Tuesday, May 25, 2010

5P Primer: SEC Tournament

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: The SEC Baseball Tournament

The SEC Tournament calls for a a different set of P’s.

PITCHING- I’ll put it bluntly. In the postseason, Auburn will only go as far as our pitching will take us. The tournament and regional’s are set up so you can take a “mulligan” in one pitching performance, but just one realistically. So for Auburn to succeed in the second season it will come to down to the Auburn arms and who the opponent trots out. For Auburn the first test will come against Alabama and their best pitcher Jimmy Nelson. Sure, Nelson has impressive numbers but they are a little transparent. He’ll come in with a 7-2 record and 4.05 ERA but it moves to 4-2 and 5.15 in SEC play.

IP H R ER BB K
Carolina 4.0 7 6 2 4 3
Florida 4.0 7 7 7 2 3
Ole Miss 9.0 4 1 1 2 11
Tennessee 9.0 8 3 3 2 8

The 2 complete games in the last two starts immediately jump out at you. However, how much of that was Nelson’s skills (a bit, I’m sure) and how much was the anemic offenses of the Vols and Rebels.

Against Auburn earlier in the year, Nelson wasn’t as sharp:

Auburn IP H R ER BB K
April 3 4.0 5 4 4 4 3

It’s speculative at this point but without a rare blown save by Austin Hubbard, Nelson would have left the game a loser. I think the biggest difference is the lineup that Nelson will face Wednesday and the lineup he faced back in April because they are world’s apart:

AB H K BB Notes
McElroy 2 1 1 1 RBI
Fletcher 2 1 0 1
Morris 0 0 0 2
Gamache 0 2 1 0
Patterson 2 2 0 0 2 HR
Caldwell 2 0 0 0
Fradejas 2 1 0 0
Hargett 2 1 1 0 RBI
Simpson 2 0 0 0

You know Kevin “Kraken” Patterson is licking his chops at the prospect of facing Nelson. 2 At Bats and 2 Solo HRs last time. That lineup above has completely been shuffled now. Fradejas has been moved up, Gamache is lower, and Creede Simpson hasn’t seen action for a good while. The biggest X-Factor? Nelson didn’t face Trent Mummey.

On the flip side, Nelson will face Corey Luckie who has been both up and down this season. To me, he pitched his best outing last weekend against Ole Miss when he went pitch for pitch against Drew Pomeranz. However, that could also be because Ole Miss has struggled offensively.

THE PARK- Still, for Luckie pitching in Regions Park will be a blessing. Luckie is a flyball pitcher and dimension-wise, Regions is world’s apart from Plainsman Park:

You can see the comfy confines of home inset against the spacious outfield of Regions Park. 340 down the lines and 405 to dead center. It’s a college pitcher’s park. Some critics wondered if Auburn’s offense will be able to handle the deeper dimensions. Well, Ole Miss’s Swayze field is similar in dimension (335 down the lines, 400 dead center) and Auburn didn’t have a problem last weekend.

One thing that I noticed from the Rivals write up of the Tournament:

Leading the charge: It’s hard not to go with Auburn with the home field advantage and the powerful offense…

Wait a minute? Did he really call Birmingham a home-field for Auburn? He must be an Alabama fan and think Legion Field is a “neutral site”. Birmingham isn’t called “Bammer-Ham” for nothing. The crowd will be Pro-Tide all weekend.

PAWLOWSKI- This is another x-factor for Auburn. You have to credit CJP and the job he’s done with Auburn. How he missed out on SEC Coach of the Year is beyond me. It went to Florida’s skipper this year. Since 2002 the award has gone to either a coach who has either won the SEC East or the SEC West but not necessarily to the coach with the best overall SEC Record. When you think about what CJP has done with Auburn this year and take into account that Auburn was predicted to only finish 5th in the SEC West? It’s remarkable. He has the players in the right mindset and has put an emphasis on “Championship Sunday” as he calls it. It’s paid off really well.

POSTSEASON- It’s been interesting to watch Auburn before the Tennesee series and how they’ve responded. Going in, Auburn needed two games to clinch a spot in Hoover. The Tigers responded. Then, going into Ole Miss, Auburn needed two to clinch the West. They got three and all but locked up a chance to host a Regional. So what’s left to play for? Plenty. I didn’t think it was possible, but Auburn has a slim (very) slim shot at actually becoming a NATIONAL Seed. From Baseball America That’s incredible.

Lionel (Nashville): Aaron, What an exciting time to be an Auburn Tiger! We appear to have all but guaranteed a spot as a regional host during the NCAA tournament. Could you briefly layout a scenario (if any exist) where Auburn would be a national seed?


Aaron Fitt: Tell me this: what makes South Carolina such a safer bet to be a national seed than Auburn? The way I see it, they have very comparable resumes, and the team that does better in the SEC tournament will have the inside track at the No. 8 national seed. Think about it: South Carolina finished just one game ahead of Auburn in the SEC. They're back-to-back in the RPI. Both teams won series at Arkansas. South Carolina won the head-to-head series against Auburn back in March, but Auburn finished stronger, winning its last five series (including at Arkansas and sweeping a series at Ole Miss), while South Carolina lost two of its last three series (albeit with a great series sweep of Arkansas stuck in between). And South Carolina has played 14 games against teams outside the top 200 in the RPI, compared to just five for Auburn. Those teams are right next to each other, in my estimation.

