COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It’s all baseball from here on out for No. 3 LSU.
With finals complete, the Tigers (43-6, 19-5 SEC) can turn their focus to capping off the 2013 regular season with an impressive finish. That starts Thursday with a three-game set against Texas A&M (26-22, 10-13 SEC), the penultimate series of the season.
With a 3.5-game lead over Arkansas in the division, priority No. 1 for LSU will be handling the Aggies in order to clinch the SEC West this weekend. A sweep of Texas A&M would be enough to win the division, and the Tigers can clinch it sooner with a little help from the Razorbacks.
“I’m a take it one game at a time type of guy, but I want them to see the big picture,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “So they can see it, digest it and then put it on the shelf. I want them to understand what it means. It’s within our own power to clinch the SEC West this week.”
Aside from winning the West, LSU would also like to see a continuation in its run production from a week ago. After the bats doomed the Tigers against South Carolina, the offense rebounded last week against Florida, capped off by an 18-run outburst in the series finale.
As stellar as the pitching has been for LSU, the Tigers can live and die by the bats. In order to maintain the success from last week, they’ll have to score runs against an Aggie pitching staff with a combined 3.60 ERA.
But Texas A&M’s strength is in the rotation, as only one reliever with more than 10 innings pitched has an ERA below 3.
The Aggies will send out their ace Daniel Mengden on Thursday, who leads the team with a 2.10 ERA and 71 strikeouts. Opposing teams have only a .194 batting average against him, but he has surrendered seven home runs this year.
After Mengden will come Parker Ray, who has a 1.85 ERA but has only started two games this season, and Rafael Pineda.
Offensively, Texas A&M tries to capitalize on its speed. The Aggies have three players in the everyday lineup that have stolen 12 or more bases this year, one of those being Mikey Reynolds, who leads the team with a .371 batting average and 28 runs scored.
“I’m glad we have Ty Ross catching for us,” Mainieri said. “I told our pitchers, if they steal second, that doesn’t mean they’re going to score. They still have to get a hit, so you have to pitch in the clutch.”
LSU has speed of its own, and freshman Andrew Stevenson will look to bring that to the lineup this weekend. After serving most of the season in a reserve role, Paul Mainieri announced this week that Stevenson could be the everyday centerfielder moving forward.
Stevenson has gone through his freshman struggles at the plate this season, but his plus-defense makes him an inviting option for the Tigers’ outfield.
“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to do it,” Stevenson said. “Hopefully I can continue to produce and stay in the lineup…At the beginning of the season, I was getting used to seeing the pitchers. Now that I’ve more at-bats, I’m starting to settle in.”
As of Wednesday, Mainieri was unsure who would play in right field. With Texas A&M starting three straight righties, that job could fall on Sean McMullen with Tyler Moore serving as the DH. Mainieri also has the option of starting Mark Laird in RF, keeping McMullen as the everyday DH.
Below is a rundown of the series’ game times, TV listings and pitching probables:
Game 1 – Thursday 8 p.m. – ESPNU
LSU – So. LHP Cody Glenn (5-1, 2.93 ERA, 61.1 IP, 13 BB, 29 SO)
TAMU – So. RHP Daniel Mengden (5-3, 2.10 ERA, 81.1 IP, 18 BB, 71 SO)
Game 2 – Friday 6:30 p.m. – CST
LSU – So. RHP Aaron Nola (9-0, 1.92 ERA, 89.0 IP, 13 BB, 93 SO)
TAMU – Jr. RHP Parker Ray (0-1, 1.85 ERA, 39.0 IP, 8 BB, 24 SO)
Game 3 – Saturday Noon – ESPN
LSU – Jr. RHP Ryan Eades (8-1, 2.36 ERA, 76.1 IP, 22 BB, 68 SO)
TAMU – Jr. RHP Rafael Pineda (5-4, 2.87 ERA, 53.1 IP, 14 BB, 28 SO)
Click on the link below for an HD video from TSD breaking down this weekend's series in College Station.
Video Preview of LSU-A&M
TSD subscribers can discuss the series below.
How will LSU fare against the Aggies?