, Three Down

Aaron Nola had an impressive start to the season

This new weekly feature examines three positives and three negatives from LSU baseball's previous week. Though there's plenty of good things to take from the Tigers' sweep of Maryland, some inconsistencies at the plate are still a cause for concern.

THREE UP

1. Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades start the season with impressive outings

Widely considered one of the best one-two punches in the nation, Nola and Eades lived up to that billing during the opening weekend. Each pitched six-plus scoreless innings (Nola 6 2/3, Eades 6 1/3) with a combined 15 strikeouts.

Nola lived up to everything expected of him after his stellar freshman season. He only allowed three of the 23 batters he faced to reach base, leading to a .095 batting average against him. After an inconsistent 2012 campaign, Eades kicked off 2013 with an impressive outing. He didn't allow a baserunner to second base until two outs into the fifth inning, and left with a no decision only because the offense couldn't find its stride until after his exit.

If these two pitchers can maintain this success through the season, opponents will have a hard time getting wins on Friday and Saturday.

2. The defense shined

Not only was LSU's pitching phenomenal throughout the series, but the defense came through when the Tigers needed it. Look to Mark Laird's plays on Saturday as proof. Ryan Eades exited the game with one out and runners on first and second base. Maryland DH Matt Bosse then lifted one off reliever Kevin Berry deep into the right-center gap.

Laird showed his tremendous speed and ran that ball down, saving two runs. He followed that up with an off-balance catch against the bullpen wall while stumbling over the mound. We might as well mention his diving catch in RF — in that same game.

LSU only committed one error — on a play where JaCoby Jones lost the ball in the sun — all weekend, and impressive plays were made all around. Add in that defensive consistency with the Tigers' ability on the mound, and runs will come at a premium for LSU opponents.

3. Chris Sciambra and JaCoby Jones were seemingly always on base

Sciambra and Jones were on base more often than they weren't in the three-game series against Maryland. Sciambra, who hit leadoff for LSU in all three games, reached base an absurd 75 percent of the time, adding four walks to five hits in 12 AB. He set the tone for the Tiger offense all weekend.

Jones, who struggled with consistency in 2012 and struck out 47 times, finished the weekend with a .636 OBP after drawing four walks, more than a quarter the amount he had all last season. The weekend served as a great launching point for Jones, who has plenty of expectations heading into his junior season.

We should also acknowledge freshman Alex Bregman, who finished the weekend with a .455 batting average and .538 OBP.

THREE DOWN

1. Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes slumped

Two of LSU's most consistent offensive weapons from 2012 struggled at the plate during the opening weekend. Katz and Rhymes combined to go just 4-for-21 from the plate, with Katz's lone hit coming in the fifth inning of the series finale. That LSU was able to win all three games points to the depth of the lineup this season, but the offense would seem doomed for failure if these two don't find their stride.

Katz and Rhymes accounted for 105 combined RBI last season, both atop the team leaderboard in that stat. Hitting in the heart of the order, they will certainly have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. But based on their numbers through the first three games, their run-production may not be as sure a thing as most expected.

2. Pitching injuries

Three pitchers have already missed time with injuries this season. LSU lost Joe Broussard in the fall to elbow surgery, then lost Nick Rumbelow for at least three weeks to an oblique strain. The injury list added another name went Kurt McCune started experiencing back spasms before the season opener.

McCune's injury forced Chris Cotton to come out of bullpen Friday and Saturday, scratching his Sunday start. Brent Bonvillain replaced him, and was serviceable through four innings but found himself in jams and struggled to throw strikes at times. LSU then had to call on five newcomers to complete the game, and while that strategy may work in the opening week, it likely isn't a long-term solution.

Already a thin pitching staff in terms of experience, LSU needs Rumbelow and McCune to return to full strength to make sure that veteran presence is in the bullpen come conference play.

3. Double Plays

LSU hit into five double plays this weekend — three in the opening game. Three of those rally killers ended innings and likely hindered the Tigers' already limited offensive production.

LSU did find its stride at the plate on Sunday, but the double play is already a trend carrying over from 2012, when LSU hit into 66. LSU added speed to its lineup in 2013 with hopes of simply running out those DPs, but so far that hasn't worked. Until LSU can prove it can consistently drive in runs, it doesn't need to be its own worst enemy with double plays.

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