So there you have it. One writer who honestly thinks Auburn has a chance at a National Seed. Each time Auburn has had it’s destiny in its own hands, the Tigers have responded.

PLAYMAKERS- Specifically, Auburn’s playmakers. The All SEC Teams were announced and Auburn was well represented:

FIRST TEAM
1B – Hunter Morris, Auburn

2B – Anthony Gomez, Vanderbilt
3B – Zack Cox, Arkansas
SS – Josh Rutledge, Alabama
C – Micah Gibbs, LSU
OF – Taylor Dugas, Alabama
OF – Trent Mummey, Auburn
OF – Brian Fletcher, Auburn
DH – Kevin Patterson, Auburn

P – Blake Cooper, South Carolina
P – Drew Pomeranz, Ole Miss
RP – Kevin Chapman, Florida

SECOND TEAM
1B – Preston Tucker, Florida
2B – Chris Bisson, Kentucky
3B – Austin Maddox, Florida
SS – Austin Nola, LSU
SS – Nolan Fontana, Florida
C – Ryan Jenkins, Auburn
OF – Matt den Dekker, Florida
OF – Brett Eibner, Arkansas
OF – Jackie Bradley Jr., South Carolina
DH – Matt Gaudet, LSU
P – Drew Smyly, Arkansas
P – Grant Dayton, Auburn
P – Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt
RP – Matt Price, South Carolina
RP – Brett Huber, Ole Miss

Very well represented, including Hunter Morris being named SEC Player of the Year. Auburn lands Four 1st Teamers and Two 2nd Teamers. It’s a hungry group, an experienced group, and a group determined to make sure their return to Hoover isn’t a short one.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Threat Level: Huddy

 

A text from a buddy of mine got me thinking about the Auburn Threat Level. We’ve been stuck at Threat Level Hurt for a while and I think it was an apt threat level. We had power, we had decent pitching. Anyway, my buddy wanted to know if Auburn swept Tennessee would I raise Auburn to Threat Level Huddy (the highest of the scale). If we had swept? Yes. However, Auburn didn’t sweep. However, we DID sweep Ole Miss which to me is more impressive than sweeping UT. So we raise the Threat Level:

Threat Level Huddy Named for Tim Hudson. Current Major Leaguer and the driving force behind Auburn's best baseball season (1997). Team has all the elements and tools needed to make it to the College World Series. Majority of Players are playing at an All-SEC and All American level.

 

Why? Well for starters the sweep of Ole Miss has pretty much cemented Auburn’s status as a Regional Host:

• Auburn
What a job Auburn coach John Pawlowski has done this season. The Tigers have overachieved throughout the spring. AU went on the road over the weekend and swept Mississippi. As a result, the Tigers are now 39-17 and finished SEC play with a fantastic 20-10 record. AU will be hosting a regional.

Auburn has also raised it’s Rivals Ranking to #12.

 

The SEC Awards will be coming out soon and I look forward to Auburn having both the Player of the Year and Coach of the Year on the same team. War Eagle.

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The West is Won

 

Color me impressed. Going in to the final SEC series against Ole Miss, I didn’t have any doubt that Auburn would secure a SEC West Championship. However, I didn’t think they would do it in such impressive fashion. Winning 5-3, 18-4, and 11-1, the Tigers absolutely blasted the 2nd best team in the West and after Thursday night (which was really the game changer, but more on that later) Auburn was able to cruise and sweep Ole Miss. I’m still in a bit of disbelief. Like I said, I knew they could do it but I didn’t think Auburn would do it THIS convincingly. Just think about these bullet points:

  • The West title was the first for Auburn in 15 years. 15 years. In a division that has been dominated by Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU in recent years, Auburn exploded and not only won the west, but won it going away.
  • Auburn scored 18 runs on Saturday. The most the Rebels have given up all year.
  • The 20 regular season SEC wins is the most in program history for Auburn.
  • This was the first time Ole Miss had been swept at home since 2003.
  • Auburn trailed just 2 total innings all series, when Ole Miss went up 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth with two outs until Auburn took the lead back 5-3 with two outs in the Top of the 8th. That’s it.

So what was the difference maker? Well, for me there are three. It starts with Friday with Cory Luckie. For all of Luckie’s struggles this season, he held his own against both the SEC and that Nation’s best in Drew Pomeranz. Luckie’s only mistake was the 3 Run HR he gave up late in the game. Yes, he walked a tight rope all game but time after time Luckie pitched out of danger.

Then, well, let’s just call him the hero of the weekend. Sure Auburn will have a couple of guys with bigger and better statlines, but what Kevin Patterson did with one swing of the bat on Thursday was amazing. Auburn had 2 on and 2 out. The Tigers were trailing 3-2. I could imagine (and that’s just the fanboy/nerd in me) that Coach Pawlowski looked into his dugout and the exchange went something like this:

 

The Kraken in this case being Kevin Patterson, a behemoth who can destroy Ole Miss fans in a single swing. KP comes up, cold and facing Ole Miss’s best bullpen arm. KP took the first pitch for a ball and then took the 2nd pitch out of Swayze field. I know this will probably get taken down later but I uploaded the video just so you can hear the Ole Miss announcer’s reaction to the KP shot:

So what else can we say about one swing of the bat? A ton, actually. Huber was the SEC saves leader, Patterson was pinch hitting, Ole Miss was just an out away from putting a bow on this game and taking game one (I know Auburn still had the 9th, but still).

