In an effort to help you get to know Oklahoma's opponent this weekend in the Baton Rouge Super Regional, we reached out to the fine folks at And The Valley Shook, SB Nation's LSU site.
We think you'll find their comments to be very insightful and should help to provide a thorough and in-depth preview of this very talented LSU Tigers baseball team.
CCM: Okay will get into specifics here in a minute, but for OU fans who know nothing about this LSU baseball team give us just a brief synopsis on the team and how they've managed to get to his point of hosting a Super Regional.
ATVS: After last year's disappointing loss to Stony Brook in the Super Regionals, I think most fans immediately pointed to 2013 as a team that could take the next step. Once the dust settled from the draft, LSU lost ace Kevin Gausman who was the #4 overall pick and closer Nick Goody but returned some key contributors in seniors Raph Rhymes, Mason Katz, Chris Cotton and juniors Ty Ross and Jacoby Jones.
They had some holes though which included the entire left side of the infield and essentially the entire outfield. A few things happened...Katz and Rhymes had excellent seasons as expected, even though Rhymes couldn't duplicate his ridiculous 2012 when he led the nation in batting average at .431. Newcomers Alex Bregman (SS) and Christian Ibarra (3B) both exceeded expectations. Alex Bregman was just named Collegiate Baseball's National Freshman Of The Year. And Aaron Nola went from promising freshman to SEC Pitcher Of The Year.
LSU added some newcomers to the outfield and even though freshmen like Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson haven't always hit (Stevenson is currently below the Mendoza Line), both routinely make ridiculous plays on defense and are hell on the base paths. From his centerfield spot, Stevenson seems to make a spectacular play in nearly every game. Some other guys such as designated hitter and leadoff man Sean McMullen and starter Cody Glenn have also stepped up in a big way.
LSU's non-conference schedule wasn't terribly challenging and they took a hefty record into SEC play. But the wins kept coming, and so did the confidence. At the end of the end of the season, LSU was 23-7 in SEC play and won the SEC Tournament, going a combined 27-8 within the conference and 55-9 overall. Obviously, a national seed was a given.
CCM: While this figures to be a match-up between two successful baseball programs as a whole, I think it's more than fair to say the spotlight is on two individuals in an expected Friday night showdown of dueling aces. Obviously, Oklahoma fans are familiar with Jonathan Gray but tell OU fans what they can expect to see from Aaron Nola and what are you most excited to see in the battle between these two aces?
ATVS: As an LSU fan, this game makes me nervous for obvious reasons. It will be tough for LSU to win a Super Regional when they don't win the game that Aaron Nola starts. That's just a fact. But as a fan of college baseball and baseball in general, Friday night is going to be a whole lot of fun.
LSU fans are awfully confident when Aaron Nola takes the hill, and rightfully so. He doesn't have the insane heater that Gray has, but his numbers are almost as good (11-0, 1.82 ERA, 111/17 K/BB in 109 IP, .195 BA against). He is remarkably consistent and really hasn't had a poor outing all year. The closest thing was last week in the Regional against Sam Houston State when they put up five runs in the first inning. None of those runs were earned due to three errors in the inning, but Nola wasn't sharp. He settled in and pitched six nearly flawless innings after that though.
Nola really pounds the strike zone and paints the corners. His control is outstanding. He routinely hits his spots for backwards Ks and rarely makes mistakes and leaves balls out over the plate. He's not going to walk many batters. Most fall, Nola really competes out there on the mound. He'll battle all night long.
CCM: Ryan Eades, who I believe is your No. 2 starter, obviously struggled with control in his most recent start, but from what I've read that seems to be a bit of an anomaly for him. Is there any concern on the part of LSU fans that those control issues might resurface this weekend or are they more on the side of that was a one time deal?
ATVS: Unfortunately, the poor start isn't that much of an anomaly. Eades has outstanding stuff, and that's why he's projected to be selected in the Top 50 picks of the Major League Draft this weekend. His fastball can get up to the mid 90s, but his real "out pitch" is an outstanding curve.
Going way back...Eades suffered an arm injury in high school so he didn't pitch a lot as a freshman at LSU. But that summer, he was the pitcher of the year in the Cape Cod league. For the first half of 2012, Eades was excellent...one of the best pitchers in the SEC. But in the second half of the season, the wheels came off. He couldn't get people out. He didn't pitch last summer in hopes of resting his arm.
Fast forward to this year. Eades again started off outstanding. But at around the same point as last year, he had a couple of poor starts and people started wondering if this year would be a repeat of last. It hasn't been. He has mixed in excellent starts with some poor ones. But since mid April, Eades' ERA is up around 5.00 and is batting average against is just over .300.
The thing is...you don't really know what you're going to get. Eades wasn't good in the last weekend of the regular season against Ole Miss. But against Alabama in the SEC Tournament, he pitched seven innings and allowed just four hits. Then, he had the blowup against Jackson State in the Regional.
In short...if Eades is on, then OU will be up against another #1 caliber pitcher. If he's off, then I doubt he makes it out of the fifth inning and Oklahoma will probably have a lead. It's unclear whether Eades will go on Saturday or Sunday at this point.
CCM: Can you provide any insight into the suspension and now I believe reinstatement of sophomore pitcher Cody Glenn? How much of an impact could his return to this LSU team make over the weekend?
ATVS: I can't offer too much on the suspension other than it was for the famous "violation of team rules."; however, Glenn has been reinstated thanks to a vote by his teammates. His impact could be a significant one.
In 2012, Glenn was a much heralded freshman who could never quite put it all together. In 2013, he started a bit shaky but finally settled in. In his last six or so starts, his ERA is barely above 1.00. His command has been excellent and his control, which got him into trouble early in the season, has been razor sharp. The big lefty doesn't overpower you with strikeout numbers, but batters simply can't get square him up and get good swings on him.
