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LSU baseball hits road to Auburn

3/22/2012

Remember the crazy "Gorilla Ball" days when it wasn't unusual for a team to hit nine home runs in a conference series?

If you weren't already aware that those days are long gone, consider this weekend's series between No. 13 LSU (17-4, 2-1) and Auburn (13-8, 2-1) at Auburn. The series begins with a 6 p.m. opener today and continues at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

Both teams have nine home runs for the season, the obvious result of repeated NCAA attempts to restrict bat performance. Both teams have staff earned run averages below 4.00, which would have been great a few years ago, but these days it makes LSU (3.17 ERA) and Auburn (3.42 ERA) eighth and ninth in the SEC, respectively, in pitching.

So both teams will enter the weekend looking for a little punch at Plainsman Park.

Here are three keys:

NO RUNNING, PLEASE: LSU will be out to stop Auburn's potent running game. AU has 57 stolen bases, by far the most in the SEC. Creede Simpson, Jay Gonzalez and Ryan Tella are three of the league's top four base stealers.

So far, the LSU Tigers have been good at holding runners, throwing out opposing base stealers on nine of 23 attempts, 39.1 percent. That's fourth best in the SEC.

SATURDAY SHOWDOWN: Saturday's game will match two of the SEC's top 10 pitchers statistically when LSU right-hander Ryan Eades (4-1, 1.95 ERA) opposes Auburn lefty Will Kendall (3-0, 1.69). Expect Eades, who has just four walks in 32 1/3 innings, to pound the strike zone.

LSU should have a Friday pitching matchup advantage when the dominant Kevin Gausman (4-0, 1.25) opposes Vanadore (1-2, 4.94). Auburn has a statisical advantage Sunday when lefty Daniel Koger (1-1, 2.05 ERA) opposes right-hander Aaron Nola (3-1, 3.12 ERA) in a battle of freshmen.

HOT BATS: While the home run numbers are down, LSU and AU have the two top hitters in the SEC in LSU's Raph Rhymes (.475) and AU's Tella (.442). LSU's second in the SEC with a .313 team batting average and Auburn is third with a .311 average.