Huber retired two of Auburn's most dangerous hitters - Brian Fletcher and Hunter Morris - but couldn't sneak a slider past Patterson, who used his 6-foot-4, 233-pound frame to lift the baseball over the bullpen and into the student section behind the right-field wall.

He's hit 15 homers in only 95 at-bats as part of a potent Auburn offense that's belted an SEC-high 108 homers.

"I left it a little up, (Patterson's) got a long swing and I made one mistake," Huber said. "They capitalized."

"I wanted a slider and he left one hanging," Patterson said. "I just put a good swing on it and got it out of the park."

 

 

That’s all she wrote folks. The only other story of note was the relief work of Slade Smith in Friday. Cole Nelson, I guess, hit a wall going into the 4th inning. He got the first batter he face to ground out to short but then just got knocked around a bit. Double, RBI Double, Single, Walk, 2 RBI single, Walk. 3 Runs were in with the bases loaded and 1 out. Now the game was pretty much out of hand for Ole Miss (The Tigers led 10-0 going into the fourth and it was still 10-3 when Cole left). Still, Pawlowski made the call and sent Slade Smith in on relief. Smith got an RBI SAC Fly and Ground out to end the frame and then completely cruised going 5.2 innings/5h/0er/5k/0bb and picking up the win.

PITCHER OF THE SERIES: Slade Smith. He bailed the Tigers out of jam and dominated Ole Miss the rest of the night.

 

HITTING OF THE SERIES: Kevin “The Kraken” Patterson. One swing of his bat and Auburn gained the opening win and the confidence to sweep the Johnny Rebs.

JOBUs: 4 out of 4. JOBU is very pleased with this performance. Toomer’s has never looked prettier.

 

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Visitor's Dugout: Red Cup Rebellion

 

Sometimes it’s good to know what’s going on in the minds of the guys across the field. So from time to time, AUPPL will lend the floor to his week’s opponents to get an insider’s look at the next Auburn opponent. Here’s BrianWalker'sElbow from Red Cup Rebellion for our visit this week. You can find my answers to his questions over at RCR:

AUPPL: What's been the hallmark of a Mike Bianco club?

RCR: Bianco's clubs always have these two characteristics: pitching and defense.  He does a superb job of recruiting and developing pitchers.  If you look at Drew Pomeranz's development from his freshman year until now, it is astonishing, and many now believe he'll be drafted in the top 10.  Aaron Barrett came from the JUCO ranks and had a terrible season as a junior last season, and now he has a respectable 3.26 ERA and is second in the SEC behind Pomeranz in strikeouts.  As far as defense is concerned, Bianco is much more concerned with the glove than he is the bat.  We've consistently played players that could not hit (2009 version of our current shortstop Kevin Mort or 2008 Brett Basham, both of which flirted with the Mendoza line) instead of putting a defensive liability out there.  Lastly, he plays small ball.  I've seen him bunt in the first inning after a lead-off double.  He loves bunting so much the suicide squeeze is almost expected with a runner on third. 

AUPP: What's the biggest weakness (besides the bullpen and the collective groan from the fans when Rory McKean takes the mound)? 

RCR: At the middle of the season, I would have definitely said the bullpen as your question mentions.  I would still say that, but this team has even worse issues.  Our offense is atrociously bad.  Last weekend against Alabama, we hit .214 as a team and only scored 8 runs on the weekend.  Two of their pitchers pitched complete games against us!  The weekend before against Arkansas, we only scored 7 runs all weekend.  This is partly due to DH Matt Snyder having shoulder problems stemming from an early season dislocation, and partly inexplicable.  If Auburn hits like usual, it's going to get embarrassing in Oxford.

AUPPL: Has Ole Miss found any consistency as a 3rd day starter? I know that has been an issue for the Rebels all season.

RCR: Third starter seems like it is an issue every year for Ole Miss.  We move guys in and out of the spot, and it never seems to work.  We began the season with Trent Rothlin, and that experiment failed.  The real issue seemed to be our team's lack of motivation and focus on Sundays.  If you don't score any runs, does it matter what the pitching does?  Anyway, David Goforth is the answer right now.  Bianco has announced TBA for weeks now, but Goforth always pitches.  Two weeks ago against Arkansas, Goforth started changing his arm slot.  He typically throws heat in the 92-94 range, and he drops to a 3/4 slot with the same array of pitches to try to give batters a different look.  He's improved throughout the season, and I think Ole Miss fans are pretty comfortable with the effort he gives on Sundays.

AUPPL: Would this season still be considered a success for Ole Miss, even if they don't host a regional?

RCR:That's a difficult question.  For me, every season is a failure if we don't get to Omaha, but I'll get to that question in a bit.  Prior to the season, we had way too many question marks for any fan to think we would even be in contention for a regional host.  If we had just been terrible, it would not have been that big of a deal.  I think that I predicted 16 SEC wins, which is the worst case scenario at this point.  Since all we had to do to secure regional host spot was not tank over the last three weeks, I think blowing the SEC West lead and losing a regional host spot is somewhat a disappointment.  All things considered, no one can be upset with what Bianco has done with the team this year.

AUPPL:  Has the success of the Rebels sparked an "Omaha or bust" attitude?

