By Glenn Guilbeau / GANNETT LOUISIANA
BATON ROUGE – The LSU baseball team has already lost as many games six weeks into the 2014 season as it did through the entire, three-month regular season last year.
The Tigers, 20-8-1 in 2014, finished the 2013 regular season at 48-8 and rolled into Omaha for the College World Series at 57-9 before finishing 57-11. Their longest losing streak was two, and it happened twice. The Tigers are also in last place in the Southeastern Conference West at 3-5-1 after winning the West a year ago at 23-7.
LSU lost for the fourth consecutive time on Sunday at Florida, 11-7, and was swept in a series for the first time since 2011. On Monday it fell from No. 8 in the Baseball America poll to No. 20. It has not won since beating Georgia 2-1 on March 22. A 2-2 tie against Georgia followed and a 3-2 loss in 11 innings at Tulane.
“Last year I felt like I was 35,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri, 56, said on Monday. “This year, I feel like I’m 75. It’s been a tough first half of the season.”
The Tigers host McNeese State (16-10, 6-3 Southland Conference) on Wednesday night at 6:30 before hosting No. 9 Mississippi State (20-10), which is tied for the SEC West lead at 6-3, Friday through Sunday.
“But if you’re looking for a sound bite of me being down on somebody or whatever, it’s not coming,” Mainieri said to a dozen reporters in his office. “OK? Look, we have some areas of concern. There’s no question about it. But as far as I’m concerned, we have seven weekends to go, and everything is right there in front of us. We’re in a little bit of a hole. I don’t deny that. I wish we were 4-5 or 5-4 instead of 3-5-1, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
LSU’s biggest problem is that its veteran hitters are in a slump. Four regular returning starters are hitting .274 or lower with Mark Laird at .274, Christian Ibarra and Tyler Moore at .268 and Sean McMullen at .265. Freshman Kramer Robertson is hitting .180.
“Unfortunately, our veterans are dotted with guys hitting .260 or .270,” Mainieri said. “All of them need to step up and be leaders. There’s no question about it.”
The most shocking slump belongs to All-American sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman, who bats third in the order. After going 0-for-12 at Florida, he is hitting .097 with four hits in his last 41 at-bats since March 14 after batting .369 a year ago and .373 in the SEC. He is hitting .291 overall this season, but he is just .086 in nine SEC games with three hits in 35 at-bats. As a team, LSU is batting .212 in league games.
“If you would’ve told me before the season that Alex Bregman would be 3-for-35 in the SEC, I would’ve said, ‘How’d we win three games?’ Because Bregman is such an important part of our offense,” Mainieri said. “The poor kid, he has struggled. It’s been somewhat mechanical, somewhat mental, somewhat that he’s pressing. I can tell you this, the kid has no quit in him. I have not stopped believing in him for a second. He’s too good of a hitter for this to continue.”
Mainieri believes his team will turn it around as well.
“We’re staring up at the rest of the league,” he said. “But nobody on our team is down. We’re going to stay very, very positive. I love these kids. They’re playing hard. They’re playing with a lot of passion. We’re excited about having the next two weekends at home. We’re not going to give up. They’re trying. And I’m not down on them.”