Friday, March 26, 2010

5P Primer: South Carolina

 

An old coach used to always hammer the 5 "Ps": Prior planning prevents poor performance. Not just a fancy slogan that gets a High School football coach/Driver's Ed instructor through the day; it's also a good way to know what to expect from upcoming Auburn opponents. Here's your 5 "Ps" for Auburn's next opponent: South Carolina


PRESENTING- The University of South Carolina Gamecocks, aka the steamroller of the SEC. While Auburn has struggled over the past few years, Carolina has been red hot, putting together impressive runs from 2001 to 2004 (Where they were the winningest program in the NCAA) or their current streak (2000-2009) that they have dubbed “The Decade of Dominance”. Either way, the Aughts have been very good to the Cocks as they’ve been to the NCAA tourney every year since 2000 (Ten Straight), won the title outright in 00 and 02, and the tourney in 04. It’s a team that knows how to play good baseball. It’s also a fan base who knows how to be annoying, I’m talking Arkansas levels of annoying. As a bit if advice to Auburn fans going to the game this weekend. Avoid the first base line. Carolina travels well, their fan base is vocal, and you really don’t want to spend a game sitting by them. Carolina was picked to finish 2nd in the SEC East this year (with 2 Champion votes). They come in ranked 14 (Baseball America), 18 (Collegiate Baseball), 23 (USA Today), 21 (NCBWA) and we’re preseason number 10 going into the year (by Baseball America). A number of Garnet and Black players enter the year with preseason honors: C Kyle Enders was named to the 2010 Johnny Bench watchlist; RHP Sam Dyson (below) is a Golden Spikes candidate, as well as a a preseason all American.

PREVIOUSLY- Historically, this is a team that has had Auburn’s number. Carolina owns a 31-14 edge (14-7 at Plainsman Park) and has won each of the last 10 series. The last time Auburn won a series against USC was 1997 and have only won series against the birds three times (92,96,97). So history is going a bit against the Tigers going into play. This year, the Gamecocks are 17-4 and come in riding an impressive 11 game winning streak. Their only 4 losses have come against ECU and Clemson, two big national names. Last week the dispatched Tennessee easily, sweeping the Vols 4-2, 10-7, and 4-0. Sunday’s game was probably USC best pitching performance to date, as they combined to one hit UT with the lone baserunner coming on a bunt single. The starting rotation is one of the most solid in the league, as evidence by their splits from the last 4 games:

Blake Cooper (SR/RHP) 3-0/2.90 ERA/32k/11bb

OPP
IP
H
R
ER
SO
BB
DEC

ECU
7
4
2
2
4
2
W

Clemson
6.2
7
3
3
7
1
ND

Brown
6
2
2
2
6
4
W

UT
6.1
4
2
1
8
2
ND

Sam Dyson (Jr/RHP) 1-0/5.40 ERA/27k/6bb

OPP
IP
H
R
ER
SO
BB
DEC

ECU
4
2
2
2
5
1
ND

Clemson
5.2
5
4
4
7
2
ND

Brown
4
7
6
6
4
0
ND

UT
6
5
2
2
5
2
ND

Tyler Webb (Fr/LHP) 1-1/2.53 ERA/23k/9bb

OPP
IP
H
R
ER
SO
BB
DEC

ECU*
4.1
2
0
0
3
0
Relief

Clemson
1.1
1
4
4
1
4
L

Brown
5.2
4
2
2
7
1
ND

UT
5.2
1
0
0
6
3
W




PLAYMAKERS- You’ll notice above that the Carolina starters haven’t really gone deep into many games. Honestly the don’t need too. When in doubt, the Gamecocks can turn to their bullpen where they have 4 guys with exceptional stuff. Ethan Carter (7 appearances/1.04 ERA) Parker Bangs (9app/1.74 ERA) Mike Roth (13 app/3.52 ERA) and Matt Price (7 app/2.45 ERA). Price and Carter are just Freshman. On paper, that’s their strongest area. Sam Dyson is their stud pitcher (although the record doesn’t indicate it). He came in at #29 on College Baseball Blogs Top 100:

Dyson sat out the 2007 college season as he received a medical redshirt as he had surgery on his right elbow. He saw his first action during the 2008 season where he went a perfect 8-0 with a 4.09 ERA in 12 appearances including nine starts. He ended up striking out 44 batters in 50.1 innings of work. He was named a Freshman All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball.