RCR: For me personally, it has sparked an "Omaha or bust" attitude."  Bianco has done wonders for this program, he is a great developer of talent, and his teams are fun to watch.  However, losing in the supers in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009 makes me really impatient.  Most of the fans are old enough to remember the pre-Bianco years when Ole Miss Baseball was irrelevant, so they don't want to get mad at the one who brought them to the dance.  It will be interesting to see what happens over the next five years because the stadium expansion, Bianco's high pay, and student support are above and beyond what most teams need to get to Omaha.

AUPPL:Predictions

RCR: The Rebels are in a nasty slump and have not played well for a long time.  Auburn is the hot team, and I foresee them winning the West by taking two in Oxford. 

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Regional Radar (May 20th)

 

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) 1 Seed
(Auburn)
1 Seed
(
Norwich, CT)
Rising
College Baseball Blog 1 Seed
(Auburn)
2 Seed
(Clemson, SC)
Rising

Well well well. Look at this. Auburn getting a lot of National love. Not only did the Tigers get predicted to host regionals. Not only that both seem to be pretty sweet draws. CollegeBaseballBlog has Clemson (2), SE Louisiana (3), and Wright State (4). SEBaseball has Arizona (2), Southern Miss (3), and Charlotte (4). These aren't cakewalk draws (SE LA and Arizona are both sold clubs. Clemson and Southern Miss have name but have struggled this year). Better than that, in both cases, the Super Regional would be in Atlanta (if Georgia Tech holds serve). Not exactly a long journy to Omaha.

   
TOURNAMENT RESUME   CHANGE
RECORD 36-17  
Boyd RPI 17 0
Nolan RPI 16 0
NCAA RPI 17 0
Boyd ISR (Strength Ratings) 22 0
Nolan NPI (Power Index) 25 -2
KEY WINS Bama, LSU, FAU, UK, Arkansas  
KEY LOSSES SEMO (2/19), Missouri (2/27)  
Warren Nolan Strength of Schedule 20 -8
RECORD v RPI 1-50 14-13  
RECORD v RPI 51-100 7-3  
RECORD v RPI 101-200 10-1  
RECORD v RPI 201+ 5-0  
     

FINAL PREDICTION:

Kind of surprising. There was NO movement in the RPI front. That should change after the Ole Miss series tonight. For the regional hosting spot? Auburn has to win the west. Yes, there is a possibility they could sneak in if they drop the series to Ole Miss (but they'd need a good showing in Hoover). Since the NCAA has adopted their new CWS format (1999) The SEC West Champion has always hosted a regional. Simple as that. The number might be skewed a little bit because of just how strong the SEC West Champion has been, but the history is there.

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5P Primer: Ole Miss

 

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: Ole Miss

PRESENTING: The Ole Miss Rebels, the only team standing between Auburn and a SEC Western Division crown. MIke Bianco and the Rebs have sparked a surprising turnaround this decade, hosting 4 NCAA Regionals and 3 Super Regionals. Ole Miss has quickly supplanted Mississippi State as the baseball power in the Magnolia State. Historically, the two teams are pretty even. with the Rebs holding a 70-66-1 edge over the Tigers historically. (Oddly, the Ole Miss program lists a 73-71-1 advantage). Auburn hasn't won a series in  Oxford since 2004 and the Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue have topped the Tigers in 4 straight series (and 4 straight games).

PREVIOUSLY: Ole Miss reaffirmed their position in the top of the SEC after sweeping LSU then followed up with a sweep of Mississippi State. If there's a good time to catch the Rebels it would be now as they've surprisingly dropped 2 straight series (to Arkansas and Alabama). The Alabama one was probably the biggest letdown. Had the Rebels swept then the tables would have been turned and they (not Auburn) would have a 1 game lead in the SEC West and probably would have locked up Regional hosting duties. The Rebels will toss out their two most consistent pitchers, JR LHP Drew Pomeranz and SR RHP Aaron Barrett. Both guys have 7 wins on the season and give UM a solid 1-2 punch in their rotation:

DREW POMERANZ (7-1, 2.15 ERA)

IP H R ER BB K Dec
LSU 3.0 1 5 4 9 3 ND
MSU 6.1 5 1 1 1 11 ND
Ark 6.2 9 4 4 2 8 L
Bama 5.0 1 1 1 7 9 W

 

AARON BARRETT (7-2, 3.26 ERA)

  IP H R ER BB K DEC
LSU 6.0 4 5 4 4 5 ND
MSU 3.2 2 5 4 3 4 W
ARK 8.0 6 1 1 2 6 W
BAMA 6.2 2 1 1 8 7 ND

 

PLAYMAKERS: Auburn will have their work cut out for them tonight when they face one of SEC's (and one of the Nation's) best pitchers: Drew Pomeranz. An almost guaranteed 1st round MLB Draft pick, Pomeranz is damn good:

Pomeranz enters the regular season finale against Auburn with a 7-1 record and continues to lead the Southeastern Conference in several categories, including strikeouts (121), ERA (2.15) and opposing batting average (.176). The southpaw is second in the nation in strikeouts and is only seven strikeouts shy of setting the career strikeout mark currently held by Lance Lynn. Pomeranz has struck out 326 batter for his career. Hewas recently named a finalist for the 2010 Ferriss Trophy awarded annually to the top collegiate baseball player in the state of Mississippi.

