For a time, the LSU baseball team looked like it might have been poised for a deep postseason run. In the end, however, the Tigers couldn’t disguise their shortcomings. Here’s a look at how they did, and what might have been.
Standing outside of LSU’s dugout following a season-ending loss last week, catcher Tyler Moore uttered these words: “We did not expect going out this early. It’s a big shock to us.”
But maybe it shouldn’t have been.
LSU’s 2014 season included a No. 1 ranking, a five-game winless slide, a 10-game winning streak and just the fourth home regional tournament defeat in program history.
It had a bit of everything — even a late-season surge that likely ballooned expectation levels to unrealistic heights.
A wild May ride led to a Southeastern Conference tournament title and a No. 8 national seed — two things that seemed impossible just days before they were attained.
Realism hit in the regional.
The 2014 LSU team relied too much on patchwork pitching. The Tigers didn’t have a fourth power arm to go with starters Aaron Nola and Jared Poché and closer Joe Broussard.
Even coach Paul Mainieri admits that.
“We had to piece it together,” he said. “We didn’t have three starters. That was because we lost five or six pitchers.”
Mainieri expected to have four pitchers this season who could have worked into the weekend rotation. Hunter Newman and Russell Reynolds missed with injuries, and Dylan Williams (arrested) and David Palladino (drafted) are signees who never made it to campus.
LSU’s pitching depth took a hard hit from all of the above.
Kyle Bouman’s midseason ankle injury didn’t help things, either. Cody Glenn’s disappointing year only hurt, too, and so did the absence of Mitch Sewald, who was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.
Ultimately, the lack of depth showed itself in the regional.
Still, the Tigers finished third in the SEC, won the league tournament and were a national seed.
They didn’t fail in any of the four areas in The Advocate’s report card.
The Tigers finished the season with a .976 fielding percentage. That was 19th nationally entering NCAA super regional weekend. Shortstop Alex Bregman’s 10 errors were seven fewer than he had as a freshman last season. And he had more putouts and assists this year. The left side of LSU’s infield — Bregman and third baseman Christian Ibarra — had to be one of the best nationally. Combine that with a speedy outfield that had a penchant for making acrobatic plays, and the Tigers graded out well here.
LSU amassed a whopping 154 hits (12 per game) in its final 12 games of the year, but that late-season hot streak didn’t tell the entire tale of the season. The Tigers had a midseason lull at the plate. Everyone had slumps — from Kade Scivicque to Bregman to Sean McMullen, even. The Tigers never quite found a solid No. 3 and No. 4 hole hitter, using a true freshman (Jake Fraley) in the 3 hole late in the year. Fraley and Andrew Stevenson, who raised his average more than .140 points from 2013, were bright spots.
STARTING PITCHING: B
With ace Aaron Nola on staff and the 12th-best team ERA nationally (2.60), it’s tough to drop this unit below an ‘A,’ but LSU never found reliable No. 3 and No. 4 starting pitchers. It’s something that came back to bite the Tigers in the tail (see the Baton Rouge regional championship game). Still, Nola was great, and Jared Poché was solid. For much of the year, LSU pieced together its Game 3s well. In the end, though, the absence of a solid and steady third and fourth starter cost the Tigers.
This group wasn’t helped by the lack of a No. 3/4 starting pitcher. Relievers, at times, had to go deep and long in games because of the starting pitching situation. Taking that into account, and the fact this team lost its top five relievers from 2013, the bullpen did as good a job as one could hope. Closer Joe Broussard was a solid, strike-throwing force. Freshmen Parker Bugg and Alden Cartwright, and Zac Person and Nate Fury each finished with ERAs below 3.