BATON ROUGE – It’s crunch time for LSU baseball.
In less than two weeks, the Tigers will be in Hoover, Alabama, for the SEC Tournament. In three weeks, they’ll start planning a path to get to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series.
But after getting swept by Ole Miss (31-19, 13-14 SEC) in a series that included a 5-3 defeat that spanned two days, an 11-1 drubbing and an 8-5 Sunday defeat, LSU (33-18 , 14-13) has seen its position drop in the SEC standings and RPI, and likely the national polls.
Here’s a look at how the series has hurt LSU’s postseason chances.
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What went wrong against Ole Miss
Almost everything, but especially the starting pitching.
The Tigers’ Game 2 and Game 3 starting pitchers combined to record four outs. Sunday starter Samuel Dutton threw just one pitch, and Game 2 starter Devin Fontenot gave up three runs before getting pulled.
The longest start of the series came from Ma’Khail Hilliard, who allowed four earned runs in three innings and had his start shortened because of lightning – the game was suspended but resumed in the bottom of the third inning Saturday.
“We still have to get better starts,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said. “Offensively, it just felt like they kept coming at you.”
LSU’s offense and defense also failed it. Without projected first-round MLB Draft pick Jacob Berry in the lineup for the series with a hand injury, sluggers Cade Doughty and Dylan Crews combined to go 2-for-20.
“A couple of guys being hurt doesn’t have anything to do with your competitiveness with two strikes,” Johnson said.
The Tigers’ defensive woes showed in Game 2 when LSU committed three errors and allowed four unearned runs.
How it affects LSU’s seeding
LSU was on the cusp of hosting a regional.
It was 16th in the RPI rankings, 17th nationally in D1Baseball’s poll and 15th in the USA TODAY Baseball Coaches Poll entering the series. Series wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt (4th in RPI) to finish the regular season likely would have made the Tigers a regional host regardless of their performance in the SEC Tournament.
But the series loss complicates matters for LSU.
According to WarrenNolan.com, LSU came into Sunday’s game 30th in RPI when accounting for its losses to Ole Miss. The dip in standing seems harsh, but the Rebels were on the cusp of missing the regionals entirely. Ole Miss was four games under .500 in SEC play and 48th in RPI.
What needs to improve for LSU to bounce back quickly
LSU’s starting pitching has been a hot topic all season.
Sophomore Blake Money has gone from rotation ace to the bullpen. Hilliard has stepped up as the Friday starter but struggled against Ole Miss. And Dutton has failed to escape the first inning in his last two starts.
A consistent LSU starts with a consistent starting rotation. Good starts give ample time for the Tigers’ talented offense to shine and for their bullpen to be put in advantageous situations.
If that rotation can find its footing against Northwestern State at home on Tuesday and Vanderbilt on the road for a three-game series starting Thursday, LSU may be able to salvage its chances of hosting playoff baseball in Baton Rouge.
“We’re essentially in four playoff games,” Johnson said. “So we’re going to have to take care of business.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.