The College Baseball Blog had even better things to say about the legend/hype/reality of Drew Pomeranz:

Pomeranz had a solid freshman season when he made 17 appearances including making 11 starts. He accumulated a 4-3 record as he struck out 81 and walked 30  with a 4.16 ERA in 71.1 innings of work. After the season, he was named Freshman All-America and All-SEC Freshman selection.

He became a fixture in the Rebels rotation as he made 16 starts on the season with an 8-4 record and a team-leading 3.40 ERA. He walked 37 batters while striking out 124 in 95.1 innings of work. He held opponents to a .237 batting average against. In the NCAA Regional, he pitched eight innings against Monmouth before coming back on two days rest against Western Kentucky where he pitched a complete game striking out 16 batters and allowing only two hits. He was named All-SEC Second Team.

Pomeranz spent the summer of 2009 with the USA Collegiate National Team where he made five starts going 4-1 with an ERA of 1.75 as he struck out 48 batters in 25.2 innings. Baseball America rated him the seventh best prospect on the team.

Pomeranz is a strikeout master and for super aggressive hitters like Brian Fletcher and Trent Mummey, he could spell disaster.

 

 

Offensively, there are a couple of names to look out for, but Ole Miss is a hard team to shut down. They have multiple guys hitting over .300 and have a couple of big power spots in the lineup with big boppers like Mike Smith (12 hr), Tim Ferguson (8), Matt Snyder (9) and Taylor Hashman (7). There isn't a single player that you could look and say, "I shut him down, I shut the team down". Top to bottom, the Rebels have a scarily consistent lineup.

PREVIEW: Here's what the series boils down to. Patience. Pomeranz is good, but he can be erratic at times (evidenced by the 9 walks against LSU). As a whole, the Rebels pitching staff lives and dies by the Strikeout. However, any team that does that is going to give up a ton of walks (which they do). Any free pass that the Rebels give, the Tigers need to take advantage of it. It's going to be hard to judge what Auburn will do on the mound. All that we know is that Cory Luckie will take the hill tonight. Luckie has been a bit erratic in his last couple of starts but he's show flashes of dominance. Tonight is the key for Auburn. I honestly, think Pawlowski is using the outcome of this game to determine the rest of the rotation. If Auburn can steal a win tonight, then Cole Nelson could go Friday. If Auburn loses? Probably Grant Dayton. (My thinking could be flip flopped but I think you get the point) It's do or die for Auburn and I have full confidence that if Auburn wins one game Thursday or Friday then they can win the series. Ole Miss has just had too many problems on Sundays (Saturday this weekend).

Another key will be the bullpen. If Auburn can get to the Ole Miss bullpen, the Tiger bats can absolutely feast. Outside of closer Brett Huber, the Rebel bullpen has been shaky at best and Auburn has shown (and I'm using the UT series as an example) that when it can get to a teams bullpen early, then it can coast.

 

 

PREDICTION: Unbiased attitude aside, this is the biggest series for Auburn in a long time and Coach John Pawlowski seems to have his team ready. I want to see the Tigers take the West and they need 2 wins to do that. That's what I'll predict: AUBURN TAKES 2 GAMES AND WINS THE WEST.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Hoover Bound

 

The Real World is preventing a full recap of the UT series right now. For now though here’s my quick thoughts on Auburn’s Return to Hoover and a surprising move to first place in the SEC West:

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Friday, May 14, 2010

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:

 

Steven Gruver IP H R ER BB K Dec
Georgia 5 7 2 2 2 5 W
Kentucky 6 4 1 1 2 2 W
Miss. State 2 8 6 5 2 2 L
               

Stephen McCray IP H R ER BB K  
Georgia 9 6 1 1 2 8 W
Kentucky 5.2 8 6 6 3 4 ND
Vanderbilt 7.1 3 2 1 1 4 ND
Miss. State 6 8 5 5 2 5 ND

 

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.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Regional Radar (May 12)

 

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) 1 Seed
(
Norwich, CT)
2 Seed
(
Atlanta)
Rising
College Baseball Blog 2 Seed
(Clemson, SC)
2 Seed
(
Atlanta)
Holding

First a word of caution, if you clickThe College Baseball Blog Link. The site is having some malware issues. Nothing major, just a friendly word of advice DON’T EVER SAY OK TO INSTALL ANYTHING FROM A WEBSITE. There. Basic Internet Safety.

Quite interesting predictions here. Starting with SEBaseball: Currently there are four SEC hosts (South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, and Ole Miss) and 5 #1 SEC seeds. Auburn being the one runt of that litter. Has this happened before? Can a team be a #1 Seed and NOT host? Yes. It’s happened. With College Baseball being a national sport, but mainly dominated by South Eastern teams, sometimes the NCAA will spread out the Regionals:

  • 2000: ECU #1 Lafayette, LA regional
    UCLA #1 OK City regional
    Southern Cal #1 Fullerton, CA Regional
    Nebraska #1 seed Minneapolis, MN regional.
  • 2001: Central Florida #1 Seed in Columbia, SC regional
    South Alabama #1 seed Clemson, SC regional
    Wake Forest #1 Seed, Knoxville,TN Regional
    MissSt #1 seed in Columbus,OH regional
  • 2002: South Alabama #1 seed in South Bend,IN Regional
  • 2003: Baylor #1 seed in Hattiesburg, MS regional
  • 2004: Florida #1 Seed in OK City Regional
  • 2006: Ok State #1 Seed in Fayetteville, AR Regional
  • 2008: Arizona #1 seed in Ann Arbor, MI regional.

