Over the weekend, No. 2 LSU (39-6, 16-5) lost their first series of the 2013 season to No. 15 South Carolina (33-12, 13-8). With the exception of Friday night, a game in which LSU defeated the Gamecocks 5-2, the Tigers struggled in multiple aspects of their general approach to the game of baseball.
Throughout their series against South Carolina, LSU repeatedly shot themselves in the foot, not only at the plate, but also in the field and on the mound. While these problems have only recently come up, they are issues that Paul Mainieri will address as soon as he possibly can in order to get his team back on the right track for the rest of the 2013 slate.
The LSU offense has hit a lull
One of the biggest concerns for this 2013 LSU squad was whether or not the offense could be more productive than it was a season ago. Through the better part of the season, the Tigers have been extremely productive and timely at the plate. However, over the last couple of weeks, it has started to seem as though the LSU bats have hit a bit of a lull. It all began last weekend in the series finale against Alabama, a game that LSU lost in extra-innings. The Tigers could not produce a timely hit with runners in scoring position to come out with a victory. The LSU offense was also noticeably less productive on Wednesday night in their 4-3 victory over Tulane. The timely hits were once again lacking.
It was known heading into the series against South Carolina that the Gamecocks featured a very effective pitching staff full of left-handers. When LSU lost 4-2 on Saturday night, the Tigers were able to collect 14 hits and they also got the leadoff hitter on base in eight of the nine innings that they played. Because of this, LSU left ten runners stranded on base throughout the game.
On Sunday, LSU was only able to scrounge together six hits when they were shutout by the Gamecocks. The Tigers had several opportunities to score throughout the game, but they just couldn’t deliver in the clutch with runners in scoring position. They only stranded six men on base on Sunday, but most of the time, they were in scoring position.
The lack of success this weekend wasn’t a result of a lack of hitting overall, but more specifically, it was a simple lack of timely hitting, something that has not been an issue for the Tigers all season. Through the better part of the season, LSU has become known as an excellent two-out hitting team, with countless runs scored in those situations. That aspect of their offense was not on display this weekend. Senior Mason Katz believes that the lack of success of the LSU offense this weekend was due to bad plate approaches.
“We had some feeble swings and some bad at-bats in crucial situations,” said Katz. “ We didn’t play good this weekend and we are better than that.
McCune doesn’t perform up to expectations on Sunday
Junior right-hander Kurt McCune has been very productive for the Tigers since his return from a back injury that he suffered prior to the 2013 season. The hope was that McCune could duplicate his recent success that he had in games against Alabama and Tulane. Last weekend against the Crimson Tide, McCune came in late in the extra-inning game on Saturday night and shut down the Alabama offense for two innings to put the Tigers in a position to win the game. Against Tulane, McCune had almost identical statistics to his outing over the weekend and was very efficient in the two innings that he worked on the mound.
Even though it wasn’t known until Saturday night of this week that McCune would get the Sunday start, the expectations for the righty couldn’t have been higher. However, McCune couldn’t match his previous performances today against the Gamecocks, as he went 2.2 innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs.
Following the game Mainieri explained that McCune was the recipient of some bad luck, but he also didn’t perform up to expectations.
“Kurt didn’t get his curveball over and he didn’t get his stuff down in the zone,” said Mainieri. “That’s stuff that he has been doing, but didn’t do today. He got the ball up and they put the bat on it.”
“The triple in the first inning certainly didn’t help him. That put him in a bad spot because Kurt doesn’t have the electric stuff to get out of situations like that easily.”
Because of the recent performance by McCune, LSU’s pitching plan for the week has already had some changes. Sophomore Cody Glenn was scheduled to start and attempt to go the distance on Tuesday night against McNeese State. Now, Glenn will more than likely only be on the mound for a couple of innings, mainly because Mainieri believes that the left-hander will have to be available to start on Saturday for LSU’s SEC series against Florida
“Glenn will start on Tuesday, but I’m not sure how long he will be in the game,” said Mainieri. “We will have to have him available to start on Saturday, but I need to get him on the mound.”
Mainieri still looking for someone to step up in the outfield
Freshman Mark Laird had been one of the more pleasant surprises of this 2013 LSU squad for most of the season. However, in recent weeks, he has seen his production at the plate drop significantly. At one time, Laird was hitting over .400, but now, the left-hander has seen his average fall to .285. Laird was not in the starting lineup for the Tigers on Sunday against South Carolina. Paul Mainieri explained Laird was not among the starters because he hasn’t been the same player recently that he was earlier in the season.
“Mark hasn’t been aggressive and he hasn’t done the things in recent weeks that made him the player that he was earlier in the season,” said Mainieri. “I thought giving him a rest might fix that.”
Mainieri also made the move this weekend to get sophomore Jared Foster into the LSU lineup. On Saturday night, Foster collected two hits in the LSU loss. Sunday, he went 1-3 with a walk at the plate for the Tigers. His offensive production was more than substantial for LSU throughout the weekend, but other aspects of his performance were concerning to Mainieri.
“Jared did some good things and some bad things this weekend,” said Mainieri. “He was pretty good for us at the plate, but he ran the bases on Saturday in way that is the opposite of what we teach. Today, he tried to make a great play on a ball in the first inning and the guy ended up with a triple out of it. It just put us in a bad situation early.”
With Laird starting out on the bench on Sunday, freshman Andrew Stevenson got the start in center field. However, after one at-bat and a strikeout Stevenson was removed from the lineup in favor of Laird. Moving forward, this will be one of the more interesting aspects of this LSU squad to look for. It is imperative, especially at this point in the season, that one of these players steps up to solidify their spot in the order and in the field. It will almost certainly help with the consistency of the lineup as a whole to have another productive bat in the lineup and solid glove in the field.