Thursday, April 29, 2010

5P Primer: Arkansas

 

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: Arkansas

PRESENTING: The Arkansas Razorbacks, aka "The Diamond Hogs". To say Arky is good would be a gross understatement. Arkansas is solid, top to bottom, lineup-wise, program-wise, tradition-wise. The Hogs have been to Omaha 6 times (including last year), made regionals 20 times, and have been to Hoover 8 straight times. Arkansas has success, they have talent, and they are sitting at the top of the SEC.

Auburn will also be traveling to one of the toughest road environments in the SEC: Baum Stadium. Consistently voted as one of the best ballparks in the Nation, Baum has drawn praise from writers around the nation. Roughly twice the size of Plainsman Park, Baum is better than most minor league stadiums:

Baum Stadium is the palace of college baseball stadiums. Though many schools now are building new stadiums, they still are playing catch up with the Razorbacks. When Baum Stadium was erected in 1996, it was the class of college baseball. Not much has changed, as the capacity currently is 10,500 and luxury suites extend from the left-field foul pole to the right-field foul pole. Arkansas fans also pack the house rain or shine and provide a premier home-field advantage for their baseball program. Everyone aspires to have a facility like the University of Arkansas.

This year, the Hogs have an impressive 25-3 record at home (Ball State, South Dakota State, Kentucky). Outside of those head-scratchers to Ball U and SDSU, Arky has been tough to beat at home.

 

 

For Arkansas, playing under the radar suits them:

"Not a whole lot of people know about Arkansas baseball," junior first baseman Andy Wilkins said. "Even when I was getting recruited, I didn't know Arkansas had a baseball team. But I came over here, and it was like a palace. Even schools in Oklahoma don't know how nice this place is.

"It's just a great atmosphere to play in. We have great fans, and we're finally starting to put Arkansas back on the map."

 

PREVIOUSLY: Arkansas, before last weekend, was riding an impressive 13 game winning streak. Then the Hogs dropped the last two to the Gators, including a controversial Sunday game that saw a play at the plate and an angry Dave Van Horn:

In the bottom of the ninth, Brian Johnson picked up a one-out single for the Gators. Matt den Dekker followed with a base hit to left to give the home team runners on first and second. Mike Zunino delivered with a bloop single that fell in shallow right. On the play at the plate, Johnson was called safe to give Florida the victory.

Now the picture below has been circulating all week. Arkansas fans will tell you that it CLEARLY shows the Florida player getting tagged out on the winning run. However, if you look at the video here (which is frustratingly NOT embedable) it looks like the Catcher missed the first tag and that photo is the 2nd tag. The Florida runner was called safe after the first tag.

Last year, Arkansas swept Auburn at Plainsman Park (3-2, 10-6, 12-6) but in 2008, the Tigers took 2 of 3 from the Hogs (5-2 W, 4-5 L, 12-10 W) highlighted by a strong performance by Grant Dayton, who went 6 ip/5h/2er/6k to pick up the win as a Freshman. It was Auburn's first Friday night win in Fayetteville since 2000. This year, Dayton will again get the nod (although it will be on Sunday and not Friday. Cory Luckie will take the ball Friday and TBA is slotted for Saturday).

Arkansas hasn't released their starting pitching matchups as of this writing (they used TBA on Sunday last week) but we know we will see 2 guys: Drew Smyly and Brett Eibner (below)

BRETT EIBNER (JR/RHP/6'4 210)

OPP IP HITS ER K Dec?
UK 5.2 9 8 6 ND
MS 5 7 1 10 ND
UG 6.2 6 1 3 W
UF 3.2 7 5 3 L

DREW SMYLY (Soph/LHP/6'3 190)

OPP IP H ER K DEC?
UK 7 4 1 5 W
MS 7 5 3 4 W
UG 9 8 2 7 W
UF 7 8 3 10 W

 

 

Smyly (above) is the Hogs Ace and throws a peppy fastball and a work-in-progress changeup.  He's a perfect 6-0 on the year in 8 starts and seems to be getting better and better as the season progresses. He's already a bit of a legend in Arkansas after pitching 8.1 innings of no-hit baseball (with 12 ks) in Arkansas's 2009 Regional Clinching win over Oklahoma. He's currently #7 in Rivals.com Power Rankings for Pitcher.

PLAYMAKERS- Just like LSU, Arkansas is loaded from top to bottom. It's hard to single out just 1 player that makes the Cardinal and White tick, but we'll start with Eibner. In addition to being a starter, Eibner is also solid at the dish. He's hitting .324 and his 14 HR leads the team and is 2nd in the SEC; his Slugging % is 6th best in the league and he came in at #33 in College Baseball Blog's Preseason Top 100:

He had a solid freshman season in 2008 which saw him hit .298 with eight homers and a team high 48 RBI. He also saw time on the mound as he made 11 appearances including three starts while going 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 24 innings of work. He spent the summer of 2008 in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Wareham Gatemen where he picked up .214 average while hitting four homers and driving in 18 runs.

Eibner appeared in 45 games including 42 games in 2009 as he hit .231 with 12 homers and 34 RBI. He also pitched in 17 games (all starts) with a 5-5 record and a 5.00 ERA. He appeared in 20 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Wareham Gatemen where he hit .240 with three homers and seven RBI. He also saw some time on the mound as he went 1-0 in three starts and an ERA of 2.19 before injuries sent him home early from the Cape.

We believe that Eibner will eventually play up to his potential which he showed in high school where he was selected in the fourth round by the Houston Astros.

There's also Zack Cox. The 6' 215lbs Sophomore Third Baseman (above) and Freshman All-American is hitting a solid .436 with 75 hits (SEC Best) and is 2nd in the SEC in Runs scored. Rivals has him as the #1 3B in the Nation. A tremendous contact and power hitter, Cox came in at a very high  #3 in College Baseball Blogs Top 100:

Cox had a solid freshman season with the Razorbacks as he hit .266 while finishing second on the team with 13 homers and 39 RBI. He also appeared on the mound in 14 games going 5-1 with a 4.82 ERA. He played the summer of 2009 in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Cotuit Kettleers. He led them with a .344 batting average while driving in 11 runs. He was named to the CCBL All-Star game where he won the MVP award after going 2-2 with two RBI. He was also named to the All-League team. Baseball America rated him as the number 2 prospect in the CCBL.

