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Baseball Preview: Alabama vs LSU

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Update: Baseball vs. Alabama Rained Out. Two Games Set for Saturday.

(Published on the Tiger Rant by AstroTiger)

#23 Alabama Crimson Tide (31-18, 13-11) vs. #14 LSU Fighting Tigers (35-13-1, 13-10-1) at Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

The Fighting Tigers are back in The Box for the final home regular season series of the 2014 season. The Tigers are glad to be back at home where they have achieved success at a much higher rate, going 9-2-1 in the SEC this season. LSU (35-13-1, 13-9-1) is still fighting their way back from a deficit in the SEC West standings and trail Ole Miss by 1.5 games with 6 to play, as well as Mississippi State by a half game. After winning four straight SEC weekends, the Tigers dropped the series last week against Texas A&M by losing games 2 and 3 by one run each. LSU did not play a midweek game for the first time this year due to school finals. Alabama (31-18, 13-11) make their way down to Baton Rouge, where victories have eluded the Tide in recent years. LSU has beaten Alabama 7 straight games in played in Alex Box Stadium, and Paul Mainieri boasts a 21-9 record against the Tide as head coach at LSU. Overall, Alabama has lost 7 of their last 10 games and 6 of 7 in the SEC. A few weeks ago, this series looked like could determine the winner of the West, but it has not turned out that way. Instead, these two teams are fighting for a regional host, and the loser will take a serious step back in that discussion with only a week to play.

Rain could affect the scheduling of games this weekend. All SEC series must be completed within 3 days of the first scheduled game, meaning that this series must be finished by Sunday no matter what weather delays occur. Friday night’s game is scheduled to start at 7:00pm and is NOT on TV. Video on Friday is through the GeauxZone only. Saturday’s game is an early afternoon 12:00pm start and will be televised on CSS/CST in addition to being streamed on ESPN3.com and the watchESPN app. Game 3 will start at 1:00pm on Sunday once again will air on CSS/CST. Streaming for Saturday and Sunday will both be available on ESPN3.com with no blackouts restrictions. As always, audio is available all 3 games in the GeauxZone.

Alabama Crimson Tide
Record: 31-18
Conference: 13-11, 4th SEC west
Non-Conf: 18-7
Home: 20-9
Away: 9-9
Neutral: 2-0

Record vs. RPI: (LSU numbers in parentheses)
Team RPI: 25 (19)
vs Top 25: 7-8 (3-7)
vs Top 50: 11-10 (11-10)
vs Top 100: 18-16 (14-11)

Team Overview:
Mitch Gaspard is the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide in his 5th season with the team. Gaspard played 2 seasons at LSU and was the starting second baseman on Skip Bertman’s first regional team in 1985. He transferred from LSU after that season, eventually graduating from Houston. Mitch spent time as an assistant at Alabama and a head coach at Northwestern State before rejoining the Tide staff and later being offered the head job. Despite never finishing higher than .500 in SEC play under Gaspard, Alabama has made it to postseason play in 3 of his 4 seasons there including a Super Regional trip in 2010 when Clemson edged out 2 elimination games preventing the 6th CWS appearance for Alabama and first since 1999. This 2014 team has a nice mix of veterans and talented newcomers. For the most part, Alabama has struggled with better teams and been successful against the weaker teams, with the lone exception being a nice series sweep over Ole Miss. Right now, Alabama is likely to be a 2 seed and travel in the NCAA regionals, unless they can get hot and work their way into a position to host.

Team Stat Comparison (LSU in parentheses)
Runs/game scored: 5.3 (5.8)
Runs/game allowed: 3.7 (3.0)

Team ERA: 3.11 (2.63)
Opponent ERA: 4.81 (4.87)

Team BA: .282 (.274)
Opponent BA: .224 (.224)

Team Fielding %: .971 (.973)
Opponent Fielding %: .970 (.967)

Good OOC wins: @ Louisiana-Lafayette (1-2), @ UAB (1-1)
Bad OOC losses: None

SEC Series Wins: vs Kentucky (2-1), vs Ole Miss (3-0), @ Texas A&M (2-1), vs Auburn (2-1), @ Tennessee (2-1)
SEC Series Losses: @ Arkansas (1-2), @ South Carolina (1-2), vs Florida (0-3)

Common OOC Opponents:
Southern Miss 0-2 (LSU 1-0)
Louisiana Lafayette 1-2 (LSU 0-1)
Alcorn State 2-0 (LSU 1-0)

Starting Pitching:
Like very few teams in the country, Alabama has had a steady weekend rotation most of this season. All 3 starters are juniors and between the group have pitched in 137 games for the Crimson Tide in their careers. Spencer Turnbull and Justin Kamplain have started the first two games of every series for the Tide all season and that trend will continue this weekend. Jon Keller, who will start on Sunday, did not begin the season as the game 3 starter, but following a great relief effort earning the victory against ULL back in the first week of March, he has been the Sunday starter ever since. He did however miss a start two weeks ago in a critical rubber game with South Carolina, a contest which Alabama lost. That missed start was due to a suspension that occurred after a violation of team rules. Keller was, however, reinserted to his spot in the rotation last weekend and is expected to be there again even though said start is unofficial.

