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LSU at South Carolina Baseball: Q&A with And the Valley Shook

Many of you are probably familiar with SBN's fine LSU blog, And the Valley Shook. The folks over there (specifically, PodKATT) and I got together to chat about this weekend's pivotal SEC series, which may determine the SEC Championship, depending on what happens with Kentucky. Here's what they had to say in response to my questions. (Here are my responses to their questions.)

1. LSU ranks 43rd in the country with a 3.26 team ERA. Not great, but certainly not bad. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your pitching staff? What should we expect from the starters, and how deep is the bullpen?

The biggest individual strength is easily Friday (or in this case, Thursday) starter Kevin Gausman. He's a draft eligible guy who's high on everyone's board and it's because he's a strong strike thrower who can just blow batters away with his fastball. He's leading the SEC with 112 strikeouts so far this season and has the potential to go the distance for a long outing. The other guys in the starting rotation have been good, but have struggled a bit as of late, especially Ryan Eades, who's had a rough year on the road in conference. But luckily our bullpen has turned out great this year and is probably the most improved portion of the team from the last few years. Broussard, Bonvillain, Bourgeois, and Cotton all do well in middle to late relief and Nick Goody has been absolutely nasty as a closer (last week's blown save against Vandy not withstanding)

2. LSU's Raph Rhymes (what a name, huh?) leads the country with an unbelievable .478 BA, a full .28 points ahead of the next guy in line. What makes Rhymes so good? Any chance he breaks .500?

It's been pointed out on a few TV games this year (and will likely be brought up by the ESPNU crew on Saturday) that Rhymes succeeds because his swing keeps the bat flat and level through most of the strike zone, and it gives him a higher chance of hitting the ball. He's not a power hitter by any means, but he's great at getting a short single that will bring somebody in for a run. He was hitting .500 heading into last weekend, but after going 2 for 12 in the series, it's going to be tough to make up that ground. I won't say it's impossible, but he's going to have to have a stellar weekend for him to get back to .500 in these last 3 games. The national batting title (and a new LSU all-time record) are certainly going to be his though.

3. LSU has generally been a pretty effective team--obviously, since the SEC crown is on the line this weekend. However, the Tigers have lost series to mid-tier teams like Auburn and Vandy. What has been at play in LSU's breakdowns over the course of the season?

LSU's problem all year is that the offense isn't strong enough to pull away from decent teams, which has lead to an amazing 15 one-run games in league play. I'm going to sound like a homer, but there are decent excuses for all 3 of LSU's series losses this year. Early on vs. Appalachian State, we essentially pulled a Michigan. They were a good team (that will make the NCAA's this year) that had an outstanding weekend and LSU didn't respect what they were capable of. Against Auburn, some questionable calls at home plate and a severe season ending neck injury to our center fielder helped give the other Tigers the edge. Things were going great against Vandy until our starting catcher Ty Ross had to be rushed to the hospital Saturday afternoon for an emergency appendectomy, taking his decent bat and excellent pickoff skills with him. Vandy took immediate advantage of his replacement and had 9 stolen bases the rest of the weekend. LSU's offense is just good enough to keep us in games when our pitching is decent, but if some odd injury happens or if you catch the battery on a bad night, LSU will be hard pressed to overcome a lead.

4. Tell us how you think the weekend will pan out.

Almost anything could happen results wise and I would not be surprised. Both teams are strong enough to win the weekend, but I think home field advantage in the SEC alone is enough to keep LSU from sweeping. Thursday night will be a real challenge for Gausman (and should make for an excellent pitcher's duel) but I think LSU can take it. I'm not certain Eades will get out of his funk, so I'm guessing the Gamecocks take the finale on Saturday. Friday is the wildcard here and I'm just not sure if Aaron Nola and the bullpen will be able to take it. I'll say LSU wins the series 2-1, but that 2nd game is a toss up.