Why LSU baseball's Saturday starter problem could become a postseason problem
The Tigers won 6-5 on Friday and bounced back from an 8-3 loss on Saturday with a 12-3 victory on Sunday. But for as productive as the series was for LSU (32-15, 14-10 SEC), it further exposed a flaw that has haunted the Tigers for most of the year: Saturday starting pitching.
Blake Money, LSU's Saturday starter for the majority of its SEC matchups, continued his poor run of form against Alabama (26-22, 10-14). He failed to record an out in the first inning and left his start allowing two earned runs, two hits and two walks.
LSU coach Jay Johnson suggested before the series that Money may not start on Saturday, as he and pitching coach Jason Kelly have been making suggestions to the sophomore as to how he can turn around his recent struggles.
But Johnson started Money anyway and it didn't work. Here's why his troubles may create issues for the Tigers moving forward.
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Blake Money's struggles
Money's troubles began against Bethune-Cookman the weekend prior to the start of SEC play, allowing four earned runs in 4⅓ innings. And things only got worse once the Tigers began facing SEC competition.
In eight SEC starts, Money has an 8.16 ERA. He's surrendered 42 hits in 29⅔ innings pitched and has recorded just five strikeouts in his last five starts. The numbers are jarring, especially considering that Money had allowed just one earned run in his opening 20⅔ innings.
His struggles have not only put LSU behind but have also placed more stress on a bullpen that's been tested routinely. Money hasn't gotten past the third inning in any of his last three starts.
There are no great Money replacements
A possible replacement is freshman Sam Dutton, the Sunday starter for the past six weeks. Dutton has been effective, allowing no more than two earned runs in each of those starts. But filling him in one hole would open up another and he was far from stellar against Alabama on Sunday, failing to escape the first inning.
Freshman Grant Taylor, sophomore Will Hellmers and sophomore Ty Floyd are the other Tigers with multiple starts, but each of them have shown flaws.
Taylor has only gone two innings in each of his two starts. And in relief of Money on Saturday, he allowed three hits and walked five. Hellmers has had four starts, but they've only come against mid-major teams and he never got past the fourth inning in any of them. Floyd has started more games (seven) than Dutton, yet in his last outing as a starter he gave up three earned runs in 1⅓ innings to New Orleans.
Arizona transfer Bryce Collins is a fifth wild-card option for the spot. He made his first start on Tuesday against Nicholls State and the redshirt sophomore didn't give up a run but also couldn't get past the third inning.
How this affects LSU's postseason chances
Seven inning shutouts are not what LSU needs from its starters. But the Tigers are going to have trouble winning in the postseason if the lineup is consistently forced to dig them out of early holes or if the bullpen gets overused as they go deeper into June.
LSU is still in a good spot heading into the middle third of May. Entering this week, D1 Baseball projected that LSU would host a regional. They are guaranteed to finish with a better record in conference play than last season.
But making or hosting a regional has not been LSU's goal this season. Reaching the College World Series and winning it is. And despite having a deep bullpen and a strong lineup, the Tigers won't get there unless their starting pitching improves.
Koki Riley covers LSU sports for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @KokiRiley.