Last weekend, No. 3 LSU (40-6, 16-5) faced some of their first adversity of the 2013 season when they lost their SEC series to South Carolina. The Tigers will look to get things back on track in conference play this weekend when No. 21 Florida (25-20, 12-9) steps into Alex Box Stadium beginning on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m.
The series this weekend has major implications when considering the current standings in the SEC West. LSU currently holds a 2.5 game lead over Arkansas in the division, but losing a series this weekend could change that quickly if Arkansas has a good weekend.
Their record may not show it, but Florida has been on a bit of a hot streak in recent weeks, having won 11 of their last 15 games. The Gators started off slowly at the beginning of the season, but have since gotten heir record back over .500. LSU coach Paul Mainieri once again expects a great series and a lot of competition between the two squads this weekend.
“We expect a really good Florida team to show up at Alex Box Stadium this weekend,” said Mainieri. “They have great players and a great coaching staff and a great history. Once again, we are going to have a great atmosphere here and this Florida team recently swept South Carolina. We all know how good they are. It’s going to be outstanding baseball.”
There is no question that the LSU offense has been more productive than that of Florida’s throughout the 2013 season. The Gators have hit .271 as a team so far this year, with most of their struggles coming in run-producing situations. Sophomore Justin Shafer leads the Gators offensively with a .315 average to go along with four homeruns and 21 RBI. Senior Vickash Ramjit is second on the team with a .311 average, three homeruns, and 23 RBI. LSU will have to shut down the heart of the Florida order this weekend if they hope to be successful.
With the Gators lacking consistency on offense throughout the season, Mainieri attributes the issues to the fact that the Gators have a relatively young squad. However, he believes that they are still very productive and dangerous.
“For the last three years, they have been blessed with a great heart of the order,” said Mainieri. “I’m glad those guys are gone now. You always have a transition phase when you lose players like they have lost, but they replaced them with some very talented guys. They are a little bit younger, but they have to be more confident as the season has gone on.”
The LSU offense will look to outdo the Gators this weekend, especially with the Tigers recently hitting somewhat of a lull at the plate. Just a couple of weeks ago, LSU had two hitters batting over the .400 mark. Following the recent series against South Carolina, the Tigers have no one above that average level. However, the team average of LSU still remains above .300 (.307) and it appears that the Tigers repaired some of their offensive woes in a game against McNeese State on Tuesday night.
The Tigers are led at the plate by freshman Alex Bregman with a .395 average, five homeruns, and 43 RBI. Senior Mason Katz has struggled in recent weeks as his average has fallen to .379. Katz also collected his first RBI in nearly a month on Tuesday night. LSU will look for big weekends out of their offensive leaders if they hope to make a statement against Florida.
“I don’t worry about those guys because they are great players,” said Mainieri. “But if you’re going to win championships, you’re best players have to perform well. Bregman and Katz will be relied upon heavily.”
According to senior Raph Rhymes (.331 average), the Tigers will need to produce runs this weekend.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Rhymes. “They always have good arms and good bats so we are really going to have to produce runs. We are the heart of the order and we need to do more at the plate because everyone else is hitting now.”
The LSU lineup will get a very stiff test this weekend from the pitching staff of Florida, which has compiled an overall ERA of 3.68 in 2013. Not much is known about the matchups that the Tigers will face because the Gators have currently only decided on one starter for the weekend. Junior Jonathon Crawford (4.06 ERA) will get the start for Florida on Saturday.
While only one starter is known, Mainieri believes that Florida will put two other good pitchers on the mound this weekend.
“Crawford will pitch on Saturday and scouts will be looking closely at that matchup with Eades,” said Mainieri. “Other than that, I don’t even know what their rotation is. He hasn’t announced anything. We made our decisions on our own and not based on what they did, but I expect to see some good pitching out of them this weekend.”
The LSU rotation will look to counter that of Florida’s this weekend, but it will have a slightly different look. After Mainieri experimented with junior Kurt McCune as an SEC starter last weekend, he will make the move to go back to sophomore Cody Glenn as the third starter in the LSU rotation. Glenn is typically the Sunday starter in an SEC series, but with games beginning on Thursday night this week, he will open up the series and try to set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Mainieri has his reasons for giving Glenn the ball in the opening game of the series.
“There are a couple of factors,” said Mainieri. “I didn’t want to put Nola out there on one less day of rest with him throwing the complete games. It just seemed like the perfect thing to do since Glenn has the most rest out of anyone. The second factor is that the weather forecast is pretty uncertain. With Nola throwing the amount of innings that he has, the last thing I wanted was to him to get a rain delay after the game started.”
Sophomore Aaron Nola will get the start on Friday night, his usual spot in the rotation. Nola will be attempting to throw his fourth-straight complete game of the season, with the streak extending back to LSU’s series against Arkansas. Junior Ryan Eades will start the final game of the series and will look to improve upon the outings that he has had in recent weeks when he has been hit a little harder than he would like.
Here is a full breakdown of the known pitching matchups for the weekend.
LSU – SO LHP Cody Glenn (5-1, 3.13 ERA, 54.2 IP, 23 SO)
UF – TBA
LSU – SO RHP Aaron Nola (8-0, 2.14 ERA, 80.0 IP, 90 SO)
UF – TBA
LSU – JR RHP Ryan Eades (7-1, 2.30 ERA, 70.1 IP, 62 SO)
UF – JR RHP Jonathan Crawford (3-5, 4.06 ERA, 64.1 IP, 52 SO)
This is an important series for LSU in multiple ways, with the implications on the SEC standings being the most pressing. If the LSU offense performs the way that it is capable of, the Tigers should have no problems throughout the weekend. Things will get rolling in the series on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. Game two will be played on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. as well, with the final game of the series on Saturday at noon.
Click the link below to see what Raph Rhymes and junior Ty Ross have to say about the upcoming series. TSD’s Austin Cooper also provides a preview of what this weekend means for LSU Baseball.
TSD TV: Rhymes, Ross, and Florida Preview