When LSU faces Tennessee in the opener of a three-game series Friday, it will do so with a middling 6-6 record through four weeks of Southeastern Conference play.
At least that figure seems middling when compared against the end-of-year records LSU put together in the past couple decades. But somewhat surprisingly, 6-6 is not much of an aberration for one of the most successful programs in the nation.
It is the third time in the last five seasons LSU has started with no more than six wins in the first four weeks of its SEC schedule. The two previous seasons, 2016 and 2014, resulted records of 19-11 and 17-11-1 in conference play.
In 12 seasons under coach Paul Mainieri, LSU is averaging just under seven wins in its first four weeks of SEC play. Eight of those first 11 seasons resulted in the Tigers finishing as a national top-8 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“The LSU family is so used to such high final results that they sometimes can forget the journey to get to that final result has its peaks and valleys along the way,” Mainieri said.
Josh Smith will have to wait to make his return.
This is why the Tigers are not panicking, even after they've as many series as they've won since SEC play began.
“We just haven’t gotten on that hot streak like LSU does at the end of every year,” senior outfielder Beau Jordan said. “We haven’t hit that point yet, but I feel like it’s coming. When it does, it’s going to be pretty special.”
Jordan was speaking from experience. He was a member of the last team that started 6-6 against SEC competition, in 2016 when he was one of the few returning position players with any experience.
That team caught fire down the stretch, winning 13 of its final 18 conference games to claim a national seed in the NCAA tournament.
This 2018 team has felt similar to that 2016 team from the beginning, mainly because both were replacing gobs of talent from teams that made it to the College World Series.
But making matters more challenging this season are the numerous injuries LSU has suffered.
The Tigers have navigated them by playing a career pitcher at second base, trusting a freshman to anchor the infield defense and patching the other parts together on a nightly basis. Often, LSU’s bench has only gone a few bats deep.
And still, LSU is just two games out of first place in the Western Division as the Tennessee series begins.
WHO: Tennessee at LSU
“There’s no doubt that the way the season’s been going, being two games back is a blessing,” Jordan said. “We have yet to play our best ball.”
Added Mainieri: “To be 21-13 and 6-6 at this point, I don’t think it’s that bad. I’m proud of our guys. It could’ve been a lot worse, and I think we’ve done a lot of good stuff.”
Through four weeks, LSU has been a .500 team in league play — and apparently that means the Tigers have the rest of the league right where they want it.
Now, all that remains is seeing if this team has the same finishing kick as its predecessors.
“These next six weeks are going to be really interesting,” Mainieri said.
A swarm of bees took over home plate Thursday at Alex Box stadium, causing LSU baseball practice to be delayed, and eventually canceled -- seriously.
LSU record through first four weeks of SEC play under coach Paul Mainieri
* missed NCAA tournament
^ reached College World Series
# national seed in NCAA tournament