Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Do I Need All This Drama? Hell Yes!

Refuse to Lose! The Tigers beat Rice 6-5 with a 3 run 9th inning double by - who else - Blake Friggin' Dean! (Lighten up, Blake - UDAMAN! At least smirk a little...and do something about the pixelation, bro.)

Down 5-1, LSU chipped away in the 7th and 8th and stole the game in the 9th behind good late inning pitching from - who else - Louis Coleman, some luck, some hitting, and the double of destiny from - who else - Blake Friggin' Dean!

Luck? Hell yeah, some luck. But remember, luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation. In the last three innings, the Owls balked, committed two critical fielding errors, hit a batter, and advanced a runner on a wild pitch. Perhaps the biggest error was by the Rice coach, who left Cole St Clair in the game, even though he was obviously struggling. The Tigers were able to squeeze all six runs out of those three innings with only seven hits.

But let's be honest. LSU bats are in a slump of sorts. Not a HUGE slump. Just a RELATIVE slump. Dean (3) and Helenihi (2) were the only Tigers with more than 1 hit in the Rice game. Clark is 1 for 6 in the CWS so far. Landry is 0 for 6. Mitchell is 2 for 8. Gibbs is 1 for 5. Lamahieu is 2 for 7. So far only Hollander is anything close to hot at 4 for 10. So far, LSU is hitting 19/68 (.278) in the CWS and have 2 homers. LSU is a .308 team with 99 homers on the year (1.5 per game). Just stats, but clearly LSU is struggling a bit offensively.

And LSU pitching is as it has been all season. Good, not great. Solid bull pen. No blow outs. But needing bats to protect them. Today, for instance, LSU ace Jared Bradford fanned 10 batters. Yes, he struck out ten batters. But he gave up 5 runs on 7 hits in just under 7 innings. Not bad - but not enough to cover for a sluggish offense. Against the Tar Heels, Verdugo gave up 6 runs on 10 hits in just under 4 innings.

The difference between the two games, essentially, wasn't pitching. And it wasn't the bad call (yes, he was safe at first. So what. We had other chances.) It was that against the Tar Heels, the Tigers couldn't bring runners home. In the 6th, LSU had two in scoring position with one out and Clark and LeMahieu up. Ground out, pop out. Inning over. Then, LSU had the bases full in the 8th with NOBODY out and Mr. NCAA home run leader, Matt Clark (27), at the plate.

"Hello? God? Thanks in advance for answering my....
Hunh? What? No, you can't be serious..."

Yep. He was serious. Clark strikes out. Then Landry grounded into a double play.

Conversely, against Rice, the struggling Tiger bats woke up just enough to take advantage of runners in scoring position and seal the deal. This is how this team has won all year long. It is how they will likely control the rest of their destiny.

If the LSU bats can hit in tight spots late in the game, they can beat anyone. Because, in general, LSU pitching will bend but not break and probably keep the score within reach. Against anyone. If the bats are still sluggish, then the pitching isn't great enough to reliably win a low scoring game.

To wit: LSU is 3-7 when they score 4 or fewer runs. They are 4-5 when they score 5. They are 52-4 when they score 6 or more.

Perhaps more interesting, LSU is 36-1 when the opponent scores 5 or less. And 13-17 when the opponent scores 6 or more.

So, clearly, LSU's outcomes - most of the time - are driven more by offense than defense. They won't win many 1-0 or 3-2 ball games.

This team wins or loses on the bats. The pitching is good, but not good enough to consistently win a low scoring (less than 5 run) game. And about half the time, the opponent will score 6 or more. So, less than 6 runs for the Tigers offense is a trouble spot.

Bottom of the 8th, Fresno State beating the Tar Heels by one. One more inning for North Carolina to pull it out. If not, it's a rematch in the loser's bracket. Revenge...

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