Those two guys by themselves would be enough to power any team. However, Arkansas also has JR 1B Andy Wilkins, whose 52 RBI leads the team (and who was #77 in the top 100) and OF Collin Kuhn (#6 in the Rivals OF Power Rankings). Kuhn is a perfect 15 for 15 on stolen bases, 6th in the SEC in batting average, 1st in Runs, 5 in hits, and 4th in slugging %.

PREVIEW: I'm not going to lie. This is going to be a tough one. If you thought Auburn had a good offense, look at the gaudy numbers that Arkansas is putting up. Especially when it comes to an SEC comparison:

 

AU RANK STAT RANK ARK
.349 1 Batting Avg 2 .327
.569 1 Slug % 2 .514
.424 1 OB % 2 .420
373 1 Runs 2 358
347 1 Hits 2 480
71 1 HR 2 59

 

Arkansas has also struck out an SEC Low 229 times (Auburn in comparison has whiffed 299 times) and Grounded Into an SEC low 12 Double Plays (AU? 25). So you have a patient team that makes solid contact. A tall order to be sure for an Auburn pitching staff that is searching for Starter and a bullpen that looked iffy most of the UK series.

At least with LSU there were holes in their lineup that Auburn could (and did) exploit. With Arkansas, those aren't there. The majority of the Arkansas lineup is hitting over .300 and they are disciplined and probably a little pissed off from dropping the Florida series.

If anything works in Auburn's favor its that outside of Smyly, Arkansas is hittable. However, Auburn will have to take full advantage of any base runner it can get on and manufacture runs. Lucky for the TIgers, Arkansas does have some fielding issues and C James McCann has had 44 steal attempts and 35 stolen bases against. He's only caught 8 runners all season.

To put it bluntly, Auburn will need all the help it can get this weekend. Baum is imposing, Auburn has been iffy on the road (outside of the UGA series) and Arkansas could feast on Auburn pitching if its not at the top of its game.

PREDICTION- If I went out on limb and said Auburn takes the series then I'm not taking an objective approach to this series. Realistically, Auburn could easily get swept. However, all we really need for the SEC race is 1 win this weekend. Just 1. Maybe with a rain out on Friday (which is looking likely) Auburn could take advantage of a Double Header. Who knows? Even if Auburn does get swept (worst case scenario) and Kentucky sweeps Tennessee in Lexington (even worser case) Auburn would still be 1 game and tie breaker up on UK. That's some good breathing room. I'm predicting what Auburn needs: TIGERS TAKE ONE GAME FROM THE HOGS

 

(H/T to The War Eagle Reader for the pic above and before I leave here's one of my favorite "lowlights" from Arkansas Baseball.:)

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Regional Radar (April 29)

 

With some success, comes some hope: Here's what some college baseball writers think of Auburn's Chances of making it to the NCAA Baseball Tourney:

SITE PREDICTION Previously Change
Rivals (SEBaseball.com) 2 Seed
(Tallahassee)
2 Seed
(Tallahassee)
Unchanged
College Baseball Blog 2 Seed (Tallahassee) 2 Seed (Tallahassee) Unchanged

Well it still looks like all roads lead through Tallahassee. Can't say I'm too thrilled with that. Especially because SEBaseball has a tough Pitt team in the Regional. College Baseball Blog has South Alabama as the 3rd team. Not exactly thrilling either way.

   
TOURNAMENT RESUME   CHANGE
RECORD 28-14  
Boyd RPI 19 +1
Nolan RPI 15 +2
Boyd ISR (Strength Ratings) 26 -2
Nolan NPI (Power Index) 29 +1
KEY WINS Bama, LSU, FAU, UK  
KEY LOSSES SEMO (2/19), Missouri (2/27)  
BOYD'S Strength of Schedule 21  
Warren Nolan Strength of Schedule 11 +2
RECORD v RPI 1-50 10-11  
RECORD v RPI 51-100 7-2  
RECORD v RPI 101-200 6-1  
RECORD v RPI 201+ 5-0  
     

FINAL PREDICTION: Boston College thanks to a 9 game winning streak is back in the RPI Top 50, helping Auburn. For the Regional Projections, I use two different RPI predictors. In case you were wondering the difference: Nolan's is based on the RPI formula (20-50-25), while Boyd adds in bonuses for Non-Conference Top 50 RPI road wins (which the NCAA also uses). That doesn't really affect Auburn, seeing as how we don't have a non-conference road win.

While I'm not super thrilled in the prospect of going back to Tallahassee, a regional is a regional, and Auburn has a lineup that sets up pretty nicely, no matter who we play.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Midweek Notes (April 28)

 

Another mish-mosh of notes for this Wednesday. Auburn took care of business against Samford last night, cruising to an 11-4 win. In total Auburn used 6 pitchers: Stephen Kohlscheen, Slade Smith, Zach Blatt, Ty Kelley, Sean Ray and Jon Luke Jacobs. The Johnny Wholestaff approach was definitely in full effect. However, notably absent from Johnny Wholestaff was Cole Nelson. When Cory Luckie had his road to recovery, Pawlowski used to midweek starts to accurately gauge his return. Nelson, however, didn’t pitch Tuesday (which would have been his #2 midweek start). We’ll have to see how the rotation shakes out this weekend against Arkansas. We know Dayton and Luckie should be there. That third slot will be the toss up and still between Cole Nelson, Slade Smith, Dexter Price and two additional wildcards: Stephen Kohlscheen and Jon Luke Jacobs. I’d say, for now, Jacobs is an extreme longshot. He’s just coming back from injury and did look a little shaky last night.