So it happens. Not often as of late, but it does happen. If you’d want a more in-depth explanation of the prediction, then you’ll have to go over to SEBaseball and Subscribe to Mark Etheridge’s site.

Now the other head scratcher is from The CBB. Mark Rafferty over there didn’t actually list the hosts, just the seeding and it also looks like a straight RPI formula. It’s one of the only places I’ve seen Clemson listed as a host. It also has Vanderbilt listed as a #1 seed (and a potential host). Again, something I’ve only seen in one place. It’s kind of a screwy prediction as it’s got a ton of things out of the norm. Beside those things listed above, it also has UK and UT both in which would place 9 SEC teams in (and only 8 make it to Hoover). It also has South Carolina (who some have as a Top 8 Seed) traveling to Florida State. Odd, but we’ll see how they shake out. Again, these are just predictions.

   
TOURNAMENT RESUME   CHANGE
RECORD 33-16  
Boyd RPI 17 -3
Nolan RPI 16 -2
NCAA RPI 17 -2
Boyd ISR (Strength Ratings) 22 -1
Nolan NPI (Power Index) 23 +2
KEY WINS Bama, LSU, FAU, UK, Arkansas  
KEY LOSSES SEMO (2/19), Missouri (2/27)  
Warren Nolan Strength of Schedule 12 -5
RECORD v RPI 1-50 12-12  
RECORD v RPI 51-100 7-3  
RECORD v RPI 101-200 9-1  
RECORD v RPI 201+ 5-0  
     

FINAL PREDICTION:

Not very good in all honesty. Auburn dropped in RPI in all three major predictors. Also hurting the Tigers? Vanderbilt. The Commodores picked up a big RPI win last night against Louisville and have a favorable schedule with remaining with Mississippi State this weekend and Arkansas the final weekend. The Commodores could make a big push for that Regional Host that Auburn is trying so desperately to steal. Vandy is currently #16 in the NCAA, 13 in Boyd, and 14 on Nolan. If anybody could still a host seed, it’s the Commodores.

But that’s not to say Auburn is out of it. In fact, I’d say the path to hosting is pretty much laid out:

    Lionel (Nashville): Aaron, I'm an awfully proud alum of Auburn University today! We were a key hit away against Vanderbilt from having won 4 straight SEC series! My question to you is how close is Auburn to getting serious consideration as a regional host? What would Auburn need to accomplish down the stretch to get that bid?

Aaron Fitt: At No. 15 in the RPI and 12-9 in the SEC, I think Auburn has to be in the hosting discussion. The next two series are extremely winnable, both home against Mississippi State and Tennessee, and the Tigers close with a trip to Ole Miss. Going 5-4 in that stretch is a very reasonable expectation, and that would put Auburn at 17-13 in the league. I think that would put them in position to host, especially if LSU can't get back on track. The SEC will probably wind up with five hosts; and Florida and South Carolina look like locks, and Arkansas is still pretty safe, although it will find itself in a much more precarious position if it loses a third straight series this weekend against Ole Miss. The Rebels also seem pretty safe. That leaves Auburn and LSU competing for one hosting spot, assuming none of the others fall off.

That’s from Baseball America. I know it’s a bit dated, but here’s something from earlier in this week:

National seeds

SECURE TEAMS: Texas, Virginia, Arizona State, Florida

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Coastal Carolina, Arkansas, Louisville, UCLA

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): South Carolina, Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Texas Christian, Cal State Fullerton, Auburn

With Auburn and Fullerton surging, there are now 15 teams with plausible shots at the eight national seeds, and a lot can change in the next three weeks.

Regional Hosts

SECURE TEAMS: The 15 teams listed above (that includes Auburn)

ON THE BUBBLE (IN): Mississippi

ON THE BUBBLE (OUT): Connecticut, Oklahoma, Rice, Vanderbilt, San Diego, Virginia Tech, Oregon

The Auburn-Ole Miss series the final weekend could loom large, as the loser could find itself locked out of hosting, especially if said losing team also drops its upcoming series this weekend.

Vanderbilt moves into the hosting discussion following a series win against Louisiana State. Vandy is 16th in the RPI and 12-12 against the top 50—both solid numbers—but trails five other teams in the SEC hosting pecking order.

 

 

The cliff notes version: Auburn has an outside shot at a National Seed (Top 8, which I find unbelievable, if not impossible) but Baseball America feels they are at least a lock to host a regional. The Ole Miss series will be the deciding factor. All that is moot of Auburn can’t take care of business against the Vols this weekend and it reiterates what Brian Foley said earlier in the week:

  • AUPPL: What does Auburn need to do to host a Regional?
    • TheCBB: Coming into today, Auburn had an RPI of 16. They have four SEC teams ahead of them this weekend. Auburn needs to sweep Tennessee and then win their final series with Ole Miss to solidify a host spot for the 2010 NCAA Tourney.

 

It’s in Auburn’s hands now. Just Win. The rest should take care of itself.

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Earth Meet Auburn. Auburn, Earth.

 

There was a buzz going into Tuesday’s game against South Alabama was palpable. Auburn fans were no longer talking about Hoover, instead they were talking about Auburn hosting an NCAA Regional.

