Scott Rabalais: LSU baseball team needs to look inward to turn around late-season trend –

LSU’s Hayden Trivinski (25) scores on a wild pitch to make the score 2-0 in the second inning against McNeese State on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 at Alex Box Stadium. LSU won 7-4.
LSU’s Hayden Trivinski (25) scores on a wild pitch to make the score 2-0 in the second inning against McNeese State on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 at Alex Box Stadium. LSU won 7-4.
Jay Johnson and his baseball team don’t need to read this column. Or the message boards. Or social media, though he said Instagram is a habit most of his LSU Tigers are not likely to shake any time soon.
He told reporters Tuesday night after another shaky performance — this one resulting in a 7-4 win over McNeese State — that the outside has nothing to do with the inside. Inside of his team, and what goes on inside the minds of his players.
“We appreciate the support,” Johnson said. “But they (LSU fans) don’t care one-one thousandth of what those dudes do. We want to win and play great.”
Johnson was filling out his team’s resume sheet this week to submit to the NCAA tournament selection committee. When he stopped to consider his team’s entire body of work he said he thought, “We’re doing OK.”
Big picture-wise, season-long wise, 20,000-feet wise, yes. LSU is 40-12 going into its last regular-season series that starts Thursday at Georgia. The Tigers are 17-9 in the Southeastern Conference, good for third place and a sweep of Georgia and a stumble by league-leading Arkansas away from pulling off a squeeze play run to the title.
Care to guess LSU’s RPI after losing its last two SEC series? It’s still No. 4, behind Kentucky (somehow), Wake Forest and Arkansas.
“We’re in a position where all but about three other teams in the country would like to be in,” Johnson said.
This is a good place to insert a signature quote from former LSU coach Ray “Smoke” Laval here: “Welllll … yeah, but no.”
Overall LSU, which Tuesday equaled its win total from last season, does have a great resume. Even the Las Vegas oddsmakers at Caesars Sportsbook still make the Tigers the second-best choice to win the College World Series behind Wake Forest. Some sportsbooks still have LSU as the betting favorite.
But trends mean so much in sports, and LSU is not trending the right way. In the most recent best-of-7, the Tigers are 3-4. They’ve won just two games in their past two SEC series.
Pitching was the main culprit in those SEC defeats, with LSU giving up eight or more runs in those four losses to Auburn and Mississippi State. The pitching looked a bit more effective against McNeese, a decent team that could well wind back up at Alex Box Stadium for an NCAA regional.
But no offense to the Cowboys, their RPI is 114. If McNeese is LSU’s opening regional opponent, good chance Johnson is saving staff ace Paul Skenes — who Johnson amusingly but perhaps accurately called the “best pitcher in the universe” — for the marble game the second day.
LSU’s defense was shoddy (four errors) and Johnson said his team played “awful” on offense despite getting home runs from Cade Beloso and Hayden Travinski.
“Awful” offensive production by the Tigers isn’t the issue. The issue is pitching. The non-Skenes part of LSU’s staff has struggled mightily of late (his SEC ERA is 2.10, theirs is 7.72). The Tigers’ mighty offense also doesn’t typically require the pitchers to be at the top of their game. All told, LSU is 36-1 this season when allowing seven runs or less.
The good news for LSU is Georgia (28-24, 10-17 SEC) is really struggling, coming off a three-game sweep at Missouri. The bad news for LSU is that Georgia has had an annoying trait (Bulldog tenacity?) of winning against some of the better teams on its schedule. Georgia took two of three from Kentucky, swept Arkansas and won two of three from Tennessee, all in Athens.
“It’s another team fighting for its life that’s really talented,” Johnson said.
Even though it’s potentially a trap series, it’s a good time for the Tigers to go on an extended road trip (they travel from Georgia straight to the SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama). As the season progresses and the temperatures rise, the pressure inside Alex Box Stadium can start to cook a team. The “Intimidator” billboard behind the right-field bleachers constantly reminding of the years LSU won its six College World Series championships can seem like it’s edging closer and closer to the diamond.
Final exams are over. It’s just all baseball, all of the time now. Travinski, normally a catcher but who started at first base Tuesday after leaving Sunday’s game badly dehydrated, said he’ll miss his dog but sounded like he’s looking forward to the bond that only the road can bring.
“We have a lot of special guys,” said Travinski, hitting .439 while playing about half the games. “We only get this one chance to play together. We have to make it count.”
The regular season is ending. The postseason beckons. The time when legacies are made, good or bad.
Time to make it count, all right. And nothing counts but what comes from inside.
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