LSU still hoping to turn things around

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You can go ahead and call LSU coach Paul Mainieri an expert on Murphy’s Law.

Mainieri has lived it the past two months. He hopes to see it end this weekend against Mississippi State.

Not too long ago the Tigers were in position to earn a national seed as one of the best teams in the SEC.

These days, though, not even a postseason bid is a given.

“This whole stretch the past few weeks obviously has been very frustrating to say the least,” Mainieri said. “Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong. We’re just such in a strange stretch right now. And I think a lot of it has to do with our pitching.”

Photo LSU needs a strong weekend against Mississippi State to stay safe for the NCAA postseason.
(USPW)

After Tuesday’s loss to in-state rival Tulane, the Tigers are 34-19. They have a conference record of 12-15 and have lost six straight games. But most disappointing about the latest stretch is the fact the Tigers have lost five of their last six SEC series, including four in a row.

There are plenty of reasons why the Tigers are struggling. The offense is hitting at a solid clip this season, but the unit has gone cold in important situations the past few weeks. The pitching staff is the root of the problem.

The pitching staff has an ERA of 5.72 and the Tigers’ best two pitchers, Anthony Ranaudo and Matty Ott, have failed to impress. Ranaudo, who had an elbow issue earlier this season, has a dismal 9.09 ERA. Ott, who has had an opportunity to start during this stretch, has an ERA of 5.82.

The idea that Ranaudo and Ott are struggling – in a strange way – gives Mainieri some hope his team will take care of business against Mississippi State this weekend and find their way into the NCAA postseason.

“We’re just going to have to assume those guys will have their talent show through before the season is said and done,” Mainieri said. “That’s what I’m holding out for, at least.” Despite the struggles down the stretch, Mainieri maintains that he hasn’t had to berate the players. The players know what is going wrong and what needs to happen to right the ship. Mainieri also insists his players are finding ways to keep a positive attitude.

As bad as the latest stretch has been, the Tigers control their own destiny for the SEC tournament with a series against Mississippi State this weekend. Take care of business and the Tigers are in the tournament. Falter at all and the Tigers could be sitting at home for the SEC tournament, and perhaps even for the NCAA tournament.

“Arkansas lost a lot at the end of last season and found its way to the College World Series. I hope that can be us,” he said. “It’s easy for people sit there and say it’s not our year, but we haven’t given up. We still have something left to prove.” No matter what happens the next few weeks, not even another trip to Omaha would make

Mainieri want to experience what he is feeling right now ever again.

Just a year ago, the Tigers were on top of the college baseball landscape and preparing to roll to their sixth national title.

Now the Tigers are fighting to make a conference tournament.

“This is the toughest stretch of games I’ve ever been a part of in my 28 years of coaching, no doubt about it,” he said. “It’s not something I ever want to experience again.”


RED HOT

Virginia – The Cavaliers couldn’t be playing much better and are in business with 14 straight victories.

Georgia Southern – The Eagles are back in the mix for an NCAA postseason appearance by winning 12 straight games.

South Carolina – The Gamecocks have won six straight games and will play Florida for the SEC regular season title this weekend.

SE Louisiana – The Lions have put themselves safely back in the postseason mix with six straight victories and some important conference wins.

Texas A&M – The Aggies are getting hot at the right time and have won six straight games, including a series sweep at Oklahoma State.

Vanderbilt – The Commodores have won six straight games and have a chance to do more damage with a home series against Arkansas this weekend.

Cal State Fullerton – The Titans have played an outstanding brand of baseball the past few weeks and are 8-2 in their last ten games.


ICE COLD

LSU – The Tigers have lost eight of their last 10 games and are in the midst of a six-game losing streak. Will the Tigers miss the postseason?

Ohio State – Paging Alex Wimmers, paging Mr. Wimmers. The Buckeyes are 3-7 in their last 10 games and have been without ace pitcher Alex Wimmers.

VMI – Remember when the Keydets were in decent shape to earn an at-large berth to the postseason? VMI continues to struggle in a big way.

Long Beach State – Long-time coach Mike Weathers won’t go out with a postseason appearance. The Dirtbags have lost eight of their last 10 games.

Marshall – The Thundering Herd once were second in Conference USA. They have plummeted since by losing seven of their last 10 games.

Arkansas – The Razorbacks have lost three of their last seven games and need a strong showing at Vanderbilt to be in good shape for a regional host.

Western Kentucky – The Hilltoppers have lost important series to Arkansas-Little Rock and Louisiana-Lafayette the past two weekends. They’re unlikely to make a postseason berth without winning the Sun Belt tournament.