Friday night, Alabama will send out Spencer Turnbull to face off against Aaron Nola. . Turnbull's 5-4 record is no indicator of his strong season during which he has allowed just 47 hits in 72 innings on the bump. Spencer is a 6’3 power right hander throwing his fastball 93-96mph and his best offspeed pitch is a 12/6 power curve sitting around 80mph. He has really developed his changeup this past offseason, which has been the difference in his success this year. Coach Mainieri will likely load the LSU lineup with left-handed bats against Turnbull. Right handed batters are hitting just .129 against Spencer this season, while lefties are having significantly more success batting .266 against the junior.

Saturday afternoon will once again be a southpaw showdown, this time between Bama’s Justin Kamplain and LSU’s Jared Poché. Kamplain is a 6-foot junior from Alabama making his 48th career appearance on the mound for the Tide. Justin has already surpassed career highs in innings pitched and pitches thrown for a season, but continues to be effective to this point. Going against conventional statistics for a southpaw, left-handed batters (.299) hit significantly higher than those from the right side (.177) against Kamplain. Justin throws an upper 80s-90mph fastball in addition to a curve and changeup.

On Sunday, neither team has officially announced a starter, but it is more than likely that we will see Jonathan Keller vs Alden Cartwright. Keller is yet another big 6’1 southpaw that throws fastball, curveball, change; but it is his above-average, low 90s heater that makes him effective from the left side. Alden Cartwright should get the start once again for LSU. Alden threw a career high 49 pitches last Sunday matching his career high with 4 innings pitched. Fortunately for LSU, Hunter Devall and Parker Bugg should be back in action to provide additional relief this weekend, especially this game 3.

Notable stat of the week: Alabama is 11-2 vs. LH starters and just 20-16 vs RH starters.

Friday's Pitching Matchup:
UA - Jr. RHP Spencer Turnbull (5-4, 2.38 ERA, 72.0 IP, 47 H, 19 ER, 37 BB, 54 K, .190 OBA, 1.17 WHIP)
LSU - Jr. RHP Aaron Nola (7-1, 1.58 ERA, 85.2 IP, 51 H, 15 ER, 22 BB, 102 K, .173 OBA, 0.85 WHIP)

Saturday's Pitching Matchup:
UA - Jr. LHP Justin Kamplain (4-3, 3.59 ERA, 67.2 IP, 52 H, 27 ER, 24 BB, 59 K, .216 OBA, 1.12 WHIP)
LSU - Fr. LHP Jared Poché (6-3, 2.58 ERA, 69.2 IP, 56 H, 20 ER, 23 BB, 43 K, .227 OBA, 1.13 WHIP)

Sunday's Pitching Matchup:
UA - Jr. RHPJon Keller (5-2, 2.60 ERA, 65.2 IP, 56 H, 19 ER, 16 BB, 47 K, .239 OBA, 1.10 WHIP)
LSU - Fr. RHP Alden Cartwright (1-0, 1.69 ERA, 26.2 IP, 19 H, 5 ER, 7 BB, 20 K, .202 OBA, 0.98 WHIP)

Relief Pitching:
The bullpen isn’t the strongest aspect of this Alabama club, but Gaspard hit a home run when he inserted true freshman Thomas Burrows into the closer role. Twice named SEC freshman of the week, the southpaw Burrows has recorded 9 saves and a 0.90 ERA in a team high 20 appearances. Burrows has only allowed 14 hits in 30 innings pitched. His mixes a 90mph fastball, curveball, change and his arm angle is really deceptive hiding the ball from hitters. Burrows was named to the NCBWA Midseason Stopper of the Year Watchlist, and left-handed batters are just 2 for 27 (.074) facing Burrows this season. The bullpen as a whole is very young due to a couple of guys like Kamplain moving to a full time starter role, but they have done a fairly solid job this season.

