What’s at stake for LSU baseball at 2023 SEC Tournament
BATON ROUGE – It's time for playoff baseball.
No. 3 LSU baseball will embark on its postseason journey this week when the Tigers play the first of at least two games in the SEC Tournament. LSU, the No. 3 seed, will face the winner of Tuesday's matchup between No. 6 seed South Carolina and No. 11 seed Georgia on Wednesday (9:30 a.m., SEC Network).
"The benefit we have this week is we're going to see a team in the first game that we've played already," LSU coach Jay Johnson said on a Zoom call with the media on Monday. "...I think we've actually played all of the teams on our side of the bracket."
After losing two of their final three SEC series, here's what's at stake for the Tigers this week.
Locking up a top-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament
LSU heads into the SEC Tournament as the No. 3 team in RPI with a 12-6 record against top-25 RPI teams and a 12-5 record on the road.
With that resume, there's no chance that it doesn't earn a top-16 national seed. But if the Tigers were to go 0-2 this weekend while the other teams around them in RPI and the national rankings – Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Stanford, Clemson, Oregon State and UConn, to name a few – make deep runs in their respective conference tournaments, then things could get dicey.
However, one or two wins from LSU this week would quickly squash that possibility. And a deep tournament run, or an SEC Tournament title, could even get them the No. 1 overall seed back from Wake Forest.
Getting the pitching staff in order
This week could indicate what LSU's bullpen and rotation could look like in an NCAA Regional or a run in the College World Series.
LSU's pitching staff, especially its bullpen, has been under much scrutiny since the start of conference play. The Tigers have had few consistent answers outside of Paul Skenes, especially since the season-ending injuries to Garrett Edwards and Chase Shores.
That pitching depth will likely be tested with there being up to five games in five days this week. Will Johnson pitch Paul Skenes on Wednesday or save him for Thursday? How aggressive, or not, will Johnson be with pulling starters and keeping relievers in the game? Who is the third starter, let alone the fourth or fifth?
For LSU to have any success this week and next month, Johnson will have to find good answers to all of these questions and more.
"I think depth is important," Johnson said. "We definitely have that because we wouldn't have been able to withstand (those injuries and) be in position to be a national seed if we didn't have it."
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Fixing the RISP issue
Few, if any, teams in college baseball have been as lethal as LSU when it comes to driving in runners in scoring position this season.
But, for as good as the Tigers' offense has been, they have cooled off in that department in recent weeks.
LSU went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position during Saturday's regular season finale vs. Georgia. Even in its 12-inning win over the Bulldogs on Thursday, the Tigers were just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and 4-for-17 with runners on base.
Their issues also extend to the previous weekend against Mississippi State, a team that didn't even qualify for the SEC Tournament. The Tigers were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position during their Game 2 loss.
"I think for us it's really important to, I guess, control the line of scrimmage in baseball, which is the strike zone," LSU star center fielder Dylan Crews said. "You control that, you tend to have good things happen for our team."
Given the problems LSU has been having with its pitching staff, this slump has to be corrected before the NCAA Tournament.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.