Talented LSU rolling with an eye on College World Series
STARKVILLE, MS - LSU and its relentless offense have powered through the baseball season with relative ease this spring.
The veteran lineup does just about everything well, leading the Southeastern Conference in batting average, doubles, triples and stolen bases. It's the main reason the Tigers (40-8, 16-7 SEC) haven't lost two games in a row and won their fifth straight league series last weekend by taking two of three games against Mississippi State on the road.
"It's about as good of a lineup as you can put together in college baseball," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Compiling 40 wins by early May is an impressive feat. But for one of college baseball's most accomplished programs - which is currently the consensus No. 1 team in the national rankings - a good regular season won't be enough.
Success will be measured by making it to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska - and winning once the Tigers get there.
By its lofty standard, there's been a dry spell in Baton Rouge.
LSU hasn't won a game in the CWS since their last national championship in 2009 and junior outfielder Mark Laird knows the 10,000-plus fans that pack Alex Box Stadium on a nightly basis are expecting more from this veteran-laden team.
With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the postseason is coming quickly.
"That's why a lot of us came to LSU - we want to meet those expectations," Laird said. "But you can't get ahead of yourself. Always focus on the game at hand."
Laird knows how quickly a good season can fall apart. The 6-foot-2, 173-pound junior, who is hitting .335 this spring, was a freshman in 2013 when the Tigers looked nearly unstoppable.
Much like this year's team, LSU breezed through that regular season and advanced to the CWS with a 57-9 record. But two straight losses in Omaha sent them home stunned and empty handed.
"The game gives and the game takes away," Mainieri said. "I've been around for a long time. You can work like crazy for a full year and then it comes down to a given weekend or a given day."
LSU hopes its prolific offense - which includes a .319 team batting average that ranks third nationally - will make them as slump-proof as possible during May and June.
The lineup has an impressive blend of power and speed. Shortstop Alex Bregman is a perfect example - he's batting .337 with 20 doubles, eight homers and is 26 of 32 on stolen base attempts. The 6-foot-0, 186-pound junior is expected to be a coveted commodity in the Major League Baseball amateur draft in June.
He's not the only one making life difficult for opposing pitchers. Seven regulars are batting above .300 and four have at least 12 stolen bases.
"We're really aggressive on the bases and that's stealing some attention from the pitchers," Bregman said. "When that happens, you usually get good pitches to hit."
Even though LSU's offense rightfully gets most of the attention, it's a well-rounded roster.
The pitching staff - which is led by sophomore Jared Poche' and freshman Alex Lange - ranks second in the league in ERA and third in strikeouts. The defense is among the league leaders in just about every category, too.
"We have ourselves in position to attain every goal we wanted this year," Laird said. "Now it's our job to go out and attain it."
Mainieri agrees. He won't make any promises about this bunch, but he said the lineup is very similar to 2009, when the Tigers marched through Omaha for the program's sixth national title with a lineup that included current Colorado Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu.
"I feel like we're on the verge of another (championship). I really do," Mainieri said. "I believe in this team, I think we're capable of winning a championship and I'll continue to feel that way unless, of course, for some reason it doesn't happen."
Image: Steve Franz, LSU Athletics Staff Photographer