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Better Know a CWS Opponent: The LSU Tigers

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All you need to know about the team from where I used to live.

LSU's last trip to Omaha.
LSU's last trip to Omaha.
Dave Weaver-USA Today Sports

In the excellent CWS preview by D1Baseball.com, the D1 Baseball Staff provides the following table:

TEAM Scoring (Rank) AVG (Rank) OBP (Rank) SLG (Rank) HR (Rank) SB (Rank) ERA (Rank) BB/9 (Rank) SO/9 (Rank) FLD % (Rank)
Virginia 5.5 (134) .273 (147) .361 (128) .377 (169) 32 (124) 38 (224) 3.52 (56) 4.17 (200) 8.4 (26) .969 (110)
CS Fullerton 5.0 (184) .265 (197) .365 (104) .355 (230) 20 (207) 68 (76) 2.84 (8) 1.72 (1) 8.4 (21) .968 (130)
TCU 6.0 (80) .289 (63) .371 (82) .378 (164) 27 (152) 117 (5) 2.38 (2) 2.19 (6) 8.4 (24) .978 (9)
Arkansas 6.0 (73) .289 (60) .379 (44) .431 (39) 52 (26) 53 (147) 4.06 (102) 4.49 (234) 7.7 (78) .976 (30)
LSU 7.0 (16) .316 (4) .380 (40) .460 (15) 50 (31) 126 (4) 2.84 (10) 3.27 (78) 8.1 (45) .977 (19)
Florida 6.9 (18) .299 (22) .383 (31) .455 (19) 60 (13) 79 (44) 3.22 (30) 2.61 (20) 8.1 (43) .985 (1)
Vanderbilt 6.9 (17) .295 (38) .386 (25) .464 (10) 66 (6) 102 (12) 2.96 (17) 4.15 (199) 9.7 (1) .978 (13)
Miami 8.4 (2) .311 (6) .422 (1) .465 (9) 62 (11) 88 (28) 3.02 (20) 3.06 (58) 7.7 (79) .971 (69)

As such, it's clear that while LSU is quite the balanced team, they really stand out on offense - particularly in batting average and running the bases.  There are no holes in their lineup, and 4 guys have north of 20 steals on the year (led by Alex Bregman's hard to believe 37).  However, their pitching stats are a bit surprising.  As someone who has watched about half of their games on the season, I would write something like this in a scouting report: "Though Friday starter freshman RHP Alex Lange can be dominant and Saturday starter sophomore LHP Jared Poche can beat you, the Tigers have no more than average pitching depth behind them.  Further, as the LSU offense has often bludgeoned teams into giving up early on in games, it's likely the Tigers bullpen has yet to be tested, and a bulk of their innings amassed this year can be categorized as mop-up duty."

To be clear, Alex Lange is the real deal, and I would hate to be TCU and have to face him Sunday afternoon.  Barring a herculean pitching performance by the Horned Frogs, or a rare bad day by Lange, it's tough not to project LSU into the winner's bracket.

However, after Lange (and maybe Poche on a good day), no one scares me.  Sure closer Jesse "Kevin" Stallings has 12 saves and a 2.23 ERA, but he has lost control of his fastball late in the season, and Tigers coach Paul Manieri has had to go to a closer by committee arrangement with Parker Bugg, Hunter Newman, and Zac Person the usual suspects.  All are good pitchers, but none of them have wipe-out stuff.  Even day 2 starter Jared Poche, who has been quite good on the season, is more of a guy who has to beat you by hitting corners and changing speeds than someone whose arm carries him.

After reading many CWS previews, it appears no analyst agrees with me that the Tiger arms past Lange and Poche are a weakness, but none of them have identified their pitching depth as a strength, either.  Potato po-tah-to?  Or do I see it differently from them?  I think it's the latter, but I also trust my eye.

Of course, LSU's offense is so good, it might not matter.

Louisiana State University

Record: 53-10 (21-8 SEC) #3 RPI

All-Time Record Against Vanderbilt: 39-54-0.  LSU owns the historical match-ups by a pretty good margin, but that should come as no surprise.  LSU teams in the 90s and early 00s were historically great, and we were a pile of steaming garbage.  I'd like to know how we've done since Corbin came aboard, but I don't have the research chops to pull that one off.  VTPhD, you're on the case in the comments!

How'd They Get Here?: Easily.  They have played no one since the start of the NCAA tournament.  No one.  Basically, they got 5 byes.  And they barely beat those bye week teams.

Best Win: None, really.  Due to some scheduling-based luck (this has been a theme with LSU Tigers baseball teams, no?), LSU did not play either Vanderbilt or Florida during the regular season.  When they played Florida in the SEC semifinals, they lost 2-1.  As such, their best wins are either a 2-1 home series victory over aTm in late April or a 2-1 away series victory over Arkansas in mid-March, way before Arky hit their stride.  It's weird for a team to be in Omaha and be granted a #2 overall seed without a signature win, no?  Not for the Tigers.  The last actual team they had to face in either the Regionals or Super Regionals was a sneaky good 2012 Stony Brook team, who were a #4 seed who advanced to Omaha.  Seeing as the Selection Committee gave SBU a #4 seed in the Coral Gables region that year, it's safe to say they didn't intentionally schedule an actually good team to face LSU on purpose.  LSU NEVER FACES ANYONE UNTIL OMAHA.

