As shocking as the Super Regional result was last year, things weren’t as bad as they seemed.
LSU finished the season ranked fourth in the SEC in batting average in front of teams like Florida and South Carolina. The Tigers led the league in runs scored. They won games when opposed by aces Ryne Stanek, Alex Wood, Chris Stratton, Michael Roth and Bobby Wahl.
They also stunk it up for the better part of three days against a team no one had ever heard of.
The makeup of the team was flawed, sure. Mason Katz shouldn't be playing center field, and you’d like to have a better option than Grant Dozar at designated hitter. But winning the SEC, earning a national seed and sweeping through a regional is an accomplishment.
The three-foot letters on the front of the team meeting room don’t say, “Super Regional”, though, and I understand that. The goal was not met last year. Everyone in the program gets the picture.
They’re out to one-up themselves this year, and there are some real changes to the team that may give them a better shot.
The biggest loss on this team is Kevin Gausman. You don’t get the No. 5 pick in the draft all that often, so losing him is a big time blow. Of the 17 games he started last season, LSU won 14. That’ll help you win some series.
Of course the closer situation hasn’t sorted itself out yet, and losing the veteran leadership of Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover hurts in some form or fashion. Either way, I’ll miss getting to Alex Box an hour early to watch Austin Nola suck up ground ball at shortstop. He is the best to ever wear the purple and gold there. Period.
But Friday night when Bill Franques says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, please rise for the singing of our national anthem,” those guys will be a memory. The 56-game regular season grind will be upon us.
Last season I gave you five bold predictions for the season, and two of them actually came to pass. When you throw out the fact that one of my predictions was a walk out song that never graced the speakers, I really went two for four on baseball prognostications. Not terrible.
Kevin Gausman did lead the SEC is strikeouts, edging Chris Stratton. Aaron Nola did join the weekend rotation at Kurt McCune’s expense. Those I nailed.
I thought LSU could win every pre-conference game. They lost three, two to Appalachian State and one to Notre Dame. And I called for fewer than 20 home runs as a team, adding that no one would sniff 10. Katz hit 13.
So here is your next crop of five.
1. LSU will fair better on the road than at home in SEC play- Alex Box Stadium is a powerful place. I’ve seen opposing players gag in there like a dog in a Popeye’s box. Oregon State’s third baseman made four errors in on game last year in the regional. Still, when you look at the schedule, it appears to me that LSU can do some damage on the road. I love that LSU makes trips to Missouri and Alabama. That could be five wins right there against two pretty poor programs. Texas A&M is in a bit of a rebuild, and the final two are Mississippi State and Arkansas. Nothing in this conference is easy, but I like that lineup more than I like Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Auburn and Kentucky.
2. Ty Ross will hit eight home runs- Doesn’t sound that wild, now does it? Keep in mind that Ross has just four in his LSU career to this point. I really think Ross is primed for a breakout season. He was solid last year after trimming down and gaining some confidence, but I think he becomes a force in the middle-bottom half of the lineup for LSU this year. Ross will never be a power hitter because his stroke is good enough to hit line drives to the opposite field, but he’s going to attack more pitches this year than he ever has. He’s plenty strong enough to reach the seats, and I think he’ll double his career total this season.
3. LSU will steal 75 bases- This is another number that doesn’t look too crazy, but LSU played to Game 3 of a super regional last season and stole just 41. This would be a massive uptick. There are a few reasons I like this prediction. Obviously, the first is that there are more guys on the team capable of swiping bases. The additions of Mark Laird, Sean McMullen and Andrew Stevenson are a big part of that. The losses of Austin Nola, Tyler Hanover, Jordy Snikeris and Grant Dozar are virtual additions by subtraction in this case. They combined to steal seven last year. Chris Sciambra has a full season to play, and JaCoby Jones should be on base more often than he was last year. All of those factors lead me to believe the Tigers will be running this year.
4. Ryan Eades will win nine games- There are 14 weekend series, and you would imagine he’ll get a at least one in the postseason. I think he can win nine. Eades was unhittable in the fall and has the ability to carry that over to the regular season. Let me bring you back to the Ryan Eades that went seven one-run innings against Mississippi State last year. I know, Mississippi State wasn’t exactly the ‘27 Yankees on offense last year, but he can put the clamps on SEC lineups when he locates his fastball and gets his breaking ball down. If Eades has a good first month, watch out. I think the confidence will breed success, and he’ll finish his LSU career with a strong season. For reference, Eades won five games last year.
5. In June, I will drink beer at Barrett’s Barleycorn- And I’m not going to Omaha if LSU isn’t there.
See y’all at The Box!