Now...will the week off and distraction/pressure of returning from that suspension affect him? I don't know.
This run he's on started right around the same time that Eades started to struggle a bit. There's really no question that he has been LSU's second best starter since the beginning of April. But will head coach Paul Maineri trust Glenn to take the ball ahead of Ryan Eades? I honestly don't know. Personally, I make the decision to give the ball to Glenn in about two seconds.
CCM: Alright, enough with all this pitching talk. This is an LSU squad that as a team finished the season with a .300 plus batting average and finished towards the upper half of a number of offensive categories. Who are the big names for OU fans to look out for and maybe more importantly, how does this team typically put runs up on the board (i.e. "small ball/manufacture" or more of a "chicks dig the long ball" type of approach)?
ATVS: LSU is definitely not a small ball team. They'll hit and run occasionally and have a couple of guys they like to use for bunts. But mostly, Paul Maineri lets his guys hit. The big names to look for are in the #3 through #6 spots in the order. The three hole hitter since the beginning of the year has been true freshman Alex Bregman. This kid is a marvel. He's just a pure baseball player and is putting the finishing touches on one of the best freshman season of all time at LSU. He leads the team in hitting at .385 and has some pop with six home runs, too. He's also 15 for 16 in stolen bases.
First baseman Mason Katz hits cleanup and is the senior leader and one of the better hitters in the country. He's at .378 16 HRs 68 RBIs. He's also content to take a walk or do whatever he needs to do in order to get on base. With a .467 OBP, he's just a really tough out. After Katz comes Raph Rhymes. Rhymes doesn't hit for much power....but he just hits. His balls just seem to find holes. Rhymes lived at around .500 for most of last season (not at typo) before finally settling down and leading the nation with a .431 average. This year, he's been between .330 and .350 for most of the season. He does have a tendency to hit into double plays though. And at #6 is third baseman Christian Ibarra, who has routinely made the opposition pay for pitching around the aforementioned guys. Ibarra has shown surprising power with six home runs and has perhaps been LSU's most consistent hitter, hovering around .330 all year.
Also watch leadoff man Sean McMullen. He's not your typical leadoff man. He has good speed, but not great. But he's a doubles machine and is really locked in right now. His .433 OBP is second on the team to Katz. Towards the bottom of the order a pair of veterans in Ty Ross and Jacoby Jones. After hitting in the .290s last year, Ross has been at .210 or so this year but has had a TON of clutch hits for the Tigers. Jones has been really hot over the last two months and has a lot of talent. He's projected to go in the top five rounds this weekend. Those guys can sometimes get things going towards the bottom of the order and when those innings bleed back to the top of the order, LSU can really do some damage.
All of that sounds like a really glowing report, and it is. This team can hit. But they've had stretches where the bats just go silent for many innings, especially against aces. Ryan Stanek of Arkansas silenced LSU...twice. Daniel Mengden of Texas A&M did the same. But LSU has also jumped all over some good pitching, too.
CCM: In reading up on this LSU team, there seemed to be several mentions of players dealing with/playing through injuries. How healthy is this team heading into the Super Regional and could you see any of these injuries playing a significant role in the outcome of this series?
ATVS: LSU has been dealing with some issues, and all of them have seemed to pop up within the last few weeks. Prior to the final regular season series, second baseman Jacoby Jones injured his wrist and missed two weekends. Mark Laird twisted an ankle and missed the SEC Tournament and most of the Regional. In the first game of the Regional, Alex Bregman and Raph Rhymes collided and knocked heads. Both played the next day, surprisingly. And then Sean McMullen is day to day with a pulled hamstring from Saturday night, though he's expected to be able to go this weekend.
The Tigers went all season without any issues and suddenly get a rash of them within a few weeks. However, it seems that everyone is healed up and ready to go. Jones, Laird, Bregman and Rhymes should be 100% and McMullen should at least play, even if he's not completely healthy. Typically, McMullen is the DH though, so it shouldn't affect him as much.
CCM: With rare, possibly even no, exception LSU fans are known to come out in droves to support their teams. I'm sure this weekend will be no exception, so what kind of role do you see the crowd playing over the course of these two, potentially three games? I know many an Oklahoma fan who still tell horror stories about what they experienced back in January 2004. Do we need to pack our riot gear or will things be a little more tame this time around?
ATVS: While I kind of doubt many of the stories I heard from January, 2004...no riot gear needed. The baseball crowd is typically much more respectful of opposing teams and fans than you see across the street at Tiger Stadium.
But that doesn't mean the crowd doesn't make an impact. Expected to be 10,000 plus for each game, Oklahoma will see an environment I'm guessing they haven't seen all year...certainly not last weekend in Blacksburg.
Many many times, I've seen the opposition crumble under the pressure at Alex Box stadium. It's definitely a factor and will take a great deal of maturity and fortitude for Oklahoma to play through it.
Win or lose, it should be a really fun trip for the Sooners fans that make the trip.
CCM: Okay, so we obviously cannot let you go without a prediction. Three part question: (1) Will these two teams be playing on Sunday? (2) Whose coming out of Baton Rouge? (3) Who ya got for this Super Regional's Most Outstanding Player?
ATVS: (1) Yes
(3) I'll go with senior/team leader Mason Katz
We'd like to thank And The Valley Shook for their time and encourage you to check out their fine work both this weekend and once the college football season rolls around. Because remember, barring a bowl game match-up between now and then they're on OU's football schedule in 2018 & 2019. Nothing like a little prep work five-to-six years out, right?
Should be a fun baseball weekend with a trip to Omaha on the line!