5 P Primer: Alabama
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: Alabama
PRESENTING- Seriously? You're an Auburn fan. You know about Alabama. There's nothing much more I can say except some nuts and bolts about this year's Tide squad. Mitch Gaspard is in his his first season at the helm for Bama. He takes over for Jim Wells who had that weird, "I'm quitting-I'm back-I'm done-Well, one more year can't hurt" flip flop a few years ago. The Tide comes in with high preseason expectations and lived up the the early hype, as they steamrolled to one of the best starts in school history; jumping out to a 17-2 record. The Tide are currently ranked 29 (NCBWA), 25 (Baseball America), 24 (USA Today). They have the talent to compete with anyone, but something has happened to the Tide as of late. Something that might be a concern for the Crimson faithful
PREVIOUSLY- Last season, Auburn, despite its troubles, managed to take 3 out of the 4 games from Alabama. Winning the inaugural Max Capital City Classic and taking this first two games of the season ending series 3-1 and 3-2 before ending the season on a sour note and a 13-3 blowout loss to the Tide. This year, Auburn once again took the Capital City Classic (8-6). However, Tiger fans shouldn't be complacent, that early season contest means absolutely nothing right now. Both Bama and Auburn are coming into the series limping and desperately need wins to separate them from the bottom of the SEC pack. Alabama started SEC play with a series win over Vandy before getting swept by Arkansas last week. That's where the trouble has begun to brew for Alabama. Dating back to that Vandy series, Alabama has lost six of their last nine games. Including a midweek stumble against UAB on Wednesday. The starting pitching hasn't really been a problem:
Adam Morgan (Soph/LHP/6’1 180/3-0 3.55 ERA)
Jimmy Nelson (Jr/RHP/6’6 235/4-0 1.78 ERA)
Taylor Wolfe (Fr/LHP/6’ 170/2-0 3.15 ERA)
There's a chance that Wolfe might not get that Sunday slot. Currently, Alabama (like Auburn) has Sunday listed as TBA. Either way, if Alabama loses, it will probably be due to their bullpen collapsing. Of Bama's 7 losses only 2 were attributed to a starter. Jonathan Smart took the loss against Auburn and Tucker Hawley took the loss against UAB.
In fact, if you look at the split ERAs. Bama’s starters (Nelson, Morgan, Wolfe, and possible starter Smart) have an ERA of 3.48. Compare that to the ERA of the bullpen (minus those 4 guys) and it jumps a full run higher to 4.41.
On the flip side, Auburn has a starter ERA of around 5.48 (Nelson, Luckie, Dayton, Jacobs). Compared to a bullpen ERA of 3.99. For Auburn, the story is a little bit muddled because of our wonky rotation. If you add Slade Smith and Dexter Price (who doesn’t have a relief appearance this year) then the ERA’s level out a bit, with the starter stat line being dropped to 4.95 and the bullpen line raising to 4.28. Still, for Alabama to have that big a jump from starter to bullpen shows that’s where their weakness lies.
Pitching wise, it’s all about Jimmy Nelson (above). He’s the stud for Bama. The 6’6 Junior from Niceville is one of the best pitchers in the league and he’s got the stat line to prove it. He ranks 4th in the SEC in ERA (1.78), 11th in Ks (34), 9th in Opponent’s Batting Average (.219). He’s a perfect 4-0 on the season and he’s only given up 7 earned runs. 7. He works all around the plate and doesn’t leave anything up in the zone (he’s only given up 1 HR all year). He’ll face Auburn’s best in Cole Nelson and Saturday sets up to be a huge pitching duel with both these behemoths facing one another.
Offensively, the Tide has a nice 1-2 punch with Taylor Dugas (above) and Josh Rutledge (below). Dugas (at only 5’7) is a little keg of dynamite on the field. Despite his short stature, the former Freshman All American leads the SEC with a .439 average. He’s patient (25 walks, 2nd best in the league) and speedy (11 steals). Rutledge is their biggest RBI guy (28 on the year, 11th in the SEC). His 44 hits rank him second (behind Hunter Morris) in the SEC and his 61 total bases put him 7th. Statistically, you won’t find a better combo in the SEC. Granted Auburn’s dynamic duo of Hunter Morris and Brian Fletcher is more powerful, but Dugas and Rutledge compliment each other nicely. You’ll also hear 2B Ross Wilson (yes, that one) called out a lot and Auburn will probably see Nathan Kilcrease out of the pen (he leads the SEC in appearances at 14)
Statistically here’s the breakdown pitching-wise:to have any success, the Tigers will have to get out of their mini hitting funk and capitalize on what little opportunities the Tigers might have. When the best offense in the SEC meets one of the best pitching staffs, then something will have to give.
Statistically here’s the breakdown pitching-wise:
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Pitching wise, it’s not even close. Alabama doesn’t give up runs (or hits), so for Auburn to have any success, the Tigers will have to get out of their mini hitting funk and capitalize on what little opportunities the Tigers might have. When the best offense in the SEC meets one of the best pitching staffs, then something will have to give.
|STAT||AU||SEC RNK||UA||SEC RNK||EDGE|
Alabama has no problem getting guys on. It’s getting them home that seems to be the problem. They can dink and dunk single all day. They also seem to have a problem rallying with 2 outs. In a pretty surprising statistic, when Alabama batters get up with 2 outs, they will hit that 3rd out almost 75% of the time. Good news for Auburn because shutting the door seems to be the Achilles heel. Auburn will go with a left hand heavy lineup (which favors the Tigers). Lefties are hitting .300 against Bama while righties go down to .250.
The key to this weekend is to make the most of opportunities. Alabama is dynamic in the field and it’s one reason that team pitching stats are so low. Wilson and Rutledge (2B and SS respectively) form a dandy tandem. The Tide pitchers won’t try to overpower you, they have enough confidence in their fielders (who rank 10th in the league in errors and have the third best fielding % in the SEC) to get the job done.
The HRs might be at a premium, but for Auburn the secret should be sticking with the small ball and station to station baseball. That has been the key all season. Manufacturing runs.
The hits should still keep coming for Auburn. We’ve face two of the best staffs in the nation (Carolina and Arizona State) yet still rank statistically as one (if not THE) best in the league. Like I said, something has to give.
What should make or break Auburn this weekend is limiting mistakes. Errors have been costly all season, and never as much as the past two losses. The Cole Nelson gem on Saturday was ruined by shoddy defense and the Troy game on Wednesday was blown by poor fielding. That’s two losses that could easily have been changed. If Auburn wants to win these close pitching duels, that’s where the difference lies.
PREDICTION- I won’t pick against Auburn here. I can’t do it. Both of these teams are pretty evenly matched and the Alabama pitching is almost negated by the Auburn hitting. The Auburn pitching is helped by a low hitting Alabama club. Both teams will come in with almost identical records. Alabama has struggled a bit more over the past few games. Both teams took midweek stumbles against in-state foes. For Auburn, I think they know what’s at stake. A series win here and you give yourself tremendous breathing room in the SEC race. Coach John Pawlowski needs that signature win. Let’s let this be that for him. Last year’s series win (below) was great for Auburn. Especially this. Auburn won’t be intimidated or scared and should be hungry to get back to Hoover. AUBURN WINS TWO OUT OF THREE.