Worst Loss: Also none, really.  Excluding an early season mid-week 6-3 loss to Nicholls State, their only real blemish is losing a late March home series 2-1 to a Kentucky team who got jobbed out of a tourney bid.  In short, LSU beats the teams they're supposed to beat.  You know, like Lehigh, UNC Wilmington, and ULL.  Jebus.

Batter(s) to Keep an Eye On: Sweet lord, they've got a lot here.  Their lineup is as potent a lineup I've seen since the Gorilla Ball era.  Just watch out for all of them.  I mean, only one of LSU's regulars is batting south of .300.  Anyway, I'm going to assume you're all familiar with #2 overall pick SS Alex Bregman (.312/.406/.534 with 9 HR and 37/47 SB), so I'll focus on the two guys who really keep the line-up humming: 7-hole speedster CF Andrew Stevenson and clean-up power-hitting catcher Kade Scivicque (spelled that correctly on the first try, too).

Stevenson (picked in the 2nd round by the Washington Nationals in this year's draft) is a high average hitter with a speed-first game (note his 26/33 SB and 5 3B).  His slash line of .356/.407/.458 tells most of the story, as the only reasons he's not leading off is he's a bit too aggressive at the plate (only 16 BB on the season) and Mark Laird exists.  Still, you're not expecting to face a .356 hitter in the 7 hole, so Stevenson exemplifies the fact that LSU's lineup never lets you breathe.  Stevenson is also either the best defensive CF in college baseball or a close 2nd to Florida's to Buddy "Love" Reed.  He's fast and he always seems to take the best route to the baseball, instinctively.  The OF pairing of Stevenson and Laird pretty much locks down the middle and right side of the outfield.

Worse yet, Stevenson is immortal - and possibly a reverse vampire - as in addition to being a pro prospect, he was a Virginia Congressman from 1821-1834.

^Former Congressman Andrew Stevenson.

Scivicque, who looks like the love child of 1980s era steroids and the Purdue Boilermaker's mascot, has been a surprise line-up anchor.  The senior junior college transfer (SW Mississippi CC) catcher hit .347/.391/.518 on the year, with 20 2B,s 6 HR, and 45 RBI - up from last year's .304, 7 2Bs, 7 HR, and 31 RBI.  He's not the Tigers' most dangerous hitter (that's a toss-up between Alex Bregman and 1B Chris Chinea), but he always seems to come up big in game-deciding situations.  Keep it low and away and reduce him to someone who pounds the 4 gap for singles or saps his power by trying to pull that pitch.  Otherwise, he'll hurt you.  The Detroit Tigers tabbed the big catcher in the 4th round of this year's draft, as well.

^Scivicque's father, seen here encouraging his son.

Pitcher(s) to Watch: I'm assuming we will miss freshman RHP (and Matt Harvey clone) Alex Lange (11-0, 1.89 ERA) and his mid-90s heat, as Coach Manieri has to start him tomorrow afternoon against TCU.  This is huge, as beyond those frightening numbers, Lange has been lights out in the postseason, pitching a complete game shutout against UNC Wilmington, and going 8 innings of 3 run ball against UL Lafayette.

If we face LSU in game 2, we'll face their Saturday starter sophomore LHP Jared Poche (9-1, 2.92 ERA), who, while a perfectly cromulent pitcher in his own right, is more of a battler who can be gotten to early.  When he's hitting his spots with surgical accuracy, he's tough, as he's a pitch-to-contact pitcher who lets his phenomenal defense do most of the work.  However, his .249 batting average against and 5.91 K/9 rate paint a better picture of his ability.  Poche will sit in the high 80s, occasionally touching 90mph, and will change speeds and levels to induce weak contact.  In other words, he's Illinois's Kevin Duchene with a better defense behind him.  And we all know what happened the last time we faced a Kevin Duchene type...

If we miss both Lange and Poche, but face the Tigers in the semi-final game, you have to love our odds, as past their first 2 starters, LSU gets wonky.  They have talented arms, sure, but watch an LSU fan's face when anyone but Lange or Poche is called to the mound:

Key Stat: Games Started.  After Poche's 17 starts and Lange's 16, here are the ERAs of the guys who have tried to be their #3 or #4 starter (more than 3 starts on the year):

Jake Godfrey (9 starts): 4.70 ERA

Kyle Bouman (6 starts): 6.08 ERA

Austin Bain (6 starts): 3.54 ERA

Geaux to their bullpen.  Early and often.

**Pre-Game Update:

It appears PodKATT was correct, and Mainieri is playing fast and loose with his pitching match-ups.  Jared Poche will face TCU, leaving freshman ace Alex Lange for game 2.