It's been a long 22 months but for the first time in nearly two years, LSU baseball will take the field against an SEC opponent. Perhaps there's no bigger foe that will be visiting Alex Box Stadium in 2021 than No. 2 Mississippi State but that's who the Tigers drew for the opening series of conference play.
The Bulldogs (14-3) come in as one of the more well rounded teams in all of college baseball, starting with an elite pitching staff. Lefthander Christian MacLeod, Will Bednar and Eric Cerantola make for a Bulldogs pitching staff have an earned run average of under two runs a game for the season.
Just last week, the staff as a whole when four straight games without allowing a single run in the four contests. That's not to mention relief pitcher Landon Sims, who is averaging over two strikeouts per inning in the five appearances he's made this season.
"Obviously this is a big weekend but this why you come to LSU," Mainieri said. "You wanna play against the best players in the country that didn't come to LSU and you get your wish in the SEC. They've got great arms and it starts with that but they''ve got a great lineup to. Power, speed, there's no weaknesses but that's what you expect when you play Mississippi State."
Needless to say the LSU (15-3) bats and the NCAA leading 35 home runs the program has blasted to this point will need to be in full effect if the Tigers want to have success this weekend. There were a few notes of interest for the Tigers lineup this weekend.
For one, Mainieri expressed his concern with second base on the defensive end so don't be surprised if second year player Collier Cranford earns a start this weekend against the Bulldogs. On the other end of the spectrum, Mainieri has been very pleased with the play of shortstop Jordan Thompson, who he believes grows as both a hitter and defender with each passing game.
"We've faced good pitching and I'm glad that we have," Mainieri said. "I think our team is very well prepared for this weekend. They don't need to try any harder this weekend then they have in any other game up to this point and that's really the message."
Centerfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo also made his return during the midweek game against Southeastern but Mainieri said there's still no rush to put him back in the starting lineup the way that Mitchell Sandford and Brody Drost have filled in for him.
Then at catcher, Hayden Travinski has thrown himself into the mix since his first start behind the plate after primarily being used as a pinch hitter before Tuesday's game. Travinski made the most of his first start on defense and is proving why he should be in the lineup because of his bat.
Travinski is batting .438 with two home runs and seven RBI in 16 plate appearances for the purple and gold this season. Mainieri acknowledged that he indeed is throwing himself in the conversation to be an every day player now that he's able to catch.
"We're always going to look at everything and make the best team possible," Mainieri said. "It might be tweaking here and there depending on who we're facing. It's pretty apparant that Travinski brings an element to the catching position offensively that we haven't had. Whether or not he can throw out baserunners or not, we have to determine that."
The Tigers will open the series Friday evening with Jaden Hill on the mound at 6 p.m.