Across its three games in the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic, things only got more and more frustrating for LSU.
The series hosted by the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park started off positively for the Tigers with a 4-3 win over Texas Friday night. A Daniel Cabrera two-run home run and three dominant innings from reliever Jaden Hill powered the Tigers in the marquee matchup of the weekend.
It was the fourth win in a row for the Tigers, and at the time it seemed that the team had some momentum behind them.
On Saturday, LSU saw a 4-0 lead erased with six straight unanswered runs from Baylor, which shut down the Tigers’ bats in a 6-4 comeback victory.
AJ Labas pitched his guts out in the Sunday finale against Oklahoma and carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. His no-hit bid was ruined with a solo home run from Sooner catcher Justin Mitchell for the only run of the game in a 1-0 Oklahoma victory highlighted by OU pitcher Dane Acker’s no-hitter.
It was the first time the Tigers have ever been no-hit in a full nine inning game. LSU exited Houston losing two of three games, falling to 7-5 overall.
All three LSU pitchers had a quality start where they went six innings and allowed three or fewer runs.
Combined, the LSU starters pitched 20 innings with six runs allowed (five earned) with 10 hits and three walks with 23 strikeouts. That gives the pitching staff an absurd WHIP (walks + hits divided by innings pitched) of .650 and a K/BB ratio of 7.67 for the weekend.
After striking out five straight batters Friday night, Cole Henry allowed a leadoff home run in the third inning. He then momentarily lost control, allowed two runs off two singles, two walks, and a hit by pitch.
But Henry settled and retired nine straight Longhorn hitters to end his night with three runs (two earned) allowed off four hits, two walks, and 10 strikeouts in six innings.
Landon Marceaux also threw six innings on Saturday, where he gave up two runs (both earned) on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts.
In the first five innings, Marceaux had scattered three hits. But in his final inning, Marceaux couldn’t dance around Baylor’s bats, giving up a double and a two-run home run on back to back pitches.
If you needed any proof baseball is a cruel sport, this is Labas’ line in a losing effort Sunday vs. Oklahoma: eight innings pitched, one run (earned) allowed off one hit with no walks and seven strikeouts.
That lone hit just happened to be the only run scored and the opposing pitcher just happened to be throwing a no-hitter. You can’t have worse luck than that.
The bullpen played a big part in Saturday’s collapse against Baylor, but Friday and Sunday the top two relievers looked good.
Jaden Hill carried the torch in Friday’s victory over Texas, throwing three hitless innings where he only surrendered a walk with six strikeouts. Hill recorded the rare nine-out save in a one-run game, the first of the career.
After Labas lost his no-hitter, Devin Fontenot came in to pitch the ninth and keep the Sunday finale close. He gave up a leadoff double that skirted over first base before turning into foul territory, but recorded three straight out to escape danger and keep the game within a run.
It’s admittedly cherry picking, but if you add Hill and Fontenot’s combined four innings of work with the LSU starters’, the WHIP dives all the way down to .625.
It’s hard to imagine losing two out of three games when you get 24 innings of great performances from your pitching staff, but that’s LSU’s reality.
Houston, We Have A Problem
LSU had the pitching to win the weekend but the offense wasn’t there, especially in the final 12 innings starting with the seventh inning against Baylor continuing through being no-hit by Oklahoma.
In that stretch, LSU went 2 for 36 (.056) with 14 strikeouts and no runs scored. It culminated a terrible stay in Houston, going 17 for 89, a paltry .191 average. The Tigers struck out 34 times including more than 10 times in all three games.
There is some youth in LSU’s lineup and it’s apparent that the new faces need time to adjust and improve. It’s not unprecedented for the Tigers to struggle early while the lineup finds its footing, going 12-6 in 2018 and 13-6 in non-conference play before the start of the SEC schedule.
But the Tigers’ current record of 7-5 after 12 games is Mainieri’s worst start since his first season in Baton Rouge in 2007.
LSU is probably glad to get out of Minute Maid Park and the Crawford Boxes in left field. The foul pole in left is only 315 feet, and most teams took advantage.
The Tigers gave up seven runs on five homers, all to left field. Baylor launched three homers for five runs.
Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin hit a massive two-run blast to left that not only cleared the Crawford Boxes but the ornamental train tracks above it, exiting the stadium via the open roof.
Two of the Tigers’ three home runs went out to left, including Alex Milazzo’s first career home run against Baylor.