  • Who knows what to do with Auburn’s 3B position. Gamache still remains the best option at the plate (evidenced by his 3R HR last night). However, Wes Gilmer is better defensively and last night Gilmer had a solid night (2 for 2 with 1 rbi and 1 run) in a substitution role.
  • The majority of Auburn’s pitchers looked good last night. Pitching out of jams and only giving up a few mistakes here and there. Overall, a good tune up.
  • Justin Fradejas went 2 for 4 with 3 Runs scored (and extended his hitting streak to 23 games)
  • Last night’s win was the first over Samford at home since 2007. That’s just mind boggling to me.
  • The weather report from Fayetteville isn’t looking good. 95% chance of strong storms this Friday.

 

These midweek games are ripe for upsets. None bigger than New Orleans, a team Auburn dispatched easily, upset LSU (in Baton Rouge) by scoring 4 runs over the final two innings. Vanderbilt lost to Austin Peay 5-4 thanks to a game tying grand slam from the Governors. Ole Miss got all it could handle from Murray State, watching the Racers claw back and tie it after being down 10-1 and Ole Miss winning it in extra innings.

 

FInally, I’m sure most Auburn fans are keeping up to speed on the Tiger Prowl. Which got me thinking about this rag tag group of coaches, some could say rag-tag, that have come together and got Auburn fans excited. Some could call them, Auburn’s very own A-Team:

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Quick Hitters

 

The weather still looks a little bad and I just found “Follow that Bird” on my Netflix Watch Instantly cue, so I figured I’d catch up on some Auburn news and notes from around the interwebs:

 

  • Funny story about one of Auburn’s first Major Leaguers, “Coot” Veal and his very unique nickname:
    • Orville Inman Veal born in Sandersville, Ga./now 77/infielder was a good glove man for Tigers (1958-60), Senators (1961) and Pirates (1962), but a feeble hitter with one career major league HR. Was the first player to bat for the expansion Senators in 1961 after Twins came here, got the first hit (IF single), scored the first run./got nickname when his HS BB coach called him “Kook”/when he got to Auburn University, they mispronounced it “Coot”

  • Before the UK series, Andrew Gribble had some solid pull quotes about how Auburn was in position in the SEC thanks to (at that time) the bullpen. After the showing this past weekend, it’s safe to say we’re not back to the square one, but we definitely have some things to work on:
    • “In this league, unless you have a dominant, legitimate No. 1 guy on a Friday night, it’s going to be tough,” Pawlowski said. “We don’t have a legitimate, No. 1, dominant pitcher. So what we have to do is we’ve got to do a couple different things and try to mix and match up and see where we go from there.”
    • If Luckie can get past the sixth or seventh inning, Auburn’s best bet would likely involve throwing a hodgepodge of pitchers Saturday. The Tigers’ bullpen has been a surprising strong point this season, as relievers such as Sean Ray (2-1, 1.96 ERA), Michael Hurst (2-0, 3.00) and closer Austin Hubbard (3-1, 2.74) have all been impressive, one year after the bullpen was the team’s largest weakness.

 

  • TideSports examines the cases for the SEC baseball teams battling for the final in the SEC Tourney. His list includes UT, MSU, Alabama, UK, and UGA. This, plus some jibba-jabba from TV commentators, makes me think that most people are assuming that the SEC tourney is all but decided (with Auburn in) and that 5 teams will be battling for that bottom spot. His prediction?:
    • I’m predicting Kentucky gets the eighth spot in the tournament because of its schedule and the tie-breaker it holds over Alabama by virtue of taking two-of-three from the Tide earlier this season.

 

  • Some comments from new Tiger Bryce Lane and his excitement of coming to Auburn. I wish I could get the embed code to work, but alas, no luck.

 

  • This video WILL work. It’s Tim Hudson giving back to Chattahoochee Valley Community College.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday, (Almost Bloody) Sunday

It was close. Very Close. Auburn came within one 2 run rally of dropping two games (and a series) to a team it desperately needed to keep ahead of in the SEC standings. Before I recap Sunday’s doubleheader, some quick notes on Friday:

  • Corey Luckie, while not his sharpest, still went 5.2 with 5k. 0 bb and 4 er. Luckie did a good job of silencing UK’s bats while the Auburn offense pretty much hit its zenith during the Friday night barrage.
  • Kevin Patterson is making a case to play everyday, with his HR Friday and Saturday (1st) game, he gives Auburn a huge boost whenever Auburn faces LHP. Now, if he could just hit righties.
  • Friday night’s game was essentially how I saw the whole series going. I knew Kentucky would get hits, I just assumed Auburn would easily out hit them. However, Sunday just wasn’t the case.

Now on to Sunday. Saturday (as predicted was stormy) yet Auburn still decided to go ahead and try to get the game in. Once it was started, it would force the resumption to be 9 innings. Cole Nelson (on about 3 days rest) had some control problems and left with the bases loaded, 1 out (yet didn’t allow a hit) before God saw fit to open the skies and end it before it got out of hand.

What started on Sunday was ugly. No way around it. It started pretty (with Slade Smith getting a double play to clean up the mess Nelson left) but that was the lone bright spot in the Auburn pitching. The Tigers used (technically) 6 pitchers on the day, all to varying degrees of ineffectiveness. Still, Auburn had a chance and the lead heading to the 8th inning. Then, in one of the ugliest innings I’ve EVER seen Auburn play defensively, the Tigers went from up 2 to down 1. The official box score broke it down thusly:

Kentucky 8th - G. Glad homered to left field, RBI (0-0). K. Wiley hit by
pitch (2-0 B). L. Maile grounded out to p (3-2 BBBKF); K. Wiley advanced to
second. Hubbard, A. to p for Hendrix, B.. T. Black struck out swinging (2-2
SBFBS). C. Bisson singled to center field, RBI (3-1 BBKB); K. Wiley scored. C.
Bisson stole second. C. Bisson stole third. C. Farris reached on a fielding
error by 1b (3-2 BBBKK); C. Bisson scored, unearned. C. Farris stole second. C.
Wright singled to right field (2-0 BB); C. Farris advanced to third, out at
home rf to c. 3 runs, 3 hits, 1 error, 1 LOB.











