Paul Mainieri has been through this before. Back in 2008, Mainieri was in his second year with the LSU program and things were looking gloomy.
The Tigers had been swept by Tennessee, lost five straight SEC games and were plummeting down the conference standings. That team, much like this 2021 Tiger team, was competitive in most of their games but were just missing those one or two plays that turned close losses into tight wins.
It seems to be a trend LSU has taken at the start of conference play and it's taking its toll on the players and coaching staff after a 1-5 start where the Tigers have been competitive in every game down the stretch.
"I told the kids after we got back, back in '08 we had all freshmen and second year players but the one difference is they had gone through an SEC schedule the year before," Mainieri said. "I told them a similarity we had gone to Tennessee and we were swept, including a walk off grand slam."
Mainieri knew throughout that 2008 season that the team was really close to figuring it out and gets that same feeling with this 2021 team as well. Of course in 2008, LSU rattled off 23 straight wins and wound up in Omaha and this team has yet to prove that a turnaround is on the horizon.
But that hasn't kept Mainieri or the players, despite the frustrations with how SEC play has started, from losing faith.
"You just can't give up. You've just gotta keep plugging away and no matter how gloomy things seem, I just look at all of the positives we did," Mainieri said. "We out hit the other team, we had clutch hits and clutch home runs, two phenomenal starting pitching performances. But we came up short. We played three games and got outscored by four runs and here we are and I can't tell you how frustrated everybody is."
The struggles from this team are coming from both on the mound and at the plate. LSU pitchers have kept the offense in most of the games but this past weekend, allowed 23 free bases by either walk or hit pitcher.
On offense, 38 strikeouts and 25 runners left on base have kept this powerful but flawed offense from reaching its full potential in conference play. Tinkering with second base, centerfield and catcher has now turned into an everyday saga that you don't know what to expect from each position.
"We've been striking out at a pretty high rate for what I'm used to but if you look around our league, a lot of teams are striking out," Mainieri said. "I think part of it is the quality of the arms is so much greater than it's ever been in college baseball. Harder throwers, more pitchers capable of striking out batters."
To make matters worse, LSU is staring at the No. 1 team in the country in Vanderbilt coming to town this weekend. The Commodores have possibly the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker who have a 0.25 ERA and 0.73 ERA respectively, have combined to go 12-0 on the mound and struck out a combined 112 batters in 73 innings pitched.
LSU is off Monday and will have to play four games in five days, starting with South Alabama on Tuesday. Despite the struggles, the Tigers have remained competitive, which in Mainieri's eyes means they have the talent to get the ship back on the right course.
"When you lose by a run, you toss and turn all night. But I can tell you when you're not competitive in a game, that's really bad," Mainieri said. "That's when you wonder if you're good enough. That's the worst feeling in the world. I know we have the players to compete and we're a little snake bit right now and I just know, it's a pitch, it's a play, an at bat every game. It's frusterating to lose those close games but all you can do is keep plugging in and keep believing in yourselves."