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LSU shortstop Josh Smith (4) celebrates after hitting a three-run home run to give the Tigers the lead in the eighth inning against Notre Dame, Friday, February 16, 2018, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. LSU rallied to win, defeating Notre Dame 7-6.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

In an alternate LSU athletic universe, Eric Walker overcame a couple of early runs allowed on Thursday night to throw seven strong innings, helped to a big 3-2 victory over Casey Mize and Auburn by a clutch two-run double in the sixth inning from shortstop Josh Smith.

In this same alternate universe, Joe Barrow, the Ohio State quarterback LSU fans hope transfers in to save the football program from a fiery re-entry, leaps Tiger Stadium in a single bound and invents cold fusion on the trip down from Columbus.

Of course, those are but brief fantasies. The reality is Walker had offseason Tommy John surgery and has been on the shelf all season, a crowded shelf that at various times has included Smith (back), Brandt Broussard (broken thumb), Zach Watson (strained oblique), Hunter Feduccia (broken hand, twice), Nick Coomes (concussion) and Nick Storz (bone spur). The latter is a talented freshman pitcher who coach Paul Mainieri announced before this weekend's Auburn series would not pitch again this season.

It’s easy to imagine, though, what this LSU baseball team might have been like if the Tigers had not met their insurance deductible so early in the campaign.

If Walker and Storz had pitched, they might have bookended the LSU weekend rotation, moving Friday night starter Zack Hess back to Saturday or back the overpowering closer role he occupied during last year’s College World Series. If Smith, arguably LSU’s best player before left fielder Daniel Cabrera went off like a Roman candle in the past three weeks, had not missed all but six games so far (he is not expected to play at all against Auburn), imagine the crucial runs he might have driven in by the time the regular season draws to a close Saturday. And if Broussard had not broken his thumb, maybe his average would not have plummeted from .363 — where it was pre-injury — to .279 entering the Auburn series.

Of course, everyone has to deal with injuries, though some teams in some years are more immune than others. Even with all the players lost for the season or for significant chunks of the calendar, LSU still could be sitting pretty at least in the Southeastern Conference Western Division race if the Tigers could have held onto a few crucial leads.

There was the six-run lead LSU blew in the sixth inning of the final game at South Carolina on April 22 that ended up an 8-6 loss, allowing the Gamecocks to sweep the Tigers. There was the three-run lead LSU couldn’t hold in the seventh in the final game at Ole Miss six days later, allowing the Rebels to escape with a 9-8 win and deny the Tigers what would have been (to date) their only SEC road series win.

And there was the galling 1-0 loss at Vanderbilt on March 25, frustrating for LSU because the game was shortened to seven innings by bad weather and the fact the Commodores’ lone run came home on a first-inning passed ball by Feduccia.

With three more wins, either coming from held leads or key players who were not there to deliver in the clutch, LSU would possibly have headed to Auburn tied for the SEC West lead with Arkansas instead of a virtually hopeless three games back at 14-13.

If only. If only. You can drive yourself crazy with the if-onlys about this season if you are an LSU baseball fan. The if-onlys go back to Walker’s injury that put him out of the College World Series after just a few innings in the first place.

“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas,” the great "Monday Night Football" poet laureate “Dandy” Don Meredith once opined. True enough. If there is a silver lining to all the “ifs and buts” of this LSU baseball season, perhaps it is the realization that the program has not gone down the tubes, as some Tigers fans have fretted. It's not that far away from where they would like the Tigers to be.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​