I have to admit I missed the Glad homer. Fair enough. At that point Auburn was still up 7-6. Then Hendrix plunks a batter. Who then moves to 2nd on a sac hunt. That brought in Austin Hubbard, who had already pitched 3.1 innings on Friday (and got tagged for 2 earned then). Still, in the postgame interview on Friday, Hubbard said he would be ready to go and was feeling good. Austin comes in and gets a big K. Now there are 2 out. Auburn still up. Just needing 1 out to (honestly) put it away. A dink single tied the game and then the frustration really set in. Lead was gone, but at least AU wasn’t trailing. Bisson then steals BACK TO BACK BASES setting up Farris to score him after a ball ate up Hunter Morris. Farris then stole 2nd and if not for a heads up play by Justin Fradejas in RF and a close play at home. Auburn would have been down by two instead of down by one. Why was it so frustrating? Pretty much because Bisson just stole those two bases with ease, he was never held, he was never checked. The go ahead run pretty much walked around the bases and scored easily.









At the end of the day, Auburn had committed 2 costly errors, walked 10 batters, and plunked 4 more. It was ugly all around. Yes, the game was back and forth, but both teams wasted opportunities.

That then set up a 7 inning rubber game. A game, Auburn had in control, until a 3 run HR tied it up and then UK took the lead in the top 7. Honestly, being in the stands it felt like the dejavu from the first game that day. However, credit Auburn, the Tigers battled back and scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to win both the series and the game. First, a Ryan Jenkins single (and substitution when Creede Simpson came in in to pinch run). Then, a nice executed SAC bunt by Justin Hargett. Fradejas comes up with a clutch RBI single that ties the game. Mummey pops up (now 2 out). Brian Fletcher, despite struggling all weekend, managed to get a single that put runners at the corners. Finally, thankfully, mercifully, whatever-ly, Hunter Morris did his best He-Man impression and with one swing of the bat, sent the Tigers home winners.

Here’s what I saw after sitting through the double header:
  • The jury is still out on Cole Nelson. Hopefully, Pawlowski won’t use him in the midweek game against Samford. The designated start is fine and all for confidence, but starting 3 games in less then a week’s span in borderline crazy.

  • Luckie and Dayton should still be safe for another weekend.

  • The Bullpen, however, will need some work. Over the past few weeks the ‘pen had done well (probably because they didn’t need to be used in high pressure situations) but on Sunday NO ONE was effective in relief.

  • Austin Hubbard needs some rest. The kid pitched all three games and managed to get a win, a save, a blown save (maybe 2 blown saves, I need to check the box scores) and a loss. Hubbard might be our best pitcher in relief, but working him like that is ridiculous.

  • I think Kentucky will get a firm spot on my “teams I hate” list. On Sunday (the first game) their dugout was like a softball team. Constantly whooping and reacting to every ball and strike. I’m all about having fun at the game, but have a little decorum.

  • If you think Auburn hitting 4 UK batters is bad (and they hit a few others in the 2nd game). It should be expected when playing Kentucky. The lead the SEC in getting HBP. At first, I thought it was inflated due to an early season game against Monmouth (when UK got plunked a ridiculous number of time). However, after watching the Wildcats at the plate, I can see why the lead the league. UK doesn’t move. At all. There’s no avoiding a pitch (and I’m not accusing them of leaning in, but, you know) and there’s no getting out of the way. They just stand there and get hit. Bully to them, but c’mon, play baseball with a little more respect.

  • If the Auburn fan sitting a few rows up from me is reading this. Please, don’t come to a game again. It was hella fun listening to you bitch and moan and saying that “you’d see better baseball on Monday” because “you were going to a little league game”. Yes, Auburn was sucking it up. However, c’mon man, support the Tigers a little better.

PITCHER OF THE WEEK: Austin Hubbard. Basically by default. He won a game, saved a game, lost a game, blew a save. However Austin went, so did Auburn.


HITTER OF THE WEEK:
Hunter Morris. The man is on an absolute tear right now. Friday: 1 for 3 with 2 RBI and Triple. Saturday (DH 1) 1 for 2 with an RBI and Sunday hits the game winner.


JOBUS: Jobu very happy. A sweep would have been good, but a series win is a series win and that’s worth 4 Jobus



Again, I know many fans will feel like we should have swept, and we should have. However, we didn’t. That’s how it goes. I bet you can tell from the photo below that the Auburn players WEREN’T thinking, “Man we could have had the sweep”. They were just happy to win a crucial SEC series:




How crucial? Here are the up to date SEC standings:


RANK TEAM RECORD
1 Carolina 14-4
2 Arkansas 13-5
3 Florida 12-6
4 Ole Miss 11-7
5 LSU 11-7
6 Auburn 10-6
7 Vanderbilt 9-9
8 Alabama 8-10
9 Kentucky 6-12
9 Tennessee 6-12
11 Miss State 5-13
12 Georgia 3-15


So Auburn will finish the weekend in 6th place. Not good? Meh. It’s ok. I would say at this point it’s a comfortable sixth place. Remember Auburn still have series against the 10th and 11th place teams (at home) and I still call an upset of Ole Miss to end the season. It really was a weird weekend of baseball in the SEC. Ole Miss swept LSU. Arkansas fell to Florida. Plus. if Auburn was curious and wanted to know what would have happened if it had dropped the series to UK, look no farther than Vanderbilt, who got swept in a Sunday double header to drop the series to the Vols. With the series loss is put Vandy in a bit of a pinch. Precariously perched at 7th place, with all that’s standing between them and 8th place is a loss (and a Bama win). I hope at this point, Auburn never loses focus of the goal: Hoover. To get to Hoover? Just be better than 4 teams. We’ve got four SEC series left. That’s 12 games. A ton can happen in those standings over 12 games, but for now, the Tigers are 4 games (and a head to head tie breaker) ahead of the 9th place team. That’s a cushion Auburn needs to keep. Hopefully this serves as a wake up call to never take any SEC opponent lightly. Arkansas is next weekend, but a trip to Fayette-nam won’t come with the high expectations this one did. Just don’t get swept by the Hogs and we’re still in good shape.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

