LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri may have had the best definition for the Southeastern Conference schedule. “It’s a gauntlet.”
And it will likely be more violent in 2015.
In a conference where the typical standout clubs — LSU, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi State — continue to prove their dominance early in the new campaign, fresh meat has arrived that will make the challenge of earning a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, even more grueling. Squads such as Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M and Kentucky have all entered the ring, and they appear hungry.
“Every time we play in the SEC, it’s always good,” LSU junior shortstop Alex Bregman said. “But everybody looks really good. There’s a lot of teams that are off to good starts, and that’s tough.
“It’s a tough league, and you beat up on each other all year long.”
One quick glance at the current SEC standings makes it apparent how tough the beating could be this season.
Texas A&M, a squad that had five losses before the start of conference play in 2014, enters the weekend undefeated at 18-0.
The Aggies will make a trip to Baton Rouge starting April 23. Mainieri is well aware of their presence in the SEC West.
“I actually gave a vote to Texas A&M because you can’t vote for your own team to win the SEC West,” Mainieri said. “I was the lone voter. Everybody else voted for us. I’m not surprised by Texas A&M’s success.”
But the Aggies aren’t the only squad making noise early.
Missouri won all of 20 games last season.
They have already won 12 of their first 16 contests in 2015, and they’ll come to Alex Box Stadium beginning May 8.
Kentucky and Auburn, two more squads slated as home series on LSU’s schedule this season, have both won 13 games through the first four weeks of the year.
“Where’s the breather?” Mainieri asked.
He has often compared the conference to college baseball’s version of the pros. Any given team can win on any given day. That only becomes amplified when 10 of the 16 conference teams have 12 or more wins on March 12.
“That’s what you love about the SEC,” Mainieri said. “If you get beat this weekend, the team that beat you is capable of going out and getting beat the next weekend.
“It’s like the major leagues. The worst teams in the major leagues are still filled with major league ball players. You can’t take anybody lightly.”
Regardless of how tough the conference schedule will be this season, Bregman said he welcomes the increased competition.
“It’s a good thing,” Bregman said. “I think it’s going to prepare the teams that play well enough in the SEC for the postseason. If we play well enough during SEC play, we’ll be tested enough to be very confident going into the postseason.”
SEC’s predicted order of finish with record and national rankings according to College Baseball Insider poll.
Florida (16-2, 4): The Gators do everything well, considering they lead the SEC in defense and are in the top five in runs scored (132) and ERA (2.24).
LSU (16-1, 3): The Tigers’ freshman arms have held up well, and their weekend starters are a combined 11-0.
Vanderbilt (13-4, 5): The Commodores rank No. 2 in team batting average (.321) and first in hits (190).
Texas A&M (18-0, 6): Who would have predicted A&M would be perfect heading into conference play? The Aggies lead the SEC with a 1.59 ERA.
South Carolina (14-3, 8): South Carolina has pitching and more pitching. The Gamecocks rank No. 4 in ERA (2.19) and tied for first in saves (8).
Mississippi State (15-4, 15): The offense has done its job through 19 games, ranking first in on-base percentage (.428) and runs scored (135).
Kentucky (13-3, NR): Kentucky has been stellar at home, going 5-0, but sub-par on the road, going 2-3.
Auburn (13-4, NR): Auburn is one win away from having half the total victories it had last season. The Tigers went 28-28 in 2014.
Missouri (12-4, NR): Meanwhile, Missouri is only eight victories away from eclipsing its 2014 win total.
Georgia (12-5, NR): Georgia has flexing its muscles as they are tied for second in the SEC in home runs (17).
Arkansas (9-5, NR): Arkansas has had its share of pitching woes through its first 14 games. The Razorbacks rank last in the SEC with a 4.46 team ERA.
Alabama (9-6, NR): The Tide has struggled, ranking second-to-last in team ERA (3.79), home runs (5) and on-base percentage (.351).
Ole Miss (9-7, NR): Ole Miss’ offense has been nonexistent through 16 games as the Rebels have hit for a .255 batting average.
Tennessee (7-6, NR): Speaking of nonexistent offenses, Tennessee ranks last in the SEC in runs scored (61), hits (114), RBIs (50) and HRs (4).