 

One swing of the bat by South Alabama’s Sean Laird put an end to all that. It also brought in to focus a problem for Auburn over the Tiger’s last 4 games. Hidden in the sweep of Mississippi State was the fact that Auburn pitching is once again struggling. After the Jaguars tied up the game in the ninth on a two run home run and then won it in the 11th, those problems have once again boiled up to the surface.

 

Auburn came crashing back down to Earth and personally, I don’t think it could have come at a better time. For all the progress Auburn has made this season, the Tigers still have a ton of work to do. What’s puzzling to me is how many Auburn fans has penciled last night’s game as an automatic W for Auburn. This is still a South Alabama team that is 45-22 All time against Auburn and 26-9 at Stanky Field (the Jags’ home park). South Alabama came in to the game hungry and fighting for any RPI boost it could get. Auburn came in still a bit hung over from the Mississippi State series. That was evident. No Auburn pitcher was truly effective. Cole Nelson pitched stellar in relief but all his work was wiped out with the Two Run HR in the 9th.

 

So there’s a couple of things to focus on. The official break downs are here and here; but here’s a couple of notes that I took away:

  • There was no Austin Hubbard Tuesday. That’s a good thing. After pitching 3 straight games last weekend he needed a rest. I don’t care how well he feels and how good he think he can be; Auburn needs a fully healthy Austin for the UT series.
  • Yes, the loss stings. However, RPI wise it’s not as bad as say losing to Indiana in extra innings like one SEC team did. I don’t know how many times I can hammer this point across: South Alabama is a good team. The Jags ALWAYS have a good team. You don’t get to be an NCAA #1 Seed twice in the last decade (from a “Mid-Major” conference) by being a scrub. USA loves to beat Auburn and will do anything they can to accomplish that, especially at home.
  • One other small microcosm was who actually produced for Auburn. Wes Gilmer, Casey McElroy, and Justin Fradejas carried most of the load offensively. For Gilmer and McElroy especially that’s a good sign, as next year Auburn will be leaning on both of them pretty heavily. This offseason is going to be an interesting one for Wes Gilmer. When called upon, he’s shown he can be clutch. However, with Auburn’s incoming recruiting class he’s once again going to be battling for a position. He played 2B last night in Justin Hargett’s absence (family matter). Next year however, both McElroy and Gilmer could both have incoming freshman pushing them out of position with the addition of Zach Alvord and Tyler Dial. The infield position battle will definitely be one to watch going into the 2011 season.
  • Dexter Price has struggled. Some Auburn fans keep wondering why Price and his spotless record and low ERA aren’t being used on the weekend. Last night showed why. Dexter’s command just wasn’t there. He’s got the tools, he’s just not using them correctly.
  • I guess Cole Nelson might be officially in the bullpen, but honestly with Coach John Pawlowski, I have no clue. We won’t get the weekend rotations until Friday (Thursday at the earliest) but I’d take Vegas Odds that Saturday will still be listed as TBA, with it coming down to Nelson and Slade Smith. Smith looked to be in a little better control tonight, but still it will be hard to pick a front runner.
  • Does this hurt Auburn’s chances to host a regional? Well, it certainly doesn’t help. Right now Auburn is at the cusp for hosting. The Regional Radar will be up soon and I think Auburn will know exactly what it needs to do to host.
  • Another question came up about the use of Sean Ray, who is normally a situational pitcher. He didn’t have a favorable matchup on the game winning at bat, but he did have one in the next batter. I know exactly what CJP was trying to do. The odds say keep Ray in. You have a 2 run lead and if he walks him then it would set up a play at every base. Ultimately all that was moot after Ray gave up the HR, which by the way, Laird knew was coming:
    • "I was looking for a pitch up," Laird said of his eighth home run of the season and first since April 13th. "He was a left-hander and I figured he would try to go away with off-speed stuff. He gave me a good pitch to hit with a 2-1 count."

 

Bottom Line. This was a wake up call for Auburn, and one that was sorely needed. The focus this season is a return to Hoover. Anything else, at this point, is secondary. One positive I will take from the game is that Auburn saw first hand EXACTLY what it needs to work on in order to make a post season run. Better now than in say Game 2 of the SEC tournament.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Impromptu Q&A

 

Auburn gears up for South Alabama tonight. The Jags coming off a narrow series defeat to South Alabama and as usual will be completely gee'd up for this game more than Auburn will. That's just the case. USA, UAB, Troy, and Jacksonville State. To beat Auburn or Alabama can really be something to hang your hat on.

Dexter Price gets the start tonight. I don't read much into that other than Dexter has been our midweek guy for the entire season. I don't see a situation where Pawlowski goes "Johnny Wholestaff" tonight.

On Sunday I dropped by the Weekly chat on The College Baseball Blog (which I highly recommend doing) and got a chance to ask Editor Brian Foley some Auburn-centric questions. I also posted some other Tiger centric thoughts:

 

  • AUPPL: What does Auburn need to do to host a Regional?
    • TheCBB: Coming into today, Auburn had an RPI of 16. They have four SEC teams ahead of them this weekend. Auburn needs to sweep Tennessee and then win their final series with Ole Miss to solidify a host spot for the 2010 NCAA Tourney.

