Vanderbilt (24-5, 6-3 SEC) v. LSU (19-9, 4-5 SEC).
It has been about two years since we've played the Bayou Bengals (taking 2 out of three in mid-March, but losing big in the SEC tourney in Hoover), so I'll forgive you if you're a little uncertain about what kind of team we'll be facing. Don't let the name on the jersey fool you, this year's LSU Tigers aren't near the Gorilla Ball teams of yesteryear. However, they have enough starting pitching talent to be more dangerous than their conference record indicates thus far.
The Tigers are coming off a hard fought series win at Plainsman Park in Auburn that could have easily tipped in favor of the other Tigers. Auburn somewhat improbably took the first game of the double header 8-5, scoring 7 runs in 6 and 2/3 off last year's freshman of the year, Alex Lange. Lefty Jared Poche pitched the Bayou Bengals to victory in the second game of Saturday's double header, going 6 and 1/3 IP, of one run ball.
However, last year's Achilles Heel is still tender, as their bullpen nearly blew that one - yielding 1 run in the 8th and 4 in the 9th. The Tigers' pen has only recorded 2 saves on the season.
Poche has been what he's been in each of his three seasons - a dependable, though not dominant, Friday lefty. Lange, however, has not been the dominant ace and potential #1 overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft he looked all of last year, and his 5.02 ERA shows you all you need to know. He still has 1-1 talent, so he's eminently dangerous, but it's been a down year thus far.
The biggest surprise, however, has been the perfectly cromulent pitching of the Senior transfer from Akron - LHP John Valek III. He's nothing special, stuff wise, but is the kind of seasoned soft-tossing lefty that traditionally gives us fits, and has a sub-3.00 ERA midway through the season, so it might be wise to lock this series up by Friday. Just saying.
At the plate, LSU is reeling from the losses of SS Alex Bregman and C Kade Scivicque. While their hitting numbers are just fine, their power numbers are down significantly, which has dragged the overall offense down.
See the side-by-side comparison done by @VuHawkTalk:
On The Mound
Thursday, April 7, 6pm CT SECN
Vanderbilt So. RHP Jordan "Top Sheff" Sheffield (4-1, 2.27 ERA), LSU Jr. LHP Jared "Slow" Poche (3-3, 2.38 ERA).
Despite the difference in record, this should be a tough game, as Poche can be tricky when he's hitting his spots and the off-speed stuff is working. If he can get an umpire to expand the strike zone on the outside corner, watch out.
Still, this match-up should favor Sheffield, as with the reduced threat of the long ball in LSU's lineup, Sheff can rear back and fire without having to worry about keeping the ball down against every batter. He should still concentrate, but LSU lacks the gun powder in their bats to make him pay for mistakes with one swing (compared to the LSU teams of the 90s who hit approximately eleventy billion home runs per game).
On offense, the recipe for success is patience at the plate and putting the pedal to the floor on the run game. LSU's catchers are throwing out about half the would-be baserunners as Vanderbilt's tandem of Delay and Ellison are (and 2/3 of base-stealers are swiping bags with ease against LSU catchers in SEC play). Swipe the chest, Corbs... it's running season.
Friday, April 8, 7:30pm CT ESPNU
Vanderbilt So. RHP Kyle "The Movement" Wright (4-1, 1.60 ERA), LSU So. RHP Alex "Jessica" Lange (2-2, 5.02 ERA).
Wright will continue to be his solid self. Lange has real Jekyll and Hyde potential, so cross your fingers that the Lange that pitched at Plainsman Park is the one we get, and not the 2015 version, which was basically Matt Harvey in Purple and Gold.
Saturday, April 8, 2pm CT SECN+
Vanderbilt So. RHP Hayden "The Stone Cold K-Reamer" Stone (0-1, 3.44 ERA), LSU Sr. LHP John "The Transfer" Valek III (5-1, 2.92 ERA).
Stone has yet to go deep into a game, so these have been more like staff games. Though Valek is the type of pitcher who has given Vandy teams fits in the past, we've actually been pretty good against soft-tossing lefties this year. Barring a home plate umpire as horrible as the guys we got in the Missourah series, I'd bank on that continuing.
Player(s) to Watch
Though there's no Bregman and Scivicque, LSU still has a few guys who can rake. Watch out for their trio of outfielders - So. Beau Jordan (.354/.411/.479), Fr. Antoine Duplantis (.349/.423/.459), and especially Jr. speedster Jake Fraley (.325/.417/.456) who has been off and running, hitting 4 triples and swiping 15-20 bags this season.
Irresponsible Statistic of the Week
Vanderbilt has won the National Championship 100% of the time in seasons in which our current junior class has played LSU.