5P Primer: Kentucky

 

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: Kentucky

PRESENTING: The Kentucky Wildcats. Honestly, there’s not much to say about UK baseball. Historically, a terrible team that has manage to fluctuate from solid to moderate over the past few years. The Cats posted only 1 winning season from 97-04 but found Cinderella’s slipper in 2007 when they won the SEC title (but imploded in the SEC and NCAA tourneys). 08 and 07 saw UK sprint out to 19-0 records but falter down the stretch. This year’s UK team will probably be known more for what could have been with stud pitcher James Paxton. Paxton came in to the season College Baseball blog’s #7 player and was going to return to the bluegrass even after being selected 37th overall by the Blue Jays. What followed was a bizzare story in which Paxton ended up suing the school he was going to return to:

The University of Kentucky’s ace pitcher sued the university in state court Wednesday, charging that athletic officials threatened to bar him from playing if he did not agree to meet with N.C.A.A. investigators, even though he was not told what rules he was accused of violating.

The left-hander James Paxton returned to Kentucky for his senior year after he decided not to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays, who selected him 37th over all in the 2009 amateur draft. In his lawsuit, Paxton said a university official told him in October to meet with an N.C.A.A. investigator, but instructed him not to tell his parents or his lawyers about the interview. Paxton also said that Kentucky’s athletic director, Mitch Barnhart, told him that he would not be allowed to play on the team until he submitted to the interview. Paxton said he has never been told the nature of the allegations against him.

Needless to say the loss has been huge for UK this year.

PREVIOUSLY: First year coach Gary Henderson’s team is currently sitting at 22-15 but are coming off an absolute demoshiling by Western Kentucky where Big Blue was crushed 24-8 in a game that included a 16 run inning, 21 hits and 5 HRs. UK has only won 4 road games all season (1 against Arkansas, Cincinnati, San Diego and Monmouth). Last year UK took the series winning 6-5, 6-3, before Auburn bounced back to win 7-5 on Sunday. Rotation wise UK is a mess. Paxton (as you read above) is out and so is normal Sunday starter Alex Meyer who is battling mono. What UK does have is JR LHP Taylor Rogers on Saturday and Freshman LHP Logan Darnell on Friday:

Logan Darnell (3-2/4.77/JR/LHP/6’2)

OPP IP H R ER BB K D
Vandy 5.1 9 7 5 4 3 L
Ark 3.2 9 5 5 2 0 ND
Bama 4.2 6 3 3 2 6 ND
UF 6 7 6 4 2 3 ND

Taylor Rogers (4-4/4.92/FR/LHP/6’3)

OPP IP H R ER BB K D
Vandy 8 7 1 0 2 2 L
Ark 4 11 8 8 0 2 L
Bama 7.2 5 2 2 0 5 W
UF 6.2 8 4 4 0 4 L

PLAYMAKERS: Kentucky is interesting to scout. They have a couple of mashers like Andy Burns (11 HR) and Chad Wright (55 hits). Sprinkled in with a couple of speeders like Neiko Johnson (17 SB) and Chris Bisson (15 SB). Wright has been the normal sparkplug and the Sophomore Left Fielder leads the team in average, while Senior 1B Gunner Glad leads the tam in RBI. Bisson, the everyday second baseman is an All American. That’s really about it. Not to downplay UK but they’ve yet to have a guy completely step up and take charge. The pitching isn’t there and while the team can mash (3rd in the SEC with 53 HR), they just can’t seem to put enough offense together on a consistent basis.

PREVIEW- Quick. Which team has the better pitching staff? If you guessed Kentucky you’d be wrong. I actually had to double check it myself but the UK staff is actually worse (statistically) than Auburn.

RANK AU STAT UK RANK
7 4.60 ERA 5.28 9
8 .275 Opp BA .282 9
6 291 K’s 273 11
9 365 Hits vs 365 9
9 220 Runs vs 219 8
6 126 Walks 125 5
6 31 HR vs 30 5
         

In most cases both teams are pretty evenly matched, but that’s a huge gap in ERA. In the field, Auburn’s .957 Fielding % is still worst in the SEC, but UK isn’t far behind at .963. UK has a pretty big liability in the field in Shortstop Taylor Black. His 15 errors are 2nd worst in the SEC and he’s grounded into 5 double plays this season. Also, while Andy Burns might have 11 HR he also sports a cool .276 avg and 30 Ks.

PREDICTION: At the very least Auburn should win the series. UK has shown they are terrible on the road, has huge holes in the pitching staff, and Auburn has been mashing lately. I wouldn’t be surprised with an Auburn sweep and if that happens then that’s one step closer to Hoover and better yet, one step closer to hosting a regional.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Play Em Off, Aubie Cat!

 

I love going to games at Plainsman Park. Absolutely love it. Sometimes however, the atmosphere can be lacking, especially when it comes to crowd environment. Now, I'm not talking about heckling. Heckling is a completely different animal. I'm talking fan environment and attitude. Having the crowd get up and sing or get up and cheer in time OTHER than the seventh inning stretch. Take Florida State for example, the "Animals" in the stands have a tradition of singing "Oh Canada" during the 5th inning:

During the 5th inning, the fans will sing the Canadian national anthem, "Oh Canada." This tradition is claimed to have started in the 80s, when FSU was playing the Canadian National Team. During the 5th inning, the Canadian fans began singing the anthem to gloat their lead. Florida State came back to win the game, and the fans have decided the anthem was responsible for their good fortune.