WEEKLY STORYLINES

South Carolina and Florida decide title – Does it really get much better than this weekend for the SEC? The conference is getting just what the doctor ordered this weekend with a three-game series between the Gators and Gamecocks that will decide the regular season champion. The Gators and Gamecocks enter the series with very similar marks across the board. For instance, the Gators are hitting .304 and South Carolina is hitting .302. South Carolina, meanwhile, has the better number on the mound with a 3.65 ERA. UF, meanwhile, has an ERA of 3.98. This series definitely is expected to live up to the hype.

Other SEC series could determine host sites – If you’re interested in the postseason picture, keep close tabs on the two series this weekend between Arkansas and Vanderbilt and Auburn and Mississippi. Arkansas was a regional host last week and is struggling to hold on to the host site. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has an RPI of 11 and could avoid hitting the road for a regional by taking care of business this weekend. It also is believed the winner of the Ole Miss and Auburn series also will earn a host spot. There is much at stake in the SEC this weekend.

Georgia Tech heads to Boston College – The series between the Yellow Jackets and Eagles could have some serious postseason implications. Georgia Tech has an RPI of 9 and an overall record of 42-10. To say the least, the Jackets still have their sights set on earning a national seed. The series is important to BC for other reasons. The Eagles have a horrendous 4-18 mark against RPI Top 50 teams, but have a 13-14 ACC record. The Eagles could sneak into the field of 64 with a home series win over the Yellow Jackets.

Oregon State aims for surprise – The Beavers are one of several teams aiming for an NCAA postseason appearance down the stretch. OSU has helped its case by winning five of its last six Pac-10 games. However, this team still has some work to do sitting eighth in conference with a 7-14 mark against RPI Top 50 teams. The Beavers, though, could make a huge statement this weekend with a road series win over Arizona State, which has the nation’s best RPI. A series win this weekend and the Beavers would be tough to leave out of the NCAA field.


MID-MAJOR SPOTLIGHT

College of Charleston is leaving little doubt this season.

The NCAA Selection Committee has snubbed the Cougars from the postseason on a couple of occasions the past few seasons. The Cougars, though, refuse to let that even be an option this season.

They’ve taken matters into their own hands.

The Cougars are having a fantastic campaign in Monte Lee’s second season as head coach. Charleston has an overall record of 40-14 and an impressive Southern Conference mark of 22-8.

Most importantly, the Cougars have an RPI of 26 and are in fantastic shape to earn a No. 2 seed in an NCAA regional.

Lee discussed his team’s campaign and their postseason possibilities.

Rogers: Your team earned win No. 40 against Coastal Carolina on Tuesday. Did you see this type of campaign coming?

Lee: I didn’t really know what to expect from this year’s club to be honest with you. We were really similar to some other teams in the conference last season. We were very old and lost a lot of position players. We also weren’t very good on the mound. We lost seven guys from the lineup last season and have done a nice job at the plate. The first-year guys have been able to step in and fill some key roles. Overall, I thought we would have a pretty decent club this season. However, I wasn’t real sure how good this team could be with so many new faces. Obviously we’re doing well, though.

Rogers: What has helped the team take a huge step forward this season?

Lee: I thought our pitching staff would be improved and that is the big thing for us right now. I thought we would be better on the mound this season than we were last season. And so far this season that has been the case. The biggest key going into the season was just how much better we would be on the mound. The thing that has helped us is the emergency of some older guys in the program. Kevin Decker had an ERA around nine last season and has an ERA of 3.61 so far this season. Tom Schiller was the first guy we signed here and he has taken a huge step forward this season. Also, Casey Lucchese, Christian Powell and Josh Salay have done some nice things for us this season. Our pitching staff is just much deeper this season, and that really has helped us out. Our coaching staff has done a great job of turning one of our weak spots into a key strength. Offensively, I think we expected to be very solid even with some personnel losses.

Rogers: Of all the players this season, who has been the biggest surprise?

Lee: I have to say pitcher Kevin Decker. He always was a guy with stuff capable to be a very good starter. He struggled last season but to have him do what he is doing this season is very impressive. He has been very consistent and absolutely huge for our team. The bullpen also has done a very nice job. Position-wise, Greg Blake had about 40 at bats as a junior last season. This season, though, he’s hitting .335 with 14 homers and 48 RBIs. Matt Leeds was hurt last season and is putting up numbers worthy of SoCon Player of the Year honors this season. I also should list Rob Kral, who is hitting .356 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs. We have had some excellent hitters fill in some key roles.

