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Tigers prepare for top five tilt

4/20/2012

The regular season won't get much better than this weekend's clash between No. 3 Kentucky and No. 4 LSU.

Predictably enough, Lexington, Ky., ranks second as the No. 2 series of the weekend in the newest edition of the weekend preview -- behind only No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 12 Miami.

The Tigers (31-7, 11-4) can claim the top spot in the SEC with another series win this weekend. LSU's recent tear has raised eyebrows around the country, with the Tigers winning four of their five SEC series while downing the likes of No. 1 Florida and No. 15 Arkansas.

Kentucky (33-5, 11-4) has yet to lose a conference series, and that impressive feat has come against a similarly strong schedule. The Wildcats have successfully navigated a brutal schedule to this point, with series wins against No. 22 Ole Miss, then-No. 18 Georgia and Tennessee. Kentucky also swept No. 8 South Carolina, the defending national champion.

Both teams have gotten to this point riding different strengths. Kentucky's team batting average of .316 leads the star-studded SEC. The only team that slugs the ball as well as Kentucky is the No. 1 Gators. The Wildcats just trail Florida's 48 team home runs with 44.

LSU's offense has come alive in recent weeks, but nobody would confuse it with a juggernaut. The Tigers are batting a healthy .303 as a team, good enough for fourth in the league, and their small ball approach has netted them 247 RBI, which trails only Kentucky's 258. But with the exception of a stellar few, such as Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz, the Tigers have struggled against strong pitching.

Luckily the Wildcats are anything but dominant, with a team ERA of 3.56. The Tigers' defense takes precedence in that regard, as they boast the league's second-best ERA (2.96) behind their weekend trio of Kevin Gausman, Ryan Eades and Aaron Nola. Those three have combined for 168 strikeouts on the year -- the bulk of LSU's SEC-best 348 strikeouts.

Pitching matchups

Friday: LSU RHP Kevin Gausman (6-1, 2.76 ERA) vs. UK LHP Taylor Rogers (4-1, 5.07 ERA).

Saturday: LSU RHP Ryan Eades (5-1, 2.51 ERA) vs. UK LHP Jerard Grundy (3-1, 4.60 ERA).

Sunday: LSU RHP Aaron Nola (5-1, 3.15 ERA) vs. UK LHP Corey Littrell (6-0, 1.95 ERA).