Seeing FSU play a couple of times I can tell you its both funny and a bit inspiring:

Crowd interaction, singing songs out of the norm, is something special, and something Auburn can easily do. Granted it won't have the levity and seriousness of, say, Liverpool FC singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" but it really shouldn't because hearing Liverpool and a song that originated in a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical turn in to something inspiring is really a sight in and of itself:

the song's most successful performance was recorded in 1963 by the Liverpudlian Merseybeat group Gerry & The Pacemakers (peaking at number one in the singles chart for four consecutive weeks). It quickly became the anthem of Liverpool Football Club and is invariably sung by its supporters moments before the start of each home game.[2][3] The words "You'll Never Walk Alone" also feature in the club crest and on the Shankly Gate entrance to the stadium.

See for yourself:

 

Now just think about that at an Auburn game in the middle of the 6th inning. The game is at a turning point and the Tiger players could get inspired by hearing a joyful chorus being belted out of the stands. But should it be "You'll Never Walk Alone"? Probably not. That's more of a soccer thing (a pretty awesome soccer thing) and it's rooted in tragedy. No Auburn needs something that's easy to sing along to, has a slower pace, may be a bit kitschy, but I think I have two awesome nominations. Both songs are easy to sing along with great choruses.

First up is Tom Jones and "The Green Green Grass of Home":

A bit country, a bit pop. A solid song all around. Sure, the song already has a bit of history as soldiers returning from Vietnam used to sing it on the way back home and there are tons of different versions of the song but its definitely a karaoke favorite and one that could be fun to sing in the stands.

Now the other nomination is a personal favorite of mine.

Good Lord the Song just gives me chills (especially that performance). To hear that coming belted from 3,000 strong in Plainsman Park it would be awe inspiring.

But you really can't just assign a song and make it happen. It has to catch on. It's equal parts fan involvement and equal parts repetition. If it catches on then boom, you have a tradition. If it doesn't? Well you just move on. Sometimes stadium traditions and interactions are born in the most unlikely places, like say a batter's walk up music. Brian Fletcher's walk up music is this:

 

Now that opening line, from T-Pain, is where the interaction comes in. If you are at a game watch the Diamond Dolls. As soon as T-Pain scream "everybody hands go up..." and the song pauses. You see all the Diamond Dolls (and a couple handfuls of fans in on song) with their hands raised. It's fun and a little goofy. Still, I have to say I love it.

Now there is one thing is REALLY wish Auburn would do. It involves the keyboard cat. Who is the keyboard cat? Well I will let the team over at Know Your Meme explain:

 

God Bless You Keyboard Cat. Showing us the lighter side of FAIL. So imagine this: Auburn is at home and some unfortunate soul from the opposing team strikes out to end the inning. That, I think, is the best scenario. For a batter, strikeouts hurt the most. Striking out to end the inning? Even worse. Then to make matters worse, as the player is trotting back to the dugout, a little sullen, maybe a little depressed, who should greet him over the Video Screen?

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Regional Radar (April 22)

 

 

With some success, comes some hope: Here's what some college baseball writers think of Auburn's Chances of making it to the NCAA Baseball Tourney:

SITE PREDICTION Previously Change
Rivals (SEBaseball.com) 2 Seed
(Tallahassee)
2 Seed (Atlanta) Holding
College Baseball Blog 2 Seed (Tallahassee) 2 Seed
(Charlottesville)
Holding

For once both SEBaseball and TheCBB agree. Auburn is going to Tally. Ugh. They even agree on the other teams in the region as Florida State (1) Pitt (3) and Bethune Cookman (4) would make up the rest of the region. It would be a tough task to say the least, opening up against a hot Pitt team and facing a historically tough Bethune Cookman team. Yet Auburn could erase all doubts with a strong showing down the stretch.

   
TOURNAMENT RESUME   CHANGE
RECORD 25-13  
Boyd RPI 20 -
Nolan RPI 17 +2
Boyd ISR (Strength Ratings) 24 +3
Nolan NPI (Power Index) 30 -2
KEY WINS Bama, LSU, FAU  
KEY LOSSES SEMO (2/19), Missouri (2/27)  
BOYD'S Strength of Schedule 21  
Warren Nolan Strength of Schedule 13 +2
RECORD v RPI 1-50 7-10  
RECORD v RPI 51-100 7-1  
RECORD v RPI 101-200 6-2  
RECORD v RPI 201+ 5-0  
     

FINAL PREDICTION: I have to keep cheering for Florida Atlantic because right now the Owls seem to be Auburn's best non-conference RPI win. Other than Auburn remains in good shape. One interesting note from BoydsWorld and his RPI needs report:

This report lists the record each team would need for the rest of their schedule to finish higher than the team currently in the shown key RPI positions, those that correspond to the various seeding or at large thresholds, assuming that all other teams maintain their current winning percentage. It's highly speculative, since those RPI levels will move up or down, and the committee is highly unlikely to just take the top 8 in RPI for the national seeds, for example, but it can be useful as a rough guide. The report is updated daily around 8:30 AM CDT.

According to Boyd (and again, like he says he's just spitballing here and everything is speculative) but if Auburn goes 18-0 down the stretch (which I'm going to deem "unlikely") then we'd slide into the Top 8 RPI. What IS doable is sliding into the Top 16 RPI (aka the hosting seeds)  by going 13-5 down the stretch.

Auburn has 18 games left. Let's play the hypothetical: Say Auburn wins its three remaining midweek games (3-0), Then sweeps Mississippi State and Tennessee (9-0), and takes the series from Kentucky (11-1). Then Auburn could still drop the series to Mississippi (12-3) and Arkansas (13-5) and still hit the mark. Again, there are a ton of other factors in play here but it's definitely a doable scenario.

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Setting up the Home Stretch

 

 

Earlier this year, when I broke down Auburn's schedule, I talked about from the Vandy game on being "the home stretch". It still is. However, it's now a little clearer just what Auburn needs to do (and in a sense "not do") to make it to Hoover. Still, let's take a minute and step back and remember one thing: Hoover is Auburn's goal. How they get there and what seed they are when they arrive don't matter; what matters is making it back to where they belong. Still, when you look at Auburn's remaining schedule and then you take a peek at what the other SEC teams have to face; well, you get nothing but hope at this point. Maybe I've been a little too harsh when it comes to calling some of these "make or break weekends", but I'd rather be cautious then cocky. Auburn is not in Hoover, yet, but they are still looking pretty good.

