No season-opening series is going to tell you exactly what lies ahead in a long baseball season, but the best news for No. 3 LSU is that no red flags went up during its three-game sweep of Maryland over the weekend at Alex Box Stadium.
We don’t know if the Friday night starter – whether it’s going to be Aaron Nola all season or Ryan Eades taking over at some point – is going to be an adequate replacement for Kevin Gausman.
We don’t exactly what’s going to happen with the Sunday starter’s role or many of the bullpen roles because injuries to Nick Rumbelow (oblique) and Kurt McCune (back spasms) have necessitated some juggling.
We don’t know if Chris Cotton is going to be as good, better or worse than Nick Goody was as a closer last season, especially when he takes on his second role as presumed Sunday starter.
We don’t know if the Tigers are a better offensive team and whether they can be as good a defensive team without Austin Nola as they were with him.
But the first indications are that enough of the key questions will be answered positively enough for LSU to contend for the Southeastern Conference championship and make a post-season run.
In other words, so far so good.
Here are some specific observations from weekend number one:
–The Tigers got pretty much what they hoped to see from Aaron Nola and Eades, respectively, on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Nola was the more impressive of the two, and certainly looks to be LSU’s best starter. But it’s still not out of the question that their roles could reverse some time before the start of SEC play in mid-March. Eades isn’t likely to “beat out Nola” but if coach Paul Mainieri reverses the roles it would mean Eades has earned his confidence enough to go on Friday.
–Brent Bonvillain was adequate in his first start Sunday, giving up four hits and two runs, one earned, and walking one and striking out three in four innings. The key for Bonvillain is going to be how consistent he is especially if he bounces between Sunday starts, mid-weeks starts and relief appearances.
–The Tigers hope Cody Glenn is as good or better than Bonvillain was when he starts against Lamar on Tuesday.
–Cotton looked a lot like he did last season in pitching twice over the weekend. Though he gave up a run in two innings Saturday he wasn’t hit hard, he just got touched for a couple of hits. He was solid in closing Friday.
–The depth in the bullpen looks encouraging after Sunday’s by-committee approach, though it’s hard to gauge the bullpen until SEC play gets started.
–Just as the limited offensive production on Friday and Saturday was no cause for panic, so too was the breakout performance Sunday no cause for celebration.Marylandwas running out of pitching and its defense didn’t help the pitchers either with a two-run error at third and a misplayed flyball that sent home another run. Still, the fact that the offense didn’t vanish with Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz being ordinary is a good sign.
–JaCoby Jones was definitely more patient and disciplined at the plate over the weekend. Old habits die hard, but his start to the season is very encouraging.
–Speaking of Jones he had one of the better quips on opening weekend. After his lazy fly ball to right-center in the seventh inning turned into an RBI-single after the Terrapins outfielders lost it in the sun, Jones said he told Rhymes it was a Rhymes-like hit. Rhymes got several fortuitous hits as he batted a school-record .431 last season.
–Everybody knows Alex Bregman is not going to be Austin Nola at shortstop, but he was error-free over the weekend. He looks to be adequate there, but there will be times during the season when the Tigers will be reminded of just how spoiled they were while Nola played short.
–Nothing was more enjoyable to see over the weekend than the start Chris Sciambra had after returning from his neck injury. He went 5-for-8 at the plate and reached base nine times. Mainieri said other than lacking outstanding speed, Sciambra has become “the consummate leadoff hitter.” That’s big for this team.
–Mark Laird showed his speed and athleticism by making three top-flight defensive plays in right field Saturday, but didn’t get a chance to really show off his speed on the bases. Mainieri said to watch out when he does.