In a season where optimism has been in short supply, LSU baseball's postseason chances were left in tact with a critical series win over Alabama over the weekend. The Tigers are slowly but surely making their case as they embark on another patented late season run under coach Paul Mainieri.
This LSU (32-19, 11-16) team has had its struggles in nearly all facets at one point or another this season but yet with four games remaining in the regular season, sit at No. 18 in the latest RPI, higher than Florida and Alabama, and currently hold the No. 3 strength of schedule. A series win over Texas A&M would ensure the team wins half of its SEC series this season and potentially get the program to as many as 14 wins with a sweep this weekend.
"It's hard to hide what's at stake from the kids. They're not dumb," Mainieri said Monday. "You still have to play them one game at a time and our guys have done a really good job with that. After now having a season in the SEC, they understand just how hard it is to win a game in the SEC and they don't look beyond the task at hand."
The development has been exponential over the last month of the season as the offense is coming off one of its most prolific outings of the season with the 16-hit, 13-run game three win over the Crimson Tide. What's made it even better is the emergence of Drew Bianco at second base and Giovanni DiGiacomo in centerfield, two positions that have gone back and forth all season but now have some stability.
DiGiacomo hit a pair of home runs in the game three win and Bianco has been more consistent and most importantly, confident at the plate as well. With Bianco at second and DiGiacomo in center, it gives LSU probably its most well balanced lineup on the roster when clicking.
Now that we've seen it for a few weeks in a row, it gives even greater cause for encouragement as the purple and gold try to build as strong a resume as possible for the postseason.
"I think our defense has grown leaps and bounds over the last period of time," Mainieri said. "Drew Bianco made some unbelievable plays, plays I wasn't sure he was capable of making. I thought Giovanni really played inspired in centerfield. He knows I wasn't really happy with him in the midweek game last week and he got the message."
With Tre Morgan, Dylan Crews, Cade Doughty and Gavin Dugas doing their typrically consistent and great things week in and week out, for the other guys to start to step up their play is extremely uplifting for this team. That also goes for the pitching staff and specifically Ma'Khail Hilliard, who's been a saving grace for this staff after the loss of Jaden Hill.
He pitched another fantastic five innings Sunday in the most important win of the season with seven strikeouts and has looked the part of a weekend SEC starter, something he was extremely consistent with his freshman season.
"You can't really quantify how much of a lift he's given us," Mainieri said. "He's been phenomenal. When Jaden went down, we lost a really quality starting pitcher. The difference is his confidence is back, he's cutting the ball loose, the movement and command of his fastball is back and he's throwing that curveball like he did as a freshman. It's a major league level spin rate and is getting a lot of swings and misses. When he's got it going, they'll swing and miss a lot. It's making me so happy to see him at the end of his career to have such success."
Starting with a Tuesday midweek game against Northwestern State, at the very least LSU needs to go 3-1 in the final weekend of the season. It's all at stake for the Tigers this weekend and the purple and gold will need all of its players to continue their recent play to make sure the team earns that postseason berth.