 

RANK SCHOOL SEC RECORD REMAINING SEC SCHEDULE C.O.S.W.L*
1 Arkansas 12-3 @UF, AU, @UM, SC, @VU 45-30
2 Carolina 11-4 @UGA, UA, @UK, @ARK, UF 35-40
2 LSU 11-4 @UM, @UF, VU, @UK, MSU 36-39
4 Florida 10-5 Ark, LSU, @UA, UGA, @SC 42-33
5 Vandy 8-7 @UT, UGA, @LSU, @MSU, ARK 35-40
5 Auburn 8-7 UK, @Ark, MSU, UT, @UM 34-41
5 Ole Miss 8-7 LSU, @MSU, ARK, @UA, AU 41-34
8 Kentucky 5-10 @AU, @UT, SC, LSU, @UGA 37-38
8 Alabama 5-10 MSU, @SC, UF, UM, @UT 38-37
8 Miss St 5-10 @UA, UM, @AU, VU, @LSU 40-35
11 UT 4-11 VU, UK, @UGA, @AU, UA 29-46
12 UGA 3-12 SC, @VU, UT, @UF, UK 38-37

 

*Combined Opponent SEC W-L

What a cluster right now. You've got four teams that are essentially battling for NCAA Regional Hosting invitations, 3 teams battling for the middle 3 spots, and 3 teams all clawing for that final spot. Now, Auburn doesn't have the easiest schedule coming up, but it is one that is "favorable". Plus, with the top team (Arkansas) playing the hardest remaining schedule there will definitely be some shake out in the next 2 weeks.

Playing two of the bottom three SEC teams at home is favorable. Finishing the season with an Ole Miss team due for an implosion (which will not be pretty, but I'll go ahead and call it now), is favorable. Battling an Arkansas team in Fayetteville is tough. However, all we really need to do is steal 1 from the Hogs and it will be an Arkansas team coming off a big Florida roadtrip.

Auburn still has a few question marks, but for now. All signs still point to Hoover.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tigers take the Power Lane

 





Photo Above from NewsHerald.com



It’s hard to follow College Baseball recruiting. With the lure of the MLB and the lack of scholarships you normally only know about a player when Auburn makes the official announcement of him. Auburn made just such an announcement today in the signing of OF Bryce Lane from Florida Gulf Coast Community College. FGCCC is a powerhouse this year thanks in large part to Lane and fellow Auburn signee Andrew Morris.



Lane comes to Auburn via Russell County High School (always a powerhouse) and FGCC and should impact the Tigers immediately in the 2011 season as they look to replace the majority of their offense:




"Bryce is a pure hitter that also has a great deal of pop - he not only is one of the best hitters in the conference, but is also very good on the mound."




Lane has been on fire all season for Gulf Coast:




The Commodores rank seventh in the NJCAA in team batting average (.367) thanks in part to the tremendous season Bryce Lane is having through 41 games. Lane leads the team with a .446 batting clip and ranks first the NJCAA with 20 homers and 72 RBIs




The best article I’ve found on just what Lane brings is from The Panama City News Herald:




“He supplies a surge for the rest of the team when he gets it going,” GC assistant coach and hitting instructor Michael Murphree said. “He’s one of the best that I’ve been around.”





Lane has only went hitless in one conference game and has two hits in seven games, including his last three. He maintains a simple approach, as do most hitters, when he started working with Murphree.



“I play the game the same way every day and don’t get caught up in anything,” Lane said. “I go up to the plate expecting to get a hit or two.”



 




There’s one other Gulf Coast Commodore that I hope Auburn takes a serious look at in Sophomore OF Mike Love. You can call it a homer pick if you want because Love is an Opelika guy and I’ve personally seen him play, but still, he’d look great in Burnt Orange and Navy Blue:




Gulf Coast Community College’s Mike Love is this week’s FCCAA Baseball Player of the Week. Love, a sophomore from Opelika, Ala., batted .692 (9-for-13) with three home runs (1.462 SLG%), eight RBI and ten runs scored in five games. He was 3-for-4 with a solo homer and three runs scored in a doubleheader sweep of Grand Rapids on March 3. In a pair of games against Kankakee on March 4-5, he went a combined 4-for-7. He closed the week with a five-RBI effort against Kalamazoo on March 7 when he was 2-for-2 with a home run and three runs scored. Love hit safely and scored at least one run in each of the Commodores’ five games.




 



Regardless, getting Lane and Morris from Gulf Coast are going to be huge additions to Auburn and shows that Coach John Pawlowski is doing solid things on the recruiting front.

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Midweek Medication

 

 

In a surprise move, Cole Nelson, who I will still call Auburn's de fact ACE, is getting the starting nod against Troy tonight. It's a shrewd move by Coach John Pawlowski. However, it's one that has already worked his year. Cory Luckie bounced around a bit to start the year then struggled and ultimately was shelved until two midweek starts, when Luckie was the "designated starter" against New Orleans last week and South Alabama the week before. In both cases, Luckie pitched only 2 innings (giving up 2 hits and 0 ER versus USA, and 0 hits vs UNO) and was pulled without raising his pitch count. All it did was boost his confidence and help him show himself that he had the stuff to compete in the SEC again. He responded in a big way. Tossing a complete game against Vandy. A very dominating performance:

 

 

Strangely the inning that Luckie was most effective (where he got 1st pitch strikes and was ahead in the count) was the one where he gave up his only two runs. Overall, it was a very dominating performance and one that was a long time coming. More than that, it was a performance that probably would not have been possible without regaining his confidence. Two midweek starts and only 4 innings. That's really all it took.

