TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The LSU baseball team took care of business over the weekend in the sense that it won two out of three in a Southeastern Conference opponent’s ballpark.
That’s almost always satisfactory in a league that features as many ranked teams as unranked ones.
But the Tigers didn’t play like the team that, to this point in the season, has won at a higher rate than any other in school history. That could still have been said even if they had gotten the one big hit, the one big defensive play that could have turned Sunday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to Alabama into a victory and a series sweep.
Even as LSU won 5-0 behind the brilliance of Aaron Nola on Friday and stumbled its way to an 11-8 win in 16 innings Saturday, it didn’t look like the team that had gone 13-2 in the SEC before coming to Alabama.
“We did some uncharacteristic things this weekend,” outfielder Raph Rhymes said.
What was most uncharacteristic was the Tigers’ poor fielding. They committed three errors in Sunday’s game — one more than they had committed in any SEC series — and six overall.
LSU leads the SEC in fielding percentage, and coach Paul Mainieri has called this the best fielding team he has seen in 31 years of coaching.
Six sloppy plays aren’t enough to change that, but the defense epitomized a weekend in which the Tigers didn’t play the way they are accustomed to playing.
“The one aspect of the game that we’ve been able to count on virtually every day is our defense,” Mainieri said. “It was a matter of us not doing the things that we’ve been doing all year from a fundamental standpoint.”
There were other fundamental problems: missing hit-and-run signals, failing to execute sacrifice bunts, getting picked off, not getting runners home from third with less than two outs.
“We’re going to tighten things up a little bit,” Mainieri said, “get back to a little more discipline, a little more focus on the fundamentals of the game and see if we can’t play to our full potential down the stretch.”
Chris Cotton failed to convert a save for the first time in nine chances when he allowed a three-run homer in the ninth inning Saturday. That came after the Tigers had overcome Ryan Eades’ second consecutive poor start after eight mostly outstanding ones.
Of course, when you win two out of three on the road, there have to be bright spots as well.
In addition to Nola, there was Nate Fury throwing four scoreless innings of relief Saturday.
Cody Glenn threw a career-long eight innings Sunday, showing he can be effective on the road in the SEC.
And the Tigers returned home with a four-game lead in the West, just a game off Vanderbilt’s overall SEC lead, and the shortcomings appear to be aberrations rather than any heretofore masked deficiencies.
“It just wasn’t a very good weekend,” first baseman Mason Katz said. “This was a different team than we’ve had all year.”