BATON ROUGE -- With a road trip to No. 2 Kentucky looming, this weekend's series against Alabama is one LSU would be wise to win.
The No. 7 Tigers (27-7, 8-4) host Alabama this weekend after taking an impressive five of six games from SEC heavyweights Florida and Arkansas. If you simply look at the SEC standings, it's easy to assume the Crimson Tide (13-20, 4-8) will be an easy out for an LSU team that has won 9 of its last 10 games.
The Tide's team batting average of .255 ranks last in the SEC, as does its team ERA of 4.96. The Tigers sit fourth in the league in both categories, with a team average of .302 and a 3.10 team ERA.
Things are rarely that predictable in the SEC, though. Alabama pulled off a sweep of Auburn last weekend, giving the Tide life in the conference race after a seemingly hopeless 1-8 start. That same Auburn team took two of three from LSU back in March, so to assume anything is decided before the series even starts would be a mistake.
A few more notes for the weekend:
Getting healthy: The Tigers could finally see two difference makers who have been forced to miss recent action.
Raph Rhymes is likely a game-time decision for the Tigers after a week-long absence. Rhymes suffered a concussion as a result of a pitch to the head in last Friday's loss to Florida. He hasn't played since, but LSU coach Paul Mainieri may use him at designated hitter after watching him work out on Thursday. Rhymes' bat is bound to be useful in any SEC series. His astronomical .465 batting average leads the SEC, and his 34 RBI places him sixth in the league.
Aaron Nola is also returning to SEC play after some time off. The freshman missed the tilt against the Gators with soreness in his shoulder, which he suffered during a start against Arkansas. He pitched one inning Wednesday against Southern Miss, which was surprisingly enough to get him the win. He'll return to his usual Sunday spot against the Crimson Tide.
TV: There's no TV for the Friday night opener, but Saturday's game will be broadcast regionally on Cox Sports Television. The Sunday finale will be a national broadcast on ESPN2.
Pitching matchups: With Nola back in the weekend rotation, Mainieri will return to the tried and true against Alabama.
Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard will give the ball to freshmen in the second and third games of the series. The Tide's young duo of Justin Kamplain and Jon Keller combined to pitch 11 innings last weekend against Auburn. They gave up 12 total hits but limited the Tigers to three earned runs while striking out 11 batters.
Friday: LSU -- Kevin Gausman (5-1, 2.83 ERA); Alabama -- Trey Pilkington (1-2, 3.51 ERA)
Saturday: LSU -- Ryan Eades (4-1, 2.70 ERA); Alabama -- Justin Kamplain (1-2, 3.23 ERA)
Sunday: LSU -- Aaron Nola (4-1, 3.32 ERA); Alabama -- Jon Keller (1-1, 3.74 ERA)