 

Now, let's hope for Auburn's sake that it doesn't take 2 midweek starts to get back on track. However part of me can't blame Cole for struggling. He's been shifted around a ton, that heartbreaker against Carolina still has to sting a little bit, and his past two outing have been horrendous. More than that though, Cole is dealing with the real world. That's his father pictured above in the Auburn sweatshirt, battling cancer. Below his a news feature about Cole's Dad and some of things he is trying to accomplish:

 

 

One quote sticks out to me:

He also hopes to visit Auburn University this spring.  Nelson's oldest son Cole is a starting pitcher there.

More chemotherapy is scheduled to treat Nelson's cancer in the near future.  His tumor has been reduced but is not eradicated.  However, his prognosis is good.

 

Even with Nelson pitching 2 innings tonight, he could still be available for this weekend. Just like Luckie was. So for now, here's to Cole Nelson regaining his form against South Alabama and returning to that dominant pitcher we saw early in his Auburn career. The midweek magic worked wonders for Cory Luckie. I'm sure it can do the same for Cole Nelson

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Friday, April 16, 2010

5P Primer: Vanderbilt

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: Vandy



PRESENTING: The Vanderbilt Commodores. A team that is riding some of its best seasons in school history. After making only 3 regionals from 1947-2003 the 'Dores have exploded; making it to Regionals 5 out of the last 6 years and even garnering the #1 National Seed in 2007 (but got knocked out by Michigan in the Regional Finals). That newfound success has come with an influx of MLB level talent including current Tampa Ray David Price (below) and two of the top prospects in Major League baseball in Pirate farmhand Pedro Alvarez and Atlanta Brave prospect Mike Minor. Last year, Auburn won the Saturday (5-3) and Sunday (11-10) games to take the series before Auburn's eventual tumble. This year, Vandy comes in with a 27-8 (6-6) record and have bounced around the National Rankings all season.



PREVIOUSLY: You can't say that Vandy has shied away from stiff competition. Having faced UCLA, Western Kentucky, and Oklahoma State in non-conference play. That 6-6 record can be a bit deceiving because its bolstered by a sweep of Kentucky. Outside of that, VU has dropped series to South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. Tough competition to be sure. That's one of the reasons Vandy is so hard to to scout. Yes, they come in at 6-6 in the league. However, it's not like they are feasting on bottom feeders. They are actually eerily similar to Auburn in their schedule. Playing the bottom half of the league to end the season and facing a potential in-or-out series the final weekend (for Auburn it will be against Ole Miss/for VU against Arkansas). The rotation has already been set so we can get a look at who Auburn will be facing on the mound.



SONNY GRAY (4-4/2.44 era) RHP

OPP IP H ER BB K D
UA 5.2 5 1 4 4 L
UK 7 4 0 3 6 W
UF 6.1 4 2 5 7 L
USC 9.0 7 3 5 8 L

JACK ARMSTRONG (5-0/3.43) RHP

OPP IP H ER BB K D
UA 6.1 8 1 3 3 W
UK 5 10 7 0 5 ND
UF 6 4 0 3 4 W
USC 8 6 1 2 4 W

TAYLOR HILL (3-3/3.51) RHP

OPP IP H ER BB K D
UA 3.2 8 4 2 2 L
UK 4.1 5 0 2 2 ND
UF 5.0 8 5 3 3 L
USC 7.2 2 1 1 3 L

Talk about tough losses for the Vandy staff against South Carolina. Gray pitches a complete game and gets a loss and Hill give up 1 ER and loses.


PLAYMAKERS- The stud on the mound is Sonny Gray (above) The 5'11 Sophomore from Smyrna, TN is a workhorse; chewing up innings and leading the SEC in innings pitched. He also ranks 4th in the SEC in Strikeouts but he's also left in games a bit too long as he also has 4 losses on the year. A year, where he's only given up 1 HR. He ranked #16 in The College Baseball Blog's Top 100. :

Gray is one of the hardest throwers in the country with his fastball that can top out at 97 MPH and having a curve that drops off the table at 80-84 MPH. If Gray can find his control during his college career, then he will be one of the best pitchers for the 2011 MLB Draft.

Don't let his size fool you. The kid has nasty stuff and Auburn will trot out their Ace to compete with him:

Vandy has two power bats in Sophomore Aaron Westlake and Jason Esposito who have 10 and 11 HRs respectively. Westlake got high honors from The College Baseball Blog where he came in #46 in the Top 100. Esposito is probably the Dores top overall hitter. Ranking 4th in the SEC in RBIs (40) and 3rd in Doubles. Lastly, Brian Harris is 1st in the SEC in HBP (with 24) and 2nd in Walks, leading to a solid On Base% of .574.


PREVIEW- Vanderbilt doesn't have a ton of superstars. Few if any of the their players rank in the SEC lead. However, as a team. Vandy is towards to top in almost every major offensive and even defensive category:

STAT AU SEC RNK VANDY SEC RNK
AVG .350 1 .327 4
Slug% .562 1 .471 5
OBS .425 2 .427 1
Runs 311 1 259 4
Hits 434 1 390 3
Doubles 74 2 83 2
Triples 11 2 4 12
HR 56 1 27 11

Not a ton of power in the Vandy bats. However, the Dores do have a ton of speed and are super aggressive on the bases. Ranking 3rd in Stolen Bases (52) and Steal attempts (69).

The real story is the Vanderbilt pitching staff that ranks 1st in team ERA (2.92), Runs allowed (125), ER allowed (102), HR allowed (14) and 3rd in Opponent Batting Avg (.252) and Batter's Struck Out (291).

Winning at Hawkins field will also be tough, as Vandy has only dropped 3 games at home all season.

I think that the Auburn pitching staff can calm the Vandy bats. Especially the bullpen which has come on stronger and stronger. However, the real key will be can the Auburn's O get cranked enough to disrupt a Vandy staff that is the best in the league. Auburn has shown it can knock the snot out of average and below average pitching but has struggled against the two better staffs in the SEC (Carolina and Bama).

PREDICTION- I'll keep riding this horse still the legs fall off. AUBURN TAKES TWO OF THREE and I'm hoping this is the face you'll see of a lot of Vandy Women on Sunday (below)

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