Rogers: Is there anything you feel should improve before you enter the postseason?

Lee: I think our guys understand the game of baseball pretty well. Our coaching staff does a great job of developing our players and really trying to push our guys to do the little things right. When you get into the postseason, the one thing I’ve always noticed is that you can’t by without making mistakes. You have to play great defense, you have to make good pitches when you need to make them the most, you need to move a runner over when you need to move them over. Little things like that can make our break your postseason. Facing stronger teams in the postseason, we realize that even with a good offense we’re not going to batter anyone’s ace pitcher. Therefore, you have to do the little things right. We need to take advantage of every situation we’re given from here on out.

Rogers: College of Charleston has a history of getting snubbed from the postseason in the past, but you’ve taken matters into your own hands this season. Do you feel that way, too?

Lee: It’s a no brainer at this point that we should be in the postseason. We have a fantastic record with 40 wins and have beaten Coastal Carolina twice, Alabama and also have won series against the top three teams in the Southern Conference. We swept Georgia Southern, beat Elon two of three and finished the SoCon schedule 7-2 against three of the top teams in the league. I think we’ve done enough from a resume standpoint and 40 wins seems to be the magical number. Maybe in the past we’ve been snubbed from the postseason, but I think we’ve taken the decision our of the committee’s hands this season. But I’ll go ahead and say this, we’re going to continue playing like a team hoping to earn a bid. We’re not entitled to anything.

Rogers: What do you think about the regional chances of other teams in the Southern Conference?

Lee: If you look at our league, I think there probably are four teams you could make an argument for being in the discussion for the field of 64. Georgia Southern is playing very well right now. I know they struggled earlier in the season, but the Eagles are playing well down the stretch. I really thought Elon had a very solid club when we played them earlier this season. Also, the Citadel is pretty dang good with its pitching staff. The two weekend starters, Wojciechowski and Talley, would be fantastic No. 1 and No. 2 guys in the SEC, speaking from experience. You don’t want to face those two guys in an NCAA regional. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.

Rogers: South Carolina obviously is a hot topic of discussion right now with how well it is doing. What did you learn from your tenure there as an assistant that has helped you succeed so quickly at Charleston?

Lee: The big thing that helped me from a preparation standpoint is just working for a guy like South Carolina coach Ray Tanner. He is arguably one of the top five coaches in the country, and I think he is the best coach in the country. The SEC is the best conference in America and South Carolina is the only program to make both the conference tournament and an NCAA regional in every year since 2000. That is pretty impressive when you look at other programs in the league. He is incredibly consistent, a great motivator, great coach, great recruiting and working for him really has paid dividends for my career. I’d also say Liberty coach Jim Toman (who previously was at South Carolina) also has helped shape my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for some fantastic coaches throughout my years of coaching.


ROGERS' REACTION

Out of UCLA, Florida State, Cal State Fullerton and Georgia Tech, who would be your national seed if you were on the committee?

Cal State Fullerton, Florida State and UCLA would have the best cases in my eyes, but I’d give the overall edge to Cal State Fullerton. Throw numbers out the window and it’s easy to realize the Titans are playing the best brand of baseball of the four teams. The Titans are held back by some less-than-stellar resume figures. For instance, the Titans are just 5-5 against RPI Top 25 teams and 8-8 against RPI Top 50 teams. Those numbers don’t strike you as national seed material, but there’s no question the Titans are playing an incredible brand of baseball right now. My hunch, though, is that the committee would go with UCLA as of today.

The Big 12 has had a down season. You’re a committee member in theory. How many Big 12 teams should make it to the postseason?

The Big 12 likely would get five or six bids if the season ended today, but I’m a strong believer the conference only should get four bids to the postseason. The teams in front of the pack include Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Texas will be a national seed, Kansas State likely will finish the season second in conference, Oklahoma has put together a solid RPI and Texas A&M is surging down the stretch. The team I left out of the equation is Texas Tech. Sure, the Red Raiders are in a two-way tie for third in conference. However, Tech has just a 27-24 overall record and a dismal 7-17 record against RPI Top 50 teams. Tech shouldn’t make the postseason if it drops a road series to Nebraska this weekend.

Will North Carolina, who has been to four straight College World Series, actually miss the NCAA postseason?

The Tar Heels are likely out of the postseason mix for the first time in a while. Unless they take care of business in impressive fashion against Virginia Tech this weekend and get help elsewhere, they will be at home in two weeks. UNC currently is on the outside looking in for a spot on the ACC tournament. Additionally, it has an 11-6 mark in the ACC and a dismal 4-13 record against RPI Top 50 teams. North Carolina doesn’t deserve to be in the postseason this season. It will be rebound, though.


