Perhaps it’s time to retire the Rally Bees tee shirts, because the days since Paul Mainieri and Co. wore them to practice have been more like a colony collapse than a collective storm.
LSU followed up its frustrating walk-off loss at Tulane by going on the road and getting swept by South Carolina. The Gamecocks bludgeoned LSU by a combined score of 22-4 in the first two games and overcame a six-run deficit to pull off an 8-6 stunner on Sunday afternoon.
It’ll go down as the first time LSU has been swept in a Southeastern Conference series or lost four games in a row in four years.
Let’s take a look at what went wrong, the couple bright spots in a miserable weekend and where LSU (24-17, 9-9 SEC) with four weeks to go in the regular season. We’ll start with the balls because, frankly, it wasn’t pretty.
- No Relief
LSU’s bullpen has been a somewhat unexpected strength that’s helped keep the team afloat this season, but this week was a disaster no matter how you slice it. The bullpen blew late leads in two of the four losses and allowed a third game to get out of hand once Zack Hess departed. Devin Fontenot and Matt Beck, two of LSU’s best arms this season, were in the middle of both meltdowns. Throwing strikes, an old bugaboo for this staff, cropped back up at the worst possible time. Here’s the damage laid out in statistical form: 16.2 innings pitched, 23 earned runs (12.42 ERA) and 16 walks.
- Momentum Lost
LSU seemed primed to turn the corner after sweeping Tennessee in dramatic fashion last weekend. The Tigers hit the halfway point of league play at 9-6, got leading hitter Brandt Broussard back in the lineup and had a chance to stockpile wins ahead of pivotal series with Ole Miss and Arkansas. Instead they took a big ole face plant and will have to dig deep and find some confidence before a daunting trip to Oxford next weekend.
- Rare Clunker
Everybody has an off day, and if anybody was due for one, it was Ma’Khail Hilliard. The freshman has been nails in every big spot for LSU, usually without the benefit of much runs support, but he got hit hard on Saturday in Columbia. South Carolina tagged him for eight runs on eight hits in 2.2 innings, which ballooned his ERA from a sterling 1.75 to 4.35. More than anything, the rare rough outing speaks to how heavily LSU depends on both Hess and Hilliard to get good every time out. Smart money is only Hilliard bouncing back strong his next time out, but it bears watching nonetheless.
- Crisp and Cold
Mainieri was certainly dead-on in his hunch that Nick Bush offered the best chance of any reliever to answer LSU’s Sunday starter vacancy. Bush navigated in and out of some early jams Sunday before hitting a groove. He posted career highs in innings (5) and strikeouts (7) before handing a three-hit shutout over to the bullpen. Of course, the collapse that followed also highlight’s why Mainieri was apprehensive to take the lefty out of the setup role in which he’d thrived all season.
- Daniel Cabrera
The LSU offense went silent for the first two games of the South Carolina series, scoring in only one out of 18 innings, but the freshman temporarily brought the bats to life on Sunday. Inserted into the leadoff spot, Cabrera took South Carolina starter Chad Morris the other way for a three-run homer that gave LSU its first lead of the weekend. Cabrera added an RBI double and scored another run in LSU’s three-run fifth inning. It was all for naught, but he did drive in six runs this week after his heroics last weekend.
- No Ground Lost
Hard as this may be to believe, LSU didn’t actually lose any ground in the SEC West race. Unlike Florida in the eastern division, nobody seems interested in separating themselves from the field to this point. The Tigers remain one game back of Arkansas, which suffered a sweep at the hands of Mississippi State. Ole Miss, who LSU visits next weekend, pulled into a tie with the Hogs by taking a series from Georgia. LSU is presently in a three-way tie for third place with Texas A&M, which just dropped a series against Tennessee, and Auburn. The good news: LSU has series remaining against three of those four teams. The bad news: those games won’t go well if LSU plays like it did this weekend.