Feast or famine. When it comes to SEC experience, this weekend will showcase two teams encompassing that phrase to a T. LSU will put out a starting lineup with 184 SEC games under it's belt from 2011, while Mississippi State has mere 17, and only between two players. So to say the deck may be stacked against the Bulldogs is an understatement.
It's hard to believe that 5 of State's 9 opening day starters are on the proverbial disabled list. Brent Brownlee, recovering from knee surgery, is expected out 4-6 weeks, CT Bradford is out 4-6 weeks with a separated shoulder, Daryl Norris is out 4 weeks with a dislocated knee cap, Taylor Stark is confirmed out 4-6 weeks with a hamstring injury, and the lone pitcher (primary position) Ben Bracewell is sidelined with elbow soreness that seems to be week to week.
But there's no crying in baseball, and John Cohen is confident in his replacements for the injured players. Philip Casey and Brayden Jones split time at Norris' 3b spot during the midweek series at SE Louisiana, and Tyler Fullerton, Hunter Renfroe, and Demarcus Henderson are expected to man the left field, center field, and right field positions, respectively.
Fortunately for State, the pitching rotation has been strong, and outside of Bracewell, relatively healthy. MSU has flip-flopped Friday night starters the past few weeks, but if Cohen is to replicate last week, look for Ross Mitchell to get the first pitch, with Chris Stratton in relief. There was rumor that Cohen had though about starting Reed on Friday night, but unless something changes, it looks like that was just talk. Saturday looks to see Nick Routt with Evan Mitchell behind him, and finish sunday with Kendall Graveman on the mound.
For State to be able to compete despite all the injuries it has to be strong on the mound as batting will certainly be a challenge against LSU's always talented pitching staff. Look for LSU to throw Kevin Gausman (4-0, 1.32 ERA) on Friday, followed by Ryan Eades (3-1, 2.13) on Saturday. Up until recently freshman Kurt McCune (1-2, 5.40) has been getting the start on the back end of the weekend, but LSU coach Paul Mainieri has made the switch to another first year guy in Aaron Nola, who was also mentioned in our LSU baseball Q&A session.
LSU is surely an elite SEC baseball program, starting off SEC play on the road at famed Alex Box stadium won't be easy, but it will give the young Bulldog team a nice barometer of where we currently are and where we want to go.