1. Can LSU stay healthy?
This is a question that can’t be answered by a sportswriter; injuries unfortunately happen. But it could be the most important question LSU faces this year. It felt like the program suddenly found itself in crisis mode when Greg Deichmann was hit in the face by a pitch last week. Already without Bryce Jordan for the season, LSU was faced with the possibility of missing its two best power hitters and dealing with the fact that it only had four true outfielders. This is not a star-driven team, but one that operates smoothly as a sum of its parts — and it needs all of its parts.
2. Is this the year LSU finally develops a reliable Sunday starter?
It’s valid to question why LSU has never seemed to be able to consistently roll out a viable third option for their weekend series over the years. Though coach Paul Mainieri made a solid point about the difficulty of developing one — major league teams have entire farm systems to pick from and still struggle to find capable third, fourth and fifth starters — LSU has never had a problem recruiting front-of-the-line arms, just the lower-echelon ones. But judging by the fall and spring, there is a good chance either Eric Walker or Zack Hess — or both — is good enough to answer the Sunday question for LSU.
3. Who emerges as a breakout star?
Last season it was Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman who produced better than probably even the most optimistic expectations. The difference this season is the Tigers, even after their injuries, have fairly established players almost across the board. Our pick to click this year is Jake Slaughter, a talented freshman who may just be starting to realize his potential. Slaughter is eager to learn everything the coaches throw his way, and he has the ability to turn that into something special as a freshman. Our dark-horse candidate: Bryce Adams, who could provide some sorely needed thump in the middle of the order.
4. What is the cruelest stretch of the season?
This came down to two lines of reasoning. Is it tougher to face quality opponents in back-to-back weekends, like LSU does when it travels to consensus preseason top-five Florida, then hosts Texas A&M the following week? Or is it a late-season road trip at an inopportune time? We chose the latter, when LSU will go two and a half weeks between games at the Box. The Tigers’ seven-game road trip will take them to Kentucky, Tulane and Alabama. As a welcome-home gift, the players will go through finals week before taking on what should be a very good South Carolina team in a three-game home set. Woof.
5. Is this team good enough to be Paul Mainieri’s fifth to make it to Omaha?
You have to nitpick this roster to find problems. Sure, LSU barely has anything in terms of left-handed relief pitching. Yes, LSU only has one legitimate proven power hitter in its opening-day lineup (Greg Deichmann), and nobody knows how he will react after getting hit in the face by a fastball last week. But the positives outweigh the negatives by a wide margin. The Tigers are wealthy in both talent and experience, which is rare in a sport where the best players are only there for two or three years. Ask the players, and they’ll tell you anything less than Omaha would be a disappointment.