Sophomore Aaron Nola
LSU and Kentucky have gone back and forth over the last two seasons, with LSU sweeping the Wildcats in 2011, but losing the series in 2012. Both teams are once again among the top squads in the country, which should make for another competitive series in 2013.
Following two straight conference series sweeps, No. 3 LSU (27-2, 8-1) is now set to host No. 7 Kentucky (22-6, 6-3) in what will be a matchup of SEC powers beginning Friday at Alex Box Stadium. Kentucky last visited Alex Box Stadium in 2011, a series that LSU swept. The Wildcats got the better of the Tigers in their 2012 series by taking two out of three and winning the series.
The Wildcats have won three straight series in the conference, with their latest win coming against Georgia. They also just defeated No. 9 Louisville in a game that was forced into extra innings.
The series between LSU and Kentucky, which begins tonight at 7:00 p.m., will present challenges for both squads. LSU seems to have found their groove in recent weeks and Kentucky has been consistently good all season. LSU’s Paul Mainieri is expecting nothing less than a great weekend of baseball when the Wildcats come to town.
“Our guys are fired up about it,” said Mainieri. “We some great games against them last year in another highly touted series. The ballgames were really good games and I expect nothing less this weekend.”
Kentucky has the ability to pose problems for LSU on both sides of the game, but they have been very good offensively this season. The Wildcats feature four players hitting over .300, but are led at the plate by junior leadoff hitter J.T. Riddle and sophomore A.J. Reed with averages of .352 and .333, respectively. Reed is the lone power threat for the Wildcats, as he has racked up seven homeruns and 30 RBI so far in 2013.
With the Kentucky offense being relatively productive from top to bottom, Mainieri will have his pitching staff take an aggressive approach on the mound. Mainieri explained that it is a necessity when facing a lineup that features guys like Riddle and Reed.
“They’re going to be a challenge and there is no doubt about that,” said Mainieri. “Their leadoff hitter is outstanding and so is their three-hole. I can’t tell you how we are going to attack them, but we will look to take the fight to the hitters. This is an excellent ball club and a very good offensive team.”
LSU’s offense will look to continue their production that they have kept up all season. After 29 games in 2013, the Tigers feature two of the top hitters in the SEC in senior Mason Katz and freshman Alex Bregman. Katz is having a year to remember with a .430 batting average to go along with 13 homeruns and 49 RBI. Bregman doesn’t have the power numbers of Katz, but his .440 average is among the tops in the SEC.
While LSU has been very productive at the plate in 2013, Kentucky features a pitching staff that has the potential to silence a potent lineup. The fact that the Wildcats will throw three left-handers at LSU has already forced Mainieri to adjust his plans at the designated hitter position by putting senior Alex Edward in the role. Mainieri expects to see some very good pitching over the weekend from the Wildcats.
“I don’t know where they grow these left-handers because I can’t ever find this many of them,” said Mainieri. “We have become very accustomed to facing lefties, so I think we will respond well. All of the guys for Kentucky are interchangeable. They think they have the best Sunday starter in the country and it would be hard to argue with them.”
“We know we are going to have a tremendous challenge this weekend.”
LSU’s pitching staff is set for Friday and Saturday, but no decision has been made at this point as to who will start the Sunday game. Here is a look at how the pitching matchups stack up.
Friday (7:00 p.m.)
LSU – So. RHP Aaron Nola (4-0, 2.74 ERA, 46.0 IP, 55 SO)
UK – LHP A.J. Reed (2-3, 2.57 ERA, 42.0 IP, 30 SO)
Saturday (6:30 p.m.)
LSU – Jr. RHP Ryan Eades (6-0, 1.35 ERA, 46.2 IP, 45 SO)
UK – LHP Jerad Grundy (5-2, 2.15 ERA, 46.0 IP, 42 SO)
Sunday (12:00 p.m.)
LSU – TBA
UK – LHP Corey Littrell (4-0, 2.17 ERA, 45.2 IP, 47 SO)
With regards to the Sunday starter for LSU, Mainieri told the media on Thursday that he still wasn’t sure what he would do with the spot in the rotation. Sophomore Cody Glenn may get the start, or the Tigers may go with the pitch by committee approach for the game.
“It could be anybody,” said Mainieri. “Cody Glenn had a great bullpen session on Wednesday, but I think we are just going to take it one game at a time and see where we are after Saturday. That will give us a better feel as to who might be available.”
“We may decide not to even have at typical starter. We may just chop things up to keep them off balance.”
The series will mark the second time that LSU has played a top-15 team in 2013, as they traveled to play then No. 13 Mississippi State to open SEC play. Because of this, fans can expect a great atmosphere for the first big series in Alex Box for the 2013 season, something senior Raph Rhymes is looking forward to.
“It’s going to be a big series with some implications,” said Rhymes. “The atmosphere should be great with two good teams going at it. We are all excited to get this weekend rolling.”