Dyson continued with a strong sophomore season in 2009 as he went 9-4 with a 5.21 ERA as he struck out 94 batters in 102 innings of work. He let up 18 homers on the season but opponents only hit .237 off of him. He struggled with his control as he walked 37 batters and hit 10. The Oakland A’s selected him in the tenth round of the 2009 MLB Draft but were not able to come to terms with him.

Two bash brothers to look for are Carolina’s RF Whit Merrifield and 1B Nick Ebert. Ebert (below) is a preseason All American who lead the team with 23 HR and 72 RBIs last year. This year, Merrifield is the biggest power hitter, he’s battering a solid .352 with 5 HR, 28 runs and 21 RBI (all team leads).

Also keep and eye out for C Kyle Enders (.361) a team captain and 2B Scott Wingo, who come on a torrid pace of late (.333).

PREVIEW-

Fans expecting a highs scoring affair like last weekend are going to be mistaken. Against UGA, Auburn was able to eek out a few runs and then explode when it got to the Bulldog bullpen. This weekend, that strategy isn’t going to work. The Carolina bullpen is that good. The starting rotation could be knocked around a bit, but Auburn will have to come out smoking to start the game. Whatever the case, when Auburn gets men on base, they need to get them home. I know that seems like basic baseball, but with a USC team that’s one of the best in the nation defensively, Basically, if a ball is in play, Carolina seems to turn it into an out.

Statistically, there is a huge divide among the teams. Auburn will come into the weekend with leading the SEC in slugging %, HR, Runs, RBI, HR, and Total Bases. While Carolina comes in about the middle of the pack.

Two things to think about it when it comes to Auburn’s offense: First, we aren’t at our peak level yet. With Trent Mummey still out, and Justin Fredajas just returning, I’d say Auburn is running at about 80% of our offensive efficiency right now. In addition, Auburn has left a ton of runners on base. To win this weekend, that has to change. Any base runner Auburn gets on, needs to score. Thankfully, with our new hitting approach Auburn has been able to manufacture runs better.

Carolina won’t overpower anyone, but they will dink and dunk singles all day, so our fielding needs to be spot on. Limit the errors and you limit the free passes. Offensively, Carolina is consistent. Not flashy, not powerful, just get men on and get them home. The do rank around 4-6 in almost every offensively category. However, with Auburn’s rotation and bullpen gaining confidence, I don’t think that matchup will be the difference in the game. Especially since USC is hitting only .290 against LHP (as opposed to .309 vs RHP). Auburn will trot out two (at least) LHP.

Instead, it will be the USC pitching versus the Auburn hitting. Carolina comes in leading the league in Opposing Batting AVG and teams are only hitting a measly .208 against them. They kill rallys with a SEC high 224 Ks (74 of those looking, also an SEC high). They’ve only given up a league low 144 hits and 19 doubles. There only weakness seems to be a pension for giving up the long ball (which would play into Auburn’s favor).

That’s the key to the series, but Auburn fans have known it all along. Score Early, Score Often, and hold on tight.

PREDICTION- The atmosphere should be electric all weekend, especially with Saturday’s game being on TV. I’m torn about my prediction. The Auburn fan in me says AU will take 2 out of 3. The realist in me says Carolina takes 2 out of 3. However, it being at home, and Auburn being on a roll, I’m going to let the Auburn fan speak a little louder. AUBURN WINS TWO OUT OF THREE. On thing is for certain, AU needs to take at least one game. That will be big for the SEC race, we take at least 1 game and we will still be towards the top of the SEC West. We get swept and it almost completely erases all the good done in the UGA series.

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