For LSU and baseball coach Paul Mainieri, there’s no more scoreboard watching left to do.
The Tigers control their own destiny.
“I think we’re in perfect position,” shortstop Alex Bregman said.
What could ruin that? A few losses to a team with a sub-100 RPI.
Enter Mississippi State.
LSU (38-7, 14-6 Southeastern Conference) meets the reeling Bulldogs (23-22, 7-14) in a three-game series starting Thursday in Starkville, Mississippi. While it’s a renewal of a long-standing rivalry between two of the nation’s most historic baseball powerhouses, it’s also a clash between worst and first.
Before the season, it was billed as a late-season showdown between two of the league’s best. Now, it’s a meeting between SEC Western-leading LSU and the division’s last place team.
The Tigers travel to Mississippi State as a lock for a top-eight national seed, the favorite to win the SEC West and a half-game behind SEC overall leader Vanderbilt in the chase for a regular-season title.
The Bulldogs could be just the team to mess it all up. Mississippi State has an RPI of 101.
Pressure’s on, right?
“There’s going to be pressure on you every game that we play the rest of the season,” Bregman said, “but I’d rather be on top and not trying to fight our way in and having to worry about what other teams are trying to do.”
“We’re in a good position today, but this is a humbling game,” Mainieri said. “Today, we’re in great shape, but if we go out there to Starkville and don’t play well and don’t win games and do the same thing against Missouri and South Carolina, those predictions are all out of the window.”
LSU is the No. 2 national seed — the top eight host super regionals — in D1Baseball.com’s most recent projection of the NCAA field released Wednesday. The Tigers’ RPI is No. 5, and they are the consensus No. 1 ranked team in the nation in the six major polls.
So what exactly do the Tigers need to do to assure themselves a national seed? One national baseball reporter said Mainieri’s group just needs to win two of the final three series — at State, against Missouri and at South Carolina.
“If they win two of three, it’s (a) done deal,” said Kendall Rogers, editor and writer for D1Baseball.com.
Lose two out of three and LSU might need to win a few games in the SEC tournament to gain one of those top eight seeds, Rogers said. It’s possible the Tigers could go 5-4 in their final nine SEC games and still get a national seed. Their résumé is just that good, Rogers said.
LSU has won all but one of its seven SEC series, has lost just two games in April and has a 21-6 record against those ranked in the top 50 in the RPI.
“RPI is high, résumé is good … top-50 record is really good,” Rogers said. “They’re in great shape. They could probably afford to lose a series and lose a game in the other two and still be in excellent shape. They would have to fall apart to not get a national seed at this point.”
Mississippi State (101) and UNO (255) have the worst RPIs of the remaining teams on LSU’s schedule. South Carolina (72) and Missouri (57) are both currently outside of the top 50, too.
A win over a bad RPI team doesn’t normally drop a team’s RPI, but losses can hurt. For instance, LSU beat Alcorn State, RPI 290, on Tuesday night and remained at No. 5 in the RPI. A loss, though, could have sent the Tigers spiraling.
Starting Thursday, they’re hoping to keep rising.
“I think if it ended today we’d either be the No. 1 or 2 national seed. We’ve set ourselves up pretty well,” Bregman said. “We’ve got to finish strong.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.