LSU can get a bye in the SEC tournament. First up, however: Three key games at Auburn.
On Monday, Paul Mainieri walked into the LSU baseball team’s meeting room, scribbled the Southeastern Conference standings on a dry-erase board and explained to players the scenarios heading into the final series of the regular season.
The Tigers can still win the SEC West, he told them. They can still get into the top four in the standings, he said.
The canceled rubber match with Alabama last Sunday didn’t hurt Mainieri’s team as much as some might have thought, he said.
“You could see that they were perking up that it actually affected them,” Mainieri said of the Monday conversation. “I think they know what’s at stake. They understand.”
The Tigers (37-14-1, 14-11-1) meet Auburn (28-25, 10-17) Thursday in the last series of a screwy 2014 season.
What happened this year? LSU has a tied for the first time since 2008, had a game canceled for the first time since 2002 and had two more games cut short because of weather.
The last game Tuesday night was a 27-0 six-inning win over Northwestern State that broke a bevy of school records. The margin of victory was the largest in the 121-year history of the program, and the Tigers pitched their first combined no-hitter – the fifth all-time – in school history.
The focus now, though: Auburn and accomplishing a few attainable goals.
“We know what’s going on around the league,” outfielder Sean McMullen said. “Basically, we want to do what’s in our reach.”
That includes winning the SEC West or, at least, finishing in the top four in the league, a key to hosting an NCAA regional and receiving a bye in the single-elimination portion of the SEC tournament that begins next week.
The Tigers do not control their own destiny, though. The scenarios can get confusing, but if LSU sweeps Auburn it will likely get into the top four. It also has a shot at winning the West if Ole Miss doesn’t win its series at Texas A&M.
A win in the series at Auburn could be enough, too, to get into the top four or win the SEC West. That hinges, a lot, on the series between Mississippi State and Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
More Moore, Zardon
Mainieri said he plans to continue starting freshman Danny Zardon at first base, and Tyler Moore will catch the first two games at Auburn.
Zardon has started the last three games at first, providing what Mainieri calls “a little spark” to LSU’s offense. Zardon hasn’t made an error and is 5-for-11 in the three games and drove in one of LSU’s two runs in the win over Alabama on Saturday. He played first base for the first time all season in that first game against the Tide.
Zardon's infusion into the lineup has a trickle down effect. It mostly affects second baseman Kramer Robertson. With Conner Hale moving from first to second, Robertson could be out of the lineup more often than he has lately.
Fighting for something
While LSU is fighting to get a bye past the single-elimination round of the SEC tournament, Auburn is clawing to make the event.
Entering this week, Auburn is in 13th place in the league, a spot outside of the top 12 that advance to the tournament. Georgia is 12th with a 10-16-1 SEC record. Tennessee is in the No. 11 spot at 11-16.
“That’s their championship,” Mainieri said. “We’ve been there before. Back in 2010, we had to win two of three the last weekend against Mississippi State. I’ve been there. … They’ll be highly motivated.”
AU starter out
Auburn freshman pitcher Keegan Thompson (5-3, 2.01 ERA) is out for the season with a fracture in his foot.
Thompson, expected to participate in Team USA this summer, was the No. 1/2 starter for the Tigers. He took a line drive off of his foot in the series last weekend at Kentucky.