5 P Primer: Tennessee
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: Tennessee.
PRESENTING- The Hottest team in the SEC right now, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Tennessee is a team that has produced some Major League talent from Rockies Slugger Todd Helton to Royals Starter Luke Hochever (below) Hochever’s brother Dylan is a Sophomore on this year’s team). Despite Auburn’s stuggles, they’ve had UT’s number over the last few year. Auburn holds a 76-33 All-Time Record (43-18 at home) against the Orange and are looking to take their third straight series from the Vols. Grant Dayton is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA against UT. Coach John Pawlowski will be facing a familiar foe in UT skipper Todd Raleigh. When Paws was at C of C, he and Raleigh’s Western Carolina Teams would tangle regularly with CJP owning a 24-8 all time record against Raleigh.
PREVIOUSLY- That was then. This year the Vols, which have been in a rebuilding process under Head Coach Todd Raleigh, have come on like gang busters in the second half of the season. The Big Orange is riding a season long six game winning streak after a 12-7 victory of Middle Tennessee on Wednesday. Coming in to the Ole Miss series on April 2nd, the Vols were struggling. Winless in the SEC and had lost games to teams like Binghamton and Kennesaw State. They took the final two games from UM to win the series but that seemed like just a lone bright spot in an otherwise lost season. The proceeded to drop series to Mississippi State and Florida and looked absolutely lost going in their April 23-25 set against Vandy. Thanks to rain out on 4-24 the Vols were staring at the barrel of a Commodore sweep and dropping farther an farther down the SEC ladder. That’s when a change seemed to happen. The took the double header from the ‘Dores, took 2 of three from UK, and swept Georgia and after being left for the dead in the SEC race, the Vols sit all alone in 8th place in the league. UT’s Sunday Starter is TBA. Conspicuously absent from the announced starters is LHP Bryan Morgado, but Auburn knows it will at least face Stephen McCray (RHP/5-3/2.78 ERA) Sunday and Steven Gruver (LHP/4-3/5.51 ERA) Saturday:
Bully for Auburn that we get a UT pitching staff that had struggled throughout most of the season, but seems to have turned it back on. Especially McCray who is coming off of his best start of the year last week.
PLAYMAKERS- UT’s offensive success can be boiled down to a three part attack: Catcher Blake Forsythe, 1B Cody Hawn, and LF P.J. Polk. All three have 12 HRs on the year. Forsythe has 50 RBIs and is on a tear with 8 HRs in his last 15 games. Hawn is the biggest masher with his 34 career HRs (4 shy of Todd Helton). However, despite the stat lines of Forsythe and Hawn, the real offensive star is P.J. Polk. Call the kid Mr. Clutch. He’s tied with Hawn for a team high 21 2-Out hits. Polk has a .532 avg with runners in scoring position. He ranks among the SEC leaders in 11 different categories; including AVG (11th), Slugging % (12th), OB % (9th), Runs (5th), Hits (8th), HRs (10th), Total Bases (9th), Walks (7th), Stolen Bases (4th), Appearances (12th), and Steal Attempts (4th). The UT offense is rolling and averaging 8 runs a game (392 in 49 games).
PREVIEW: Bullet Points for Tennessee. They rarely make errors in the field (.976 fielding position) and are extremely patient at the plate (235 Walks on the year, best in the SEC). The will try to jump on teams early. When UT scores first that are 15-3. When opponents score first? 13-18 with four of those coming as walk-offs.
More than that, UT is a dangerous team. Dangerous in many ways. They are hungry, they are rolling, and this point, they are playing for their season. This is it for UT. Auburn and then Alabama and a trip to Hoover is on the line both contests. That 8th place position in the league is hanging by a thread at this point (I still say it will ultimately come down to next weekend’s contest against Alabama).
Auburn might have been on a roll themselves but the Tigers have some questions creeping up in the pitching department. Four straight starts and four straight “so-so” outings by AU starters. This can’t be the case this weekend, but if it is, Auburn should have the capability to out-slut the Vols. UT can be hit and Auburn needs to take advantage of it.
The Vols have a 5.61 ERA and don’t strike out a ton of hitters and give up a ton of HRs, Doubles, and Walks. That will be the key for Auburn.
PREDICTION- Here’s the deal. It Auburn sweeps, I will raise the “Threat Level” to “Huddy”. Basic as that. Auburn needs a sweep to keep any Regional Hosting dreams alive. If they can do it, then I think we’ve turned a corner after the minor stumble AU seems to be on. However, for Hoover purposes, Auburn needs two wins. If Auburn wins two, then they are guaranteed a trip to Hoover. The Magic Number over Alabama is 2. So any combination of Auburn wins and Alabama losses that equals “2” and the Tigers officially punch a ticket to Hoover. AUBURN NEEDS TWO AND GETS TWO WINS, THE SERIES, AND A TICKET TO HOOVER.