East: Schedule forces LSU baseball team to make its own breaks

The LSU baseball team didn’t get any breaks when this season’s Southeastern Conference schedule was put together.

This is the first season since the league expanded to 14 teams with the addition of Texas A&M to the West Division and Missouri to the East.

A quirk in the schedule had the defending West Division and overall champion Tigers in the unenviable position of having to play four of their six division opponents on the road.

That unbalanced schedule made LSU’s path through the division more challenging than normal, though it also included three home series among the four against East Division opponents.

No other team in the SEC had to play more division games on the road than it got to play at home.

Imagine one SEC football team being forced to play more division games on the road than at home — more division road games than anyone else in the conference.

But more than halfway through the grueling 30-game SEC schedule, the Tigers haven’t been fazed by the lopsided schedule — or anything else, really. They have played three West opponents on the road and won all three series — beating Mississippi State, Arkansas and Alabama.

Throw in a sweep at Missouri and home sweeps of Auburn and Kentucky, and LSU is riding high at 15-3 in the league, holding a four-game lead on Arkansas — the only team with four division series at home — in the West and sitting just a game behind overall leader Vanderbilt.

After the Tigers squandered a chance to sweep Alabama when they lost 4-3 in 10 innings Sunday in Tuscaloosa, coach Paul Mainieri wasn’t prepared to assess the team’s status in the league other than to say, “We’ve got a lot of tough games left.”

Indeed they do, with 12 more league games — in addition to three nonconference ones starting with Tulane on Wednesday night in Alex Box Stadium.

It’s the weekends that will determine where No. 2 LSU will stand going into the postseason, and the Tigers have finished each of their six weekends with more wins than losses.

It will be a challenge to continue that streak for another month.

Next up this weekend is South Carolina, fresh off a sweep of Kentucky and tied with Arkansas for the third-best record in the league at 11-7. Then Florida comes to town, and the Gators (10-8) had won six consecutive league games before losing to Missouri on Sunday.

LSU finishes with two West series — going to Texas A&M (7-11), then hosting Ole Miss (10-8).

So there are enough challenging games left that LSU could fail to catch Vanderbilt to repeat as overall champion and even lose its grip on the West.

But if the Tigers can handle the home-heavy stretch run as well as they handled the road-heavy month and a half preceding it, they’ll enter the postseason with as impressive of a résumé as anyone.