by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
The best way to build your resume for the postseason is to beat the best team in the country, which is exactly what LSU (25-15, 6-12 SEC) will have the opportunity to do this weekend as they host #1 Arkansas (32-7, 13-5 SEC) in Baton Rouge. After taking the series against a gritty Ole Miss team on the road, the Tigers will get their shot to make their case as to why they belong in the NCAA tournament. As it currently stands, LSU is the last team in but still has work to do to make a run at their ninth consecutive tournament appearance.
Coach Mainieri is not one to make excuses, but his roster is filled with freshmen and they are without Jaden Hill, the Tigers Friday night starter, who is out for the season with a UCL injury. LSU had a very front-heavy SEC schedule but will end with Auburn, Alabama, and Texas A&M, all very winnable series.
Landon Marceaux has taken over the Friday night role with a record of 4-3 and a 2.10 ERA. Marceaux has amassed 72 strikeouts compared to just 13 walks on the season. With a little more run support, he could easily be sitting at six or seven wins right now. Marceaux has started six SEC games this season and has allowed one or fewer earned runs in four of those starts.
AJ Labas has been consistent for the Tigers this season with a 3-0 record in ten starts with a 3.15 ERA. Last weekend against Ole Miss, Labas recorded his best outing of the season with a complete game, allowing just two runs against a high-octane Rebels offense. Like Marceaux, Labas has six SEC starts and has allowed two or fewer runs on four occasions.
Coach Mainieri has started multiple pitchers as the third starter but is still searching for someone to step up and solidify that role. Two freshmen, Will Hellmers and Blake Money are the likely candidates, but Hellmers has been unable to record more than three innings in an SEC game while Money has a 7.20 ERA. There is work to be done as LSU is 0-5 in their last five series finales.
The Tigers have five batters above .280 on the season with three of them being freshman, starting with Dylan Crews, who leads the way with a .362 average. Crews is also the team leader in stolen bases with 11 and is second in home runs with 10. Fellow freshman Tre’ Morgan, who was recently named SEC Freshman of the Week for his performance against Ole Miss, is second, batting .358. Gavin Dugas leads the Tigers with 12 home runs and 44 RBI.
Coach Dave Van Horn has the Razorbacks hitting on all cylinders as they are gunning for the program’s first ever national championship. Arkansas has yet to lose a series this year and have separated themselves in the SEC West with a two game lead over Mississippi State.
Five starters are currently batting over .280 on a team that is first the country in home runs and walks. Matt Goodheart leads the way with a .325 average and 11 home runs, followed by Brady Slavens and Robert Moore with ten home runs apiece. Slavens is eighth in the country and second in the SEC with 47 RBI.
Patrick Wicklander and Peyton Pallette have settled into the weekend rotation, but like LSU, Arkansas is still searching for a third weekend starter. Wicklander is 2-1 with a 2.20 ERA on the season, striking out 44 batters and walking 14. Pallette, is just 1-2 with a 3.98 ERA, but has given up fewer than two runs in four of his five SEC starts. Reliever Kevin Kopps has been lights out for the Razorbacks bullpen this season, shutting down nearly every offense he has faced. Kopps is 6-0 with five saves on the season in his 18 appearances with a 0.97 ERA.
The Arkansas pitching staff is currently ranked 58th in the country with a 4.08 ERA, the one concern of Dave Van Horn’s team as they progress in the season. In order for Razorbacks fans to feel comfortable making a deep run in the postseason, Coach Van Horn will need to solidify a third starter.
Matt’s Prediction: If LSU wants to make a late run to secure their place in the postseason, winning the series against Arkansas would be a heck of a start. Coach Mainieri will have his club ready and Alex Box Stadium will be rocking this weekend. Both teams are still searching for a third starting pitcher to emerge so Sunday could be a tossup. I’m going out on a limb and taking LSU in Baton Rouge over the Razorbacks