East: Tough tests lie ahead for LSU baseball team

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU shortstop Alex Bregman throws to first base for an out during a game against Auburn last Sunday at Alex Box Stadium. Bregman, a freshman from Albuquerque, N.M., is batting .443 as the Tigers prepare for a three-game series at Missouri.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU shortstop Alex Bregman throws to first base for an out during a game against Auburn last Sunday at Alex Box Stadium. Bregman, a freshman from Albuquerque, N.M., is batting .443 as the Tigers prepare for a three-game series at Missouri.

BY LES EAST

Advocate sportswriter

It’s nearly impossible for a baseball team to do better than a 26-2 start overall and an 8-1 start in the Southeastern Conference.

But just what are we to make of the No. 2 LSU team that has accumulated those gaudy records?

As the Tigers begin the second half of the regular season against Alcorn State on Tuesday night in Alex Box Stadium, the toughest challenges and the most important part of the season lie head.

“We’re proud of what we did,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “We also realize that we have 28 tough games ahead of us, 21 in conference.

“It’s going to be a gauntlet. We could end up not having as good a record in the second half of the season and yet be a better team simply because of what we’re going to face.”

If LSU matched its first-half record during the second half, it would finish the regular season with a 52-4 record.

“Who does that, especially in this league?” Mainieri asked rhetorically.

A rule of thumb, Mainieri said, is that a 20-10 SEC record gives you a legitimate shot at the SEC overall title, which the Tigers won with a 19-11 record last season.

LSU began SEC play by winning two of three at Mississippi State, which is 3-6 in the league. Then it took advantage of two of the worst teams in the league by sweeping Auburn (1-8) and Missouri (2-7).

You can’t do more than sweep, but you can’t really gauge yourself until you play the better teams.

That’s what the Tigers will start doing after Tuesday’s game and a quick trip to Metairie to play Southern Mississippi in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic on Wednesday.

No. 9 Kentucky (6-3) comes to Alex Box over the weekend, then LSU hits the road for consecutive weekends to play No. 12 Arkansas (6-3) and Alabama (7-2).

Next are home series against No. 11 South Carolina (5-4) and Florida (4-5), a trip to Texas A&M (5-4), and a home series against No. 16 Ole Miss (4-5).

“We’re going to have to deal with some adversity during the second half of the season,” Mainieri said.

The Tigers still have some uncertainty. Left-hander Sean McMullen seems to have a handle on the leadoff spot against right-handers, but it’s unclear if he can handle it against left-handers.

LSU’s offense has been more than adequate, but one-third of the lineup against Missouri last weekend comprised players batting less than .200: JaCoby Jones, Ty Ross and Andrew Stevenson.

Cody Glenn has pitched poorly in two of his three SEC Sunday starts, and it’s undecided whether he’ll get a fourth.

The Tigers have done all Mainieri could have asked, but there is still much to be learned about this team that is tied with Vanderbilt for the SEC’s best record.

“We started the season great at 26-2,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “But we want to be known as team that came out the second half of the season and played a hard nine innings every time we took the field and got the win.”