Scanning through the NCAA’s official RPI released Monday, LSU sits at No. 17.
The next Southeastern Conference team: Alabama, at No. 25.
Sifting through the SEC West standings, LSU is in third place.
The next team: Alabama.
Looking through the latest NCAA Regional projections by Baseball America, LSU is the first team left out of the 16 squads to host a regional.
The next SEC team left out: Alabama.
“This weekend is no different than any other weekend,” coach Paul Mainieri said Wednesday.
Well, maybe. But the timing makes it oh-so important.
The Tigers (35-13-1, 13-10-1 SEC) and Tide (31-18, 13-11) meet in a series starting Friday involving two baseball teams in similar places heading into the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.
The series loser might be out of the race for the SEC West title, all but eliminated from contention for a regional host and in a tough spot to claim one of the top four seeds at the SEC Tournament. The top four teams avoid the first day’s single-elimination round.
Each team is coming off of a series loss, and the Tide, SEC West leaders through much of the season, has lost the last two, including being swept at home by Florida.
Big series? Yep.
Mainieri, though, backs away from putting it on a pedestal.
“Even the RPI, it doesn’t really matter until the dust settles,” Mainieri said. “Don’t forget, not only do we have the six (SEC) games and the Northwestern State game, we also have the SEC tournament.”
After a rough weekend, Mainieri hasn’t lost faith in his freshman.
Jake Fraley’s only hit in the series at A&M was an infield single Sunday off of the pitcher in his ninth at-bat of the weekend. He struck out five times over the first two games. Fraley had struck out seven times in his previous 66 at-bats.
“He’ll be fine,” Mainieri said. “He’ll bounce back.”
Mainieri credited A&M pitcher Parker Ray for at least the rookie’s struggles Friday.
“If you watch the tape of the pitches, that kid’s fastball looked like it was going to be a foot inside and it tailed right back in over the inside corner,” Mainieri said. “Looked like Greg Maddux. I’m sure Jake Fraley, very rarely in his life, has seen movement on a fastball like that.”
Mainieri admits to pinch-hitting for Fraley after his third strikeout Friday to avoid four Ks.
“Quite frankly, I didn’t want him to get a golden sombrero,” the coach said. “He didn’t need that hanging over his head.”
Fraley’s average fell from .348 before last weekend to its current .316.
Devall, Bugg could return
LSU will return at least one pitcher this weekend.
Reliever Hunter Devall has overcome a sore shoulder and is ready to pitch against the Tide, Mainieri said. Parker Bugg, also suffering from a sore shoulder, is likely to return, too.
Bugg and Devall did not pitch in the series loss at Texas A&M, limiting Mainieri’s options to 11 healthy pitchers over the weekend. The Tigers’ bullpen struggled over the three games.
Mainieri will keep to his routine this weekend of not announcing his Sunday starter until after Saturday’s game or the day of the game, he said. Alden Cartwright has started the last three series finales. … Mainieri’s father, Demie, will throw out one of three first pitches before Saturday’s game, the coach said. Demie is a long-time junior college coach. He’s throwing out the pitch on the 50th anniversary of his junior college national championship team.