Saturday, March 15, 2008

Checking in on Baseball

We interrupt the end of basketball season to remind you that LSU baseball has just begun its SEC schedule. LSU went to Tennessee and dropped the first game 6-5 and looks like they will wait until Sunday to play again due to weather. A 6-5 loss is actually a perfect indicia of the season so far.

If you're an optimist, you'll see the good things from the game: Matt Clark hit his seventh home run of the season, which is as many as any tiger hit last season. Every starter got on base once, showing some real depth in the lineup. Bradford, our All-American pitcher, threw nine strikeouts in five innings of work. And Aaron Ross threw three innings of scoreless ball from the pen. The team fell behind and rallied back, and had the tying run at second and the go-ahead run at first in the 9the inning. All of these were good things.

If you're a pessimist, you start with the obvious: we lost. Bradford, a guy we need to be awesome, let up six runs in five innings, which isn't good. Sure, everyone got on base, but no one had a multihit game. Hollander drew the team's only walk, and he was hitless. Jared Mitchell kept up his trend of striking out at a truly prodigious rate. LSU rallied, but that means they fell behind: 6-1 after six innings. And LSU never put up a crooked number on the scoreboard, scoring 3 or more runs.

Both groups are right. There are some really encouraging signs from this team. Clark is a masher. Blake Dean is picking up where he left off last season. DJ LeMahieu has been a revelation both in the field and a the plate. The pitching has been solid, though not overwhelming. Even Mike Hollander is hitting .300. And there are quality bats coming off the bench. They are even playing good defense. This team is ten times better than last year's squad.

But that isn't saying much. Last year's squad was terrible. The bullpen is still unreliable. LSU has been getting wins, but they have played a creampuff schedule. Even with the steady diet of patsies, LSU has been unable to get a sweep, seemingly always dropping the third game. That points to the weakness of finding a third starter and the bullpen. Mainieri has been unable to find a starting job for Helenhi, who is one of the team's better hitters. Hollander's hitting .300, but with no power. And while Dean is a stud, finding the other two outfielders has been the biggest problem. Mitchell strikes out way too much. Escobar was awful but coming off injury, Landry is hitting .229, Jones may not be ready, Pontiff lacks speed and power, and Gaudet... well, I can't find a problem with Gaudet other than he can't seem to get the starting gig.

A lot of this is nitpicking. The team looks pretty good, but the SEC is capital "L" loaded, so pretty good may not cut it. And potential around these parts don't make the sun shine. LSU expects wins in baseball. The pieces are there, and hopefully, they are coming together. Because I'm feeling like an optimist today.

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