HOOVER, Ala . — Hot, or cold? Hitting, or hurting? Label the LSU Tigers as you may in this Southeastern Conference tournament, depending on whether their bruising hitting allows you gloss over their startlingly ineffective starting pitching to reminisce wistfully about the Geauxrilla Ball days.
Just label them winners once again here, once again the team to beat in the tournament that could be rebranded the LSU Invitational.
Through two games, the Tigers hitters are hot to the touch — and their starting pitchers are cold as the shockingly chilly Canadian air that someone pumped into Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on Thursday night. Combined, Jared Poché and Austin Bain have lasted a total of 3.2 innings and surrendered a combined nine runs.
But LSU’s batters have been Birmingham bullies to the other team’s pitching. Bain may not have had it, but Arkansas starter James Teague was no better, knocked around like loose change inside a dryer as he surrendered six runs in the first two innings en route to the Tigers’ 10-5 victory.
LSU jumped on Arkansas the way Auburn jumped on Poché the night before, only this time LSU had staying power. Bain may not have had the right stuff, but his replacement, Russell Reynolds, did.
The sophomore baffled the hottest baseball team in the SEC not named LSU — the Razorbacks came in having won 16 of their last 20, the Tigers 17 of their last 20 — playing the hidden ball trick for 3.1 innings of two-hit shutout relief. Meanwhile, the Tigers tacked on a couple more runs here or there while Arkansas continued to play pinball with the defense en route to a ghastly six-error night(mare).
Though their pitching has looked pedestrian, the hitting has been pure venom. It’s a veteran lineup — eight of LSU’s nine position players are upperclassmen — that is the Tigers’ greatest strength, former LSU pitching great and ESPN college baseball analyst Ben McDonald said.
“The recipe for success in college baseball is veteran guys,” McDonald said Thursday. “Guys like that make adjustments the second time through the lineup. That means a lot.”
No one looks hotter than LSU’s potent 1-2 paring up the middle: shortstop Alex Bregman and second baseman Jared Foster.
From Bregman you expect brilliance, especially with the glove, and he’s delivered. He scooped up a variety of missile shots off the Arkansas bats with customary nonchalance. He also delivered a pair of sacrifice flies on cue as if he were some kind of machine stamping out parts on the assembly line of LSU’s offense.
Meanwhile, Foster has redeemed himself from the academic misadventure he went through a couple of weeks ago, requiring a rules interpretation from the NCAA to keep him in the game.
Foster ignited LSU’s comeback from the early 5-0 deficit against Auburn with a two-run home run in the second Wednesday and added a double. He had two more doubles and a single in a 3-for-4 effort Thursday that has undoubtedly made him all-tournament worthy.
We may all look back in a month or so and say that Foster’s reinstatement was the key piece that carried LSU to another national championship. How many other teams are able to wield his kind of stick in the No. 9 spot? In a way, it is a bit reminiscent of Warren Morris (another second baseman) doing his thing at the bottom of the order.
The starting pitching to date in the SEC tournament may resemble a Greek monetary crisis, but McDonald looks at LSU’s entire body of work and sees a team closing in on 50 wins that is well worthy of being No. 1.
“To me, LSU clearly has been the most consistent team in the country,” he said. “When you’ve been ranked No. 1 as much as they’ve been and won as many SEC games as they have, that says something.
“It’s a little bit of a concern,” McDonald said of Poché’s abbreviated outing, speaking before Bain took the mound. “But he’s the kind of kid who can flush that kind of outing, and maybe he’ll start Sunday and redeem himself again.”
Figuring LSU to still be playing Sunday, the way the starting pitching has resembled a condemned building, doesn’t seem to make sense. But the Tigers hitting, the fielding and the bullpen, the new and improved bullpen, have them eying a return trip to the championship game.
And we haven’t even mentioned Alex Lange pitching in Saturday’s semifinals, have we?
Will he be hot or cold? At this point, even when speaking of LSU’s undefeated freshman, it almost doesn’t seem to matter.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.