The LSU baseball team begins a series at Texas A&M on Thursday, and the Tigers have an opportunity to be Southeastern Conference Western Division champions by the end of the weekend.
LSU (43-6, 19-6) has a 3½-game lead over second-place Arkansas (32-16, 15-8), and each team has six conference games remaining.
The Razorbacks conclude the regular season with series at home against Tennessee and at Auburn.
At the moment, LSU’s magic number is three, meaning that any combination of three Tigers wins and Arkansas losses will give LSU a second consecutive division title. The Tigers can finish the deal with a sweep of the Aggies regardless of what Arkansas does.
“I think we just have to understand what that means,” Tigers first baseman Mason Katz said. “We can clinch with a sweep this weekend, but in order to sweep, we have to win on Thursday night.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri constantly preaches to his players that they shouldn’t even think of a sweep until and unless they win the first two games of a series. But even he is aware of the possibility this weekend and brought it up in a team meeting.
“I’m a take-it-one-game-at-a-time kind of guy,” Mainieri said, “but I want them to see the big picture so they can see it, digest it and then kind of put it on the shelf, and then we can focus on one game at a time. But I want them to understand that it’s within our own power to win the SEC West this week.”
Of course the Tigers can clinch without sweeping, if Tennessee cooperates. If they don’t clinch this weekend, they’ll still have the opportunity when they host Ole Miss next weekend.
“It would be a wonderful thing to be able to clinch the SEC West this weekend,” Mainieri said, “but whether it happens this week or next, as long as it happens at some point, I’ll be happy.”
An SEC West title is the first item on LSU’s annual list of team goals, which ends with a College World Series title.
“Winning the SEC West is an unbelievably challenging proposition because you’re beating some of the best teams in the country if you’re able to pull that off,” Mainieri said. “In addition to that and because of that, if you win the SEC West and you do the job in the nonconference games, which we have done, you put yourself in a prime position to be a national seed.”
If the third-ranked Tigers secure one of the eight national seeds for the NCAA tournament, they’ll guarantee themselves an opportunity to play at home until they either reach the CWS or are eliminated.
LSU, which has won each of its previous four SEC road series, including a sweep at Missouri, is the only team in the West that has four of its six series against division opponents on the road.
The Tigers won two out of three at Mississippi State, Alabama and Arkansas.
“If we can pull it off and win the SEC West,” Mainieri said, “I’ll feel like we won the overall championship even if we don’t.”
LSU will needs significant help to repeat as overall conference champion. East leader Vanderbilt (21-2) holds a 2½-game lead with series remaining at Kentucky and at home against Alabama.
The Tigers will give the ball to sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn for the second consecutive Thursday. He pitched 6.2 strong innings as LSU beat Florida 3-2 last Thursday.
Keeping Glenn in the first position allows a full week of rest for Friday starter Aaron Nola, who has pitched four consecutive complete games, and Saturday starter Ryan Eades.
“Cody earned the opportunity to do this again,” Mainieri said. “If he can continue to do this, it’s going to give me a lot more confidence that he’s ready to start the opening game of a regional tournament against a (No.) 4 seed, if that’s how we decide to do it. I think his two outings have been his best of the year.”
Mainieri said Glenn, who pitched a career-high eight innings at Alabama on April 21, “has a natural advantage” as a left-hander against Texas A&M, which is second in stolen bases in SEC play (28), with his ability to hold runners on.
If Glenn continues to pitch well, he’s likely to start the series opener against Ole Miss next week — as well the Tigers’ first game in the SEC Tournament a week later and possibly a regional opener.
“I’m pitching with a lot of confidence right now,” Glenn said. “It’s exciting, and I’m enjoying it. I’m taking advantage of it while I can before Nola gets the spotlight back. I’m having fun.”