PREVIEW: Alabama Baseball Opens Conference Play With #8 LSU
Alabama's (11-5) struggles at the plate appear to have caught up with them. The Tide has dropped three of its last four contests including a 9-2 loss to Southern Miss on Tuesday night. The team will be looking for answers when it hits the road to open up conference play against #8 LSU (13-3).
The Tigers have had a few issues of their own throughout the course of the season. Inconsistencies on the mound have been a cause for concern for the Tigers especially after losses to Lamar, Sacramento State, and Ball State.
It should go without saying that Alabama will need to be much more consistent at the plate if it plans on having success in Baton Rouge. It will not be easy sledding for the Tide as it appears that they will face off against two left-handed starting pitchers. The Tigers' probable starters are RHP Alex Lange, LHP Jared Poche, and LHP John Valek III.
Lange's 4.24 ERA is the highest among LSU's starting pitchers. However, the 2015 SEC Freshman Pitcher of the Year has a team-high 30 strikeouts. Poche is 2-1 on the year with a 2.49 ERA. His lone loss this season came against Ball State last weekend when he gave up five earned runs on eight hits. Last week's hiccup should not take away from how dangerous Poche is as he played a pivotal role in last year's College World Series run. Valek has proven to be the Tiger's most consistent pitcher. He has picked up the win in all four of his starts, while allowing one walk this season.
Alabama is dead last in almost every single batting category in the SEC, so the Tide will need a solid effort throughout their lineup especially from players who have struggled this season.
Will Haynie is one player in particular who struggled early but has stepped in recent games. Haynie had recorded just one hit in his first eight appearances of the season. He has since recorded five hits across four starts which includes a game-winning home run against Houston.
Fortunately for Haynie and the rest of the lineup, the Tide pitching's staff has done an excellent job of getting the team out of some tough situations.
Alabama's probable starters for Friday and Saturday are RHP Geoffrey Bramblett and RHP Jake Walters. Bramblett has a 1.05 ERA across his four starts. He only has one win, but he has not been credited with a loss. Walters has a 1-2 record with his most recent loss coming in his start against Houston, but he's still managed to lead the team with 31 strikeouts.
Sunday's starter, at the moment, remains a mystery. You should likely expect to see RHP Nick Eicholtz return from injury and make his first start since February 28. In two starts, Eicholtz has not allowed an earned run.
The Tide's starting rotation will be facing a very talented LSU lineup that has a knack for racking up runs in a hurry. The Tigers have four players that have started in all 16 games and the lowest batting average among them is .295. The biggest threats at the plate are outfielders Jake Fraley and Antoine Duplantis. Both have 25 hits on the year, and they have combined to score 36 runs. Duplantis is batting .417, and Fraley is batting .397.
Alabama leads the all-time series over LSU 196-163-3. However, Mitch Gaspard is 4-16 all-time against the Tigers.
Friday's game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network. Saturday's game will begin at 6:30 p.m. CT, and Sunday's matchup will start at 1:00 p.m. CT.