Dig Baton Rouge

Troubled tigers: LSU baseball experiencing growing pains in SEC play

The LSU baseball team is now zero-for-the Southeastern Conference season, dropping consecutive series to Alabama and Texas A&M.

The Tigers sit at 2-4 in conference play at press-time – a mark that sits in the bottom-half of the league standings.

Get used to that feeling, Tiger fans.

It might be a long, long year in Baton Rouge for folks who love college baseball.

This year’s LSU team is brutally young, and the Tigers’ growing pains are starting to show against the league’s elite competition.

There’s no doubt that Paul Mainieri and his staff will “coach ‘em up” throughout the season in an effort to push the team as far as it can possibly go in 2016, but don’t expect the College World Series in Omaha to be part of the plans.

There are just simply too many holes in the boat for the Tigers to sail as far as they’re used to.

Let’s start with the offensive woes.

The Tigers are young – a group that basically had to start from scratch this season after losing almost all of its firepower to graduation and the MLB Draft.

The inexperience and youth has showed in a big way.

In 2015, LSU hit .314 as a team with a .456 slugging percentage.

This year, the team’s batting average is down to .297, and its slugging has fallen to .434.

Even that drop is perhaps a bit skewed considering that the Tigers have already played the easiest part of their schedule, and will almost-exclusively face SEC pitching the rest of the way. The offensive tailspin may just be beginning. It’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

More important than the power numbers are situational stats, and that’s where LSU has really flunked out.

Against Texas A&M, the Tigers had their chances, but they just couldn’t ever convert.

The Tigers scored just five runs in three games, while stranding 26 runners on base over the three-game set.

LSU can’t strand that many baserunners and consistently beat top competition. Someone for the Tigers’ offense has to step up and start bringing those runners home.

Even when LSU does score a couple runs, it sometimes doesn’t matter. That’s because the Tigers are giving up runs in bunches, as well.

LSU has allowed 3.70 runs per game in 2016 – up from the 2.98 they allowed a year ago.

Starting pitching hasn’t been much of an issue. Sure, Alex Lange is in a bit of a slump, but he’s going to be fine over time.

Also solid are Jared Poche’ and transfer pitcher John Valek III, who has arguably been LSU’s best on the season.

What’s plaguing the Tigers right now is the bullpen – a group that’s been very hit or miss on the season.

Through 23 games, LSU has just one recorded save – owned by Caleb Gilbert. A lot of the Tigers’ setup men have struggled, including Parker Bugg, who owns an 8.59 ERA in 10 appearances.

The good news for LSU is that the Tigers are young, and it’s not inconceivable to envision a world where the team reaches its peak in the coming weeks.

Even then, it’s not likely to be enough to amount to much.

The Tigers are too young, and they’re just a year or two away from seriously contending.

Omaha will just have to wait for another year – if not two.

We don’t see the Tigers spending much time there this summer.

Photo courtesy of LSU Sports Information

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