Don’t take Mark Laird’s word for it.
Laird only thinks he knows the meaning behind the celebratory hand motion some of his LSU teammates make after hitting a double, triple or, even, a clutch single.
“I think I overheard them talk about it. I may be wrong,” Laird said. “I haven’t really asked, but I think it means ‘You’re crazy for throwing to me.’”
If you’ve watched LSU play a game this season, chances are you’ve seen it. Guys like Alex Bregman, Kade Scivicque and Conner Hale draw imaginary circles on each side of their heads upon landing at second or third base.
It’s a big secret, this thing. One of the biggest perpetrators, Bregman, won’t say anything when asked about it.
“I’ll let you know after the last game of the season,” a smiling Bregman says.
LSU (29-5, 8-4 Southeastern) enters a three-game series against Auburn (20-13, 4-8) on Friday in the midst of its best hitting stretch in more than a decade. This squad hasn’t seen an offensive outburst through the first two months of the season like this since Skip Bertman was coach.
The secret, crazy hand motion has been on full display.
“We made it a point at the beginning of the season to set our goals really high,” hitting coach Andy Cannizaro said. “In all of our preseason meetings, we talked about wanting to be one of the best offenses in the history of LSU baseball.”
Whoa now. That includes some of the most potent offensive teams in college baseball history. This team is heading in that direction, though.
The Tigers entered the week with the nation’s second-best batting average, lead the SEC in virtually every offensive category and are doing things that haven’t been done in Baton Rouge in years.
Their 417 hits are the most by an LSU team through the first 34 games of the season since 2000. They enter the series against Auburn having had 12 straight games with at least 10 hits - a first since 2004.
Is gorilla ball back at the Box?
Not quite. This team isn’t hitting 188 homers – LSU’s NCAA record set in 1997 – but this squad does have 33 long balls. That’s on pace for the most since 2010, the final year with the old bats.
And LSU’s batting average (.326) is just 14 points shy of the school’s all-time record set in 2000.
Crazy to pitch to them? Maybe so.
“It’s a tough lineup one through nine,” Bregman said. “You don’t get any letup. You’ve got a guy leading the SEC in home runs (Jared Foster) in SEC play as your (No.) 9 hole hitter. That’s pretty ridiculous.”
How has this all come to pass? Why are LSU’s bats hotter this season than they have been in 10-plus years?
There are plenty of explanations.
The new low-seam baseballs, instituted this season by the NCAA to boost offense, have increased slugging (.360 to .377), home runs per game (0.36 to 0.50) and runs per game (5.14 to 5.40) across the nation. That’s according to a midseason NCAA report released last week comparing stats at this time last season with this year’s numbers.
Also, LSU’s lineup is veteran heavy. Eight of the nine everyday players in the batting order are juniors or seniors. Meanwhile, the squad got a fresh outlook from a former major league player in Cannizaro.
It’s all led to, well, craziness at the plate.
LSU hitters are aggressive. They’re swinging early in counts, something that began after a loss to Nicholls State in the fourth game of the season. Coach Paul Mainieri looks at that loss as a positive nearly two months later.
“It’s happened every year I’ve ever been in coaching it seems,” Mainieri said. “Have that one game where they’re just too passive. You use that as a teaching point to try to get them to become more aggressive and free swinging and not be afraid.”
They’ve come out swinging. And rarely missing.
LSU has the fewest strikeouts in the SEC (158), and the Tigers are the only major conference team to have two players (Bregman and Laird) in the top 35 of players nationally who are toughest to strikeout.
Pretty crazy, indeed.
Asked about that hand motion again, Bregman smiles and quips, “We gotta keep it top secret.”
2015 through first 34 games
Last time had that many through first 34 games
Double digit hit games
Consecutive double digit hit games
*Last time for any span of games – not just the first 34.
LSU (29-5, 8-4) vs. Auburn (20-13, 4-8)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Alex Box Stadium
Rankings: LSU is ranked in the top 5, and as high as No. 1, in all six major polls. Auburn is not ranked.
Projected starting pitchers:
- Friday: LSU So. LHP Jared Poché (5-1, 3.10) vs. AU So. RHP Cole Lipscomb (4-0, 2.65)
- Saturday: LSU Fr. RHP Alex Lange (6-0, 1.39) vs. AU So. RHP Keegan Thompson (6-2, 3.15)
- Sunday: LSU Fr. RHP Austin Bain (0-0, 2.45) vs. Sr. RHP Rocky McCord (2-2, 3.55)
Online Streaming: Online only at SEC Network-plus, which is accessible at SECNetwork.com and the Watch ESPN app.
Radio: WDGL 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge); KLWB 103.7 FM (Lafayette); WWL 870 AM, WWL 105.3 FM (New Orleans)
In-game updates: @DellengerAdv, @BarrecaAdv
What to watch: LSU’s bats are as hot as anyone’s in the country. The Tigers have had double digit hits in 12 straight games – the most since having 13 double-digit hit games in 2004. Kade Scivicque and Chris Chinea are both riding double digit hit streaks, too. Jared Poché had, maybe, his best start of his career against Kentucky last week. It followed his worst start.
Know your opponent: Auburn has an RPI of 37 but has won just one of four SEC series this season (at Mississippi State) and was swept at Texas A&M. Cole Lipscomb has struck out 40 and walked just 11 in 37.1 innings pitched.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.