Visitor’s Dugout: And the Valley Shook
You could hear me blab on and on about Auburn baseball and the upcoming series against LSU. Thankfully, PodKATT from And the Valley Shook took the time to answer some of my LSU baseball related Questions. As with most Visitor’s Dugout, you can check out my answers to his questions over there.
1. What's the biggest difference for LSU this year? I know the record doesn't reflect the talent, but what are the Tiger's biggest issues this season?
The offensive gameplan this year to compensate for the bat problem has gone, in my opinion, in a complete 180 from what you normally see from LSU towards the small ball strategy, to the point where I can almost guarantee you that the first time LSU gets on base this weekend the very next batter will be showing bunt on the first pitch. After being embarrassingly bad at bunting last season, we've been relying heavily on it since day one. We passed last season's bunt total before we even started conference play. Not that we don't bomb it out every now and then, as Mikie Mahtook continues to be near the top of the league in homers, but manufacturing runs the hard way is the MO this year. I don't totally agree with it either, as I think it sacrifices too many outs just to get a guy around and hope you can get him in.
It's probably something you hear every fan of every team complain about at some point, but a lack of timely hitting is really what has killed us this year and it's both kinds for us. First, we leave way too many guys on base, 233 so far this year. It's related to what I've already stated about our gameplan this season. Too often we'll get a runner or two in scoring position with 2 outs and the next guy at the plate Ks or pops out. You'd think that could be rectified by moving the batting order around, but so far we can't seem to find something that works. The other timely hitting problem is that we seem to just shut down in the clutch. In many of our league losses, the Florida series especially, we've dropped 1-run games because we never seem to find that clutch hit when our backs are against the wall. All those losses where we know we could have won if we just had that one hit take a toll on you emotionally, because you know you were good enough to win and you didn't.
2. You've seen him in person more than me, but what happened to Matty Ott? Is it mental with him? Do you even feel comfortable with him closing games at this point?
I think there are two schools of thought about Ott's struggles. One says that it's a mental thing that's still carrying over from last season. The other is that his Freshman season was a fluke and he really isn't the all-world closer we thought he was. I'm of the first opinion but I'm starting to worry that it may be the latter. Frankly, he hasn't been the same since this exact weekend last year. We had a home stand against Bama and were deadlocked in the 9th on Sunday afternoon. Ott had only had a brief outing in the friday game, so we sent him out and he ends up staying in until the 14th. We won the game, but he was never the same. I'll be uncomfortable with him closing until I see him do it successfully in a league game again. That's just the way it is with closers, you trust them implicitly until they let you down, then you have no trust until they prove themselves again. However, now that Kevin Berry is having issues (see the disaster that was last Saturday at Arkansas) we may have no choice. If we have more than one save situation this weekend, I expect to see Ott pitch one of them
3. What's been the frustrating point of the season? Can you pinpoint the low point?
That's easy because it just happened. After the crushing 9th inning losses at Arkansas, we came home this past Tuesday and lost to Northwestern St. for the first time in a decade (and we play them almost every year, sometimes twice) They were a bad Southland conference team, but our bats were just dead. It reached the very bottom when their reliever, who was no ace coming in, K'd 10 of the final 13 batters. We just stood there and took it.
4. Do you think the Bengals can turn it around? Can the team that swept Fullerton return?
One thing the Mainieri Era at LSU has shown is that we can always turn it around and get on a hot streak. In '08 we had a middling club that suddenly won 23- straight and went all the way to Omaha. Last year we were tanking in the 2nd half of the conference slate, but we turned it on just in time to make and sweep the conference tourney and make the post season. Mainieri is not averse to sometimes drastic lineup shakeups in order to find a spark and the return this week of star running back Spencer Ware to the team after spring ball might be just what we needed. We are so close to winning some of these games, that you just have to believe things will start going our way again.
5. LSU has a huge crop of Freshman talent. How have they fared this year? Better than expected or going through some growing pains? Would you call this a "rebuilding" year (even though I hate that term)?
We haven't seen a lot of the freshmen and transfers (almost half of the roster is new to the team this year) in meaningful playing time, but the few that have are mostly impressive. True Freshman JaCoby Jones was moved to 2B from 3B the day before the first game and has flourished defensively and was a monster slugger at the plate. He's struggled a bit since we moved him up from the 9-hole a few weeks ago, but overall an impressive season. Ty Ross at catcher has the unenviable task of following one of our all-time greats at the position after Micah Gibbs left for the draft. He was a bit rocky to start, but I'm seeing improvement out of him as the weeks have gone on. He still gives up way too many steals at 2B for my liking, but he's getting there.
6. Why do I keep drafting Brad Hawpe for my Fantasy Baseball team?
The same reason I keep drafting Matt LaPorta, or Caddy Williams and/or Ronnie Brown in fantasy football. You remember the guys who crushed you.