Top Bullpen Arms:
Fr. LHP Thomas Burrows (20 app, 4-1, 9 saves, 0.90 ERA, 30.0 IP, 14 H, 3 ER, 7 BB, 29 K, .146 OBA, 0.57 WHIP)
Sr. RHP Tucker Hawley (11 app, 3-1, 1.32 ERA, 34.0 IP, 23 H, 5 ER, 7 BB, 22 K, .197 OBA, 0.88 WHIP)
Fr. RHP Nick Eicholtz (18 app, 3-1, 2.49 ERA, 47.0 IP, 31 H, 13 ER, 26 BB, 37 K, .190 OBA, 1.21 WHIP)
Jr. RHP Jay Shaw (17 app, 2-3, 3.58 ERA, 27.2 IP, 27 H, 11 ER, 13 BB, 15 K, .257 OBA, 1.45 WHIP)
Fr. RHP Geoffrey Bramblett (15 app, 4-1, 3.71 ERA, 34.0 IP, 24 H, 14 ER, 15 BB, 38 K, .202 OBA, 1.15 WHIP)
So. RHP Ray Castillo (14 app, 1-0, 4.18 ERA, 32.1 IP, 33 H, 15 ER, 18 BB, 22 K, .266 OBA, 1.58 WHIP)

Alabama Offense: (LSU numbers in parentheses)
Team BA: .282 (.274)
Team OBP: .355 (.360)
Team SLG: .399 (.387)

The Alabama offense doesn’t have a ton of star power, but these guys get the job done in different ways. Their 34 home runs is 2nd most in the conference and 15th in the country. Ten different players have gone yard for the Tide and six players have 4 or more HRs. Mikey White is the hottest hitter on the team hitting .525 over the last 5 games despite the team dropping 4 of those contests. White has secured the leadoff spot and developed into the leader of this club as just a sophomore. The leading hitter on the team is the lone senior Austen Smith. The first baseman Smith is batting .347 on the year, has left the yard 6 times, and leads the team in walks and OBP. Ben Moore leads the team with 7 long balls and sports a solid .313 average. Wade Wass, who mixes between catcher and DH, is 4th in the SEC with 17 doubles on the season. There are just 2 leftys, Salem and Hughston, in the Alabama lineup.

As a group, this Crimson Tide offense strikes out at a ton. With 172 strikeouts in 24 games, Tide hitters are punched out more than 7 times per SEC contest, about 2 more per game than LSU on average. On the bases, the Tide runs at an alarmingly low rate. Alabama has only attempted to steal 44 bases in 49 games. Their 31 successful stolen bases ranks dead last in the SEC and 255th in the country. The leading base stealer is outfielder Ben Moore with 8 on the season.

Alabama Projected Lineup:
1) SS Mikey White (.302 avg, 7 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 27 RBI, 37 R, 20 BB, 30 K, 3-5 SB)
2) CF Georgie Salem (.297 avg, 9 2B, 3B, HR, 17 RBI, 26 R, 8 BB, 27 K, 6-9 SB)
3) RF Ben Moore (.313 avg, 11 2B, 3B, 7 HR, 31 RBI, 37 R, 13 BB, 14 K, 8-10 SB)
4) DH Wade Wass (.300 avg, 17 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 26 R, 21 BB, 43 K, 2-2 SB)
5) 2B Kyle Overstreet (.294 avg, 5 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 32 R, 17 BB, 22 K, 0-1 SB)
6) 1B Austen Smith (.347 avg, 10 2B, 6 HR, 33 RBI, 25 R, 24 BB, 31 K, 5-6 SB)
7) LF Casey Hughston (.265 avg, 5 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 13 R, 5 BB, 42 K, 0-2 SB)
8) C Will Haynie (.179 avg, 2 2B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R, 5 BB, 47 K, 0-0 SB)
9) 3B Chance Vincent (.253 avg, 5 2B, HR, 23 RBI, 19 R, 12 BB, 20 K, 1-1 SB)

Other Contributors:
OF Hunter Webb (.282 avg, 3 2B, 7 RBI, 10 R, 7 BB, 10 K, 5-6 SB)
3B Daniel Cucjen (.265 avg, HR, 4 RBI, 9 R, 9 BB, 8 K, 1-2 SB)

Defense:
Alabama is fielding .971 as a team, which is just below the SEC average. They have turned 43 double plays as a team to LSU’s 31. Middle infielders Mikey White and Kyle Overstreet have combined for just 12 errors on the season for a tremendous .975 FLD% between them. The 3rd baseman Chance Vincent leads the team with 15 errors. Alabama as a team has committed the 2nd most errors in SEC games this season. Both Tide catchers, Will Haynie and Wade Wass, have thrown out around the same number of base stealers and combine for a 36% throw out rate between them. LSU catchers throw out runners on 42% of steals, and the team is fielding .973 as a group.

Season Stats
Roster
Schedule (via Warren Nolan)

Media Coverage:
TV: Friday – none; Saturday – CSS/CST; Sunday – CSS/CST
Online: Friday only – GeauxZone video; Saturday and Sunday - espn3.com and the watchESPN app
Radio: 98.1 FM (check your local listings) all 3 games; audio always available through the GeauxZone

Big thanks to AstroTiger for posting this on the Rant - LINK
Filed Under: LSU Baseball

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