Opinion: Mainieri’s right…
…this year’s Tigers just aren’t very good
By Cody WorshamPosted May 18, 2011
Tom Hanks once said, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
For the 2011 LSU baseball team, however, I think he’d make an exception.
What began with great optimism is concluding with the same pleasantness and products of a root canal, sans anesthetic – some yelling, some pain, some tears, and some too-quickly emptied handles of alcohol.
After the 16-1 start to the season that saw a young Tiger squad sweep perennial powerhouse Cal State Fullerton, many LSU fans began booking tickets to Hoover and Omaha, expecting the Tigers to win their fourth consecutive SEC Tournament title on the way to a third College World Series in four seasons.
Now, a tournament birth – any tournament birth – is like Jerry Seinfeld’s hair: an assumed fact in the distant past, but now a widely accepted lost cause.
The nail in the proverbial coffin of this columnist’s optimism came the Monday after the Tigers dropped two in a row in Alabama to fall three games out of the eighth and final spot for the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
That day, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri admitted to a gathering of the media that the 2011 team simply isn’t as talented as Tiger teams past.
“I hate to talk about it before the season is over but quite frankly, yes,” Mainieri said, when asked if the team’s struggles were due to a lack of talent. “I think we don’t have the personnel we’ve become accustomed to the last couple of years.”
“Guys are trying the very best they can. They all have their moments, and we’re playing the guys we think give us the best chance,” he said. “But we need to hit the recruiting path pretty hard and try to upgrade in some areas.”
He also took blame for the apparent talent deficiency, admitting he might have misevaluated some recruits and pursued others who were unattainable.
“We lost some kids we thought we would have and maybe some kids in there right now have had to move up the food chain in terms of what we’re expecting. Maybe we’re asking some kids to do things they aren’t capable of doing. It’s not their fault; they’re doing the very best they can.”
But Mainieri admitted, and this columnist agrees, that their best simply isn’t good enough.
Sure, there are some players who have performed admirably. Mikie Mahtook has managed to shirk off any contagious suckage that may be floating around the locker room to put together a stellar junior season. He leads the league in home runs and enthusiastic chest thumps, and should win SEC Player of the Year – a trophy that will look nice in his minor league locker next year.
Raph Rhymes has also been very good. Apparently, the LSU-Eunice transfer’s skillset includes consistent line-drive hitting, in addition to instruction on the nuances of the Dougie. He’ll be a mainstay at the top of the Tiger lineup for (hopefully) two more seasons.
Freshman Kurt McCune has also been a pleasant surprise, leading the Tiger pitching staff in wins and ERA. No witty comment here, just an appropriate “The Coon” in my best Cartman voice. Junior Matty Ott and freshman Kevin Gausman have also provided some great moments from the hill.
Throw in an emergent Mason “Kitty” Katz (no offense, Mason, I just really, really like cats), and you’ve got six pretty good players and two animal references.
However, the dozen Tigers remaining, for the most part, have been either terribly inconsistent or consistently terrible.
Unfortunately, Mainieri and the majority of Tiger baseball observers were deceived by a string of substance-less victories early in the season.
We assumed the sweeps of a bad Wake Forest team and a nervous, butter-fingered Cal State Fullerton were the norm, and the loss to (a terrible) Princeton the outlier.
Instead, the Tigers’ early season errors that we ignored during victory weren’t products of rust, but of poor fundamentals. The hot hitting was not really hot hitting, but opponents’ dead-arm pitching and drunk-monkey fielding.
Juniors expected to have all-conference seasons have booted grounders and stranded runners, and potential-laden sophomores have been given the opportunity only to drop the ball – literally and figuratively.
In reality, this team doesn’t have a Louis Coleman or an Anthony Ranaudo to guarantee the must-win game. There are no Blake Deans, Ryan Schimpfs, or Jared Mitchells driving in runs behind Mahtook and Rhymes.
There’s the handful of haves, and the two-dozen have-nots. And if the latter are counted on to win in 2012, then Mainieri will need more than a 2009 CWS ring to survive the scorn of Tiger fans until 2013.