Editor's note: Each week during the regular season, ESPN.com is teaming up with our friends at D1Baseball.com to provide "The Fives," a look at five teams or players in a specific category.
It's not every day that the top two teams in the rankings face each other, and even rarer that they come together late enough in the season that we can actually be reasonably confident that they are the two best teams. Not like anyone needs help getting hyped for Texas A&M vs. LSU -- it wouldn't shock me if Tigers fans have been tailgating for this one since Monday night -- but here's another log to toss on this fire.
1. Night games at Alex Box Stadium
I've always had a theory that LSU baseball and football crowds have the reputation they do because gold and purple look good on TV, but for a conference series of this magnitude, with three televised games, two of which take place at night, the atmosphere's going to be unbelievable. It'll be the kind of crowd that makes you think about how "baseball" and "bacchanal" have a lot of the same letters.
2. The running game
Andrew Stevenson leads one of the nation's elite outfields for the Tigers.
LSU has stolen 71 bases, by far the most in the SEC, and has done so at a 79.7 percent clip, well above the break-even point, which is around 70 percent. Texas A&M, meanwhile, holds down the running game better than anyone in the conference: Only 62.2 percent of would-be basestealers have made it against the Aggies, a mark that drops to 55.6 percent when junior Michael Barash is behind the plate. In SEC play, opposing basestealers are 8-for-15. Whether Paul Manieri even sends the likes of Alex Bregman (24-for-28) this weekend is an interesting question, because the advantage to stifling the running game is often less about throwing runners out than it is about preventing them from trying anything in the first place. An interesting potential sub-subplot: Barash, a transfer in his first year at Texas A&M, started his collegiate career at LSU.
3. For all the hype about LSU's offense, A&M's might be better
Sounds crazy, but it's true. LSU leads Texas A&M in batting average, but batting average tells you less about the ability to avoid outs than on-base percentage, and less about how much a team's hits are actually worth than slugging percentage. Right now, LSU's only got a one-point advantage in OBP, while the Aggies are outslugging the Tigers by 26 points. And that's not a quirk of Texas A&M's weak nonconference schedule; the Aggies have actually overtaken LSU in strength of schedule rankings, so you can take your "ain't played nobody" and put it back in your pocket for the time being. LSU claws back some of that power deficit with the running game and good contact skills, so it might not actually make that big a difference. In fact, in 40 games for each team, they rank 12th and 13th in the nation in runs scored, with A&M holding a negligible six-run advantage.
4. LSU hardly strikes out
About that contact skill ... simply being able to put the ball in play is a huge advantage, particularly in the college game, where errors are fairly common, and where knowing your hitter can advance a runner by ground ball might eliminate some of the temptation to give an out away by bunting. LSU hitters strike out in 11.5 percent of their plate appearances, compared to 15 percent for Texas A&M. And A&M doesn't really strike out that much either. Vanderbilt hitters strike out in 20.6 percent of their plate appearances, despite not having to face Carson Fulmer.
Look at it this way: The Tigers average about 42.5 plate appearances a game, which means their advantage in strikeout rate over Vanderbilt is worth almost four extra balls in play every game. That's four more opportunities to advance a baserunner, or for a Texas Leaguer to fall in, or for a nervous freshman to boot a grounder. With two teams as closely matched as these two, that could be the difference in the series.
5. Not sure the outcome will matter much
That's the dirty secret of series like these, which pit two outstanding teams against one another during the regular season. LSU and A&M are No. 1 and 2 in the D1Baseball.com rankings, and both are top 10 in the RPI and in very, very comfortable position for a national seed come tournament time. Even if one team completely slips on a banana peel, gets swept and looks bad in the process (which I don't think will happen), there's no shame in getting swept by LSU or Texas A&M. Even if such a loss does kick a team down in the standings, there's still time to claw back into the race for a national seed.
It's far more likely that this series ends 2-1, with at least two of those games ending up being close or going into extra innings. It wouldn't be an LSU weekend series if that didn't happen. So for all the hype, and for as good a series as I hope this will be, there's going to be relatively little at stake for the two teams involved. If I had to pick, I'd say that LSU takes two of three, if only because LSU has home-field advantage and I think Alex Lange is the best pitcher in the series, but who knows? That's why they pack 10,000 purple-shirted banshees into a stadium to watch the kids settle this for themselves.