LINEUP CARD

Photo Texas Tech pitcher Chad Bettis will miss this weekend’s big series at Nebraska.
(TTU)

In absolutely no surprise, UNLV decided this week not to renew the contract of head coach Buddy Gouldsmith. Gouldsmith is in his seventh season with the program and entered this week with a career record of just 200-211 (.487). The Rebels may choose to go with a big splash as new coach. Someone such as former Arizona State coach Pat Murphy would fit the billing, but plenty of sources in Nevada say there will be a big push to hire Southern Nevada CC coach Tim Chambers … Cal State Fullerton announced earlier this week that fantastic outfielder Gary Brown will miss a couple of weeks because of a broken finger. Brown was hitting at a torrid pace and certainly will be a tough bat for the Titans to replace the next couple of weeks. … Southern Mississippi ace pitcher Todd McInnis has some tendinitis in his triceps and may or may not pitch against Memphis this weekend. With the Eagles currently on the bad side of the NCAA bubble, they desperately need McInnis back on the mound as soon as possible … Florida International shortstop Garrett Wittels extended his amazing hitting streak 45 games in a series sweep over South Alabama last weekend. Wittels now ranks third all-time in hitting streaks. He still is chasing Oklahoma State’s Robin Ventura and Wichita State’s Phil Stephenson … Texas Tech, who could drop to sixth place in the Big 12 and not make an NCAA regional with a bad weekend at Nebraska, will not have ace pitcher Chad Bettis in Lincoln, Neb., this weekend. Bettis was suspended four games by the NCAA after intentionally hitting a Baylor hitter last weekend. The same suspension was handed down to Vanderbilt’s Sonny Gray in a series against Tennessee earlier this season … Ohio State ace pitcher and projected high draft pick Alex Wimmers did not pitch against Iowa last weekend because of a hamstring issue. It will be interesting to see if Wimmers is back on the mound against Minnesota this weekend. However, the safe bet is that the talented right-hander returns for the Big Ten tournament. After all, the Buckeyes do not have a chance to make the postseason without winning the conference tournament.


THINKING POSTSEASON

Coastal Carolina and Louisville – Barring some bad play before Selection Monday, there’s a great chance we will see a pair of national seeds from non-big six conferences. Those teams, of course, are Coastal Carolina and Louisville out of the Big South and Big East, respectively. Coastal dropped a tough midweek game to College of Charleston on Tuesday, but remains 3 in the latest RPI. Louisville, is 6 after taking two of three from St. John’s last weekend. Interestingly, Coastal is just 2-4 against RPI Top 25 teams and Louisville is 5-4 against RPI Top 25 teams.

Race for last national seed – Things certainly could change the next two weeks, but the race for the national seed is interesting to say the least. Arizona State, Virginia, Coastal Carolina, Texas, Florida, Louisville and South Carolina seem like safe bets for seven of the eight national seeds. But what about the eighth? For now, it looks like it’s a four-team race between UCLA, Florida State, Cal State Fullerton and Georgia Tech. Don’t be surprised if the NCAA Selection Committee gives the final national seed to a West Coast team.

SEC regional hosts – Mississippi was one of our regional hosts out of the SEC last week, but the Rebels could be on the verge of losing that host spot if it doesn’t take care of business at home against Auburn this weekend. The Rebels have just an RPI of 25. Auburn, meanwhile, has an RPI of 16, and Vanderbilt, another team in the mix for a host site, has an RPI of 11. The Commodores could be sent on the road to be the No. 1 seed at Connecticut, but it becomes more unlikely if their RPI continues to improve.

LSU – Contrary to what some might think, LSU is still safe to make an NCAA regional. Sure, the Tigers may miss the SEC tournament. However, they’re still in OK shape to make a postseason appearance. The Tigers have an RPI of 27 and have recorded 12 wins over RPI Top 50 teams this season. Only 11 teams have recorded more wins against RPI Top 50 teams than the Tigers. That is impressive.

Conference USA – Everyone might want to get ready to see Conference USA be a one-bid league in a couple of weeks. We previously thought Southern Miss would be in OK shape even with a series loss at Rice. However, the Eagles responded from that series loss with a crushing midweek loss to Mississippi State. The Eagles now are just 30-20 overall, have an RPI of 67 and are just 3-6 against RPI Top 50 teams. Unless someone besides Rice wins the conference tournament, the league should prepare for just one postseason bid.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, May 20, 2010