Auburn is a in a bit of a logjam now. With Vanderbilt's win it pushed the 'Dores over Auburn in Boyd's RPI. Auburn is 17 in Boyd and 14 in WarrenNolan as of Tuesday. Before Auburn fans start crowing about South Carolina having a lower RPI but seemingly a lock to host a regional; the committee looks at more than just RPI (SOS, Quality Wins, Streaks, Record, etc).

 

  • AUPPL: Who do you think makes the SEC tournament as the 8th place team? UK, UT, or Alabama?
    • TheCBB: I think Kentucky has the best pitching out of those teams and grabbed a huge series victory over South Carolina today. If Alex Meyer is going to give them 7 innings with three runs, then the Wildcats are going to get it.

Just to have Tennessee in the conversation gives the Vols all the motivation they need this weekend. Auburn could use a sweep and UT will be hungry to steal the series and solidify a make or break weekend against Alabama the following.

 

  • AUPPL: Do you see any SEC team making the NCAA without making it to the SEC tournament? I can only remember 1 year that happened.
    • TheCBB: OK State last season made the NCAA Tourney after not making the Big 12 tourney.
      I think it is possible and I think the SEC is a stronger conference than the Big 12 was last year. If I was on the NCAA committee, I wouldn't let an NCAA team into the tourney if they didn't make the conference tourney unless it was very clear cut which I don't see it being this season. I rather see a Rhode Island type team then a 9th place SEC squad.

Probably the only team that could accomplish this would be Kentucky and it wouldn't be the first time the Cats have made the postseason without making a stop by Hoover. That whole conversation could be moot if UK gets their act together and pushes towards Hoover.

 

  • AUPPL: How many Sun Belt teams do you see as locks for the post season? Just South Alabama and Florida Atlantic or can MTSU/WKU etc sneak in as well
    • TheCBB: I think MTSU and WKU are two dangerous squads in the Sun Belt. WKU played themselves onto the bubble after this weekend and needs to play well over the next three weekends.

Probably the only saving grace RPI wise for Auburn is going to come from the SunBelt. It sucks, but its true. If both USA and FAU can stay locked in the Top 50 it will bode well for Auburn.

 

  • AUPPL:What are 4 teams that could surprise everyone in the NCAA. Is UConn one just because of their name/lack of history?
    • Virginia Tech has the arms and according to a couple of people I have talked to, they have an unbelievable lineup.
      UConn is dangerous as they have the pitching rotation lined up and the bullpen members are all well slotted. The lineup also is solid as the last time I checked, they had 8 guys hitting about .300. If Kentucky gets into the tourney, the Wildcats have a rotation that is starting to get healthy now and have a quality lineup. I wouldn't want to face Florida Gulf Coast in Game 1 of my regional as you would have to face Chris Sale who would get my vote for Pitcher of the year right now!

I have to reiterate the statement about Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles are dangerous and would likely be set up as a 4 seed just based on their conference. Any team that faces FGCU is going to have a battle to move on.

 

  • AUPPL: Is Dave Perno on the hotseat at UGA? Some fans were questioning his move to move Mike Palazzone to the bullpen today and elect to start Alex McCree. The Dogs got embarrassed by UT this weekend.
    • Georgia's season was over a long time ago, Maybe Perno was just trying to see what he will have next season. It has been a terrible season in Athens and I know many of the UGA fans are unhappy with him. I think next season is going to be make or break for the Dogs.

Dawgsports has more on the "Lost Season" and the coaching moves on Sunday. It's been terrible over in Athens all season and for them, May 23rd can't come soon enough.

 

  • AUPPL: Is Arizona State's coach still considered an "interim"? ... Any chance Auburn could be affected? I don't know if Pawlowski would leave but I remember him being rumored early in the year.
    • TheCBB: Yes, I expect them to do a full national search after the season is over...I don't know, I think Vanderbilt's Corbin is a more likely candidate but that is just throwing a name out there. ASU is one of the best jobs in the country so I would expect several big names to be involved.

When the season started Pawlowski's name was listed a potential candidate for the Sun Devils job. With the roll Auburn has been on, he's only going to be a hotter commodity. However, I would hope that after this year that CJP gets both a raise and some much needed job security.

 

  • tigerterrace: You said earlier that Auburn would have to sweep Tennessee and take two out of three from Ole Miss to host a regional. That would make them 20-10, and would probably win the West unless Arkansas went 5-1 over their last six. So do they have to win the West to host?
    • TheCBB: If that is what will happen, then yes. Auburn is 16th in the RPI but a series victory over Ole Miss would make me much more confident in them being a host.

 

  • Bill: I saw that Auburn offense this weekend. You can say what you want about the strikeouts and the homeruns, but they are hitting .350 AS A TEAM in the SEC. Every starter is over .315. May be the best collection of offensive talent in the country. Scary good. Who is better?
    • TheCBB: I can't think of many others. Fletcher and Morris are college studs. Morris projects better at the next level with a better swing.

  • AUPPL: Does Hunter Morris have a shot as an All-American?
    • Yes, he might be my selection right now for first base as he is hitting .400 with 17 homers and 62 RBI.

If Hunter makes the All-American team, he will be the first Tiger since 2003 (Steven Register). Morris was a PreSeason pick and his performance this year (to me at least) only solidifies that.

You can read the entire chat over at The College Baseball Blog.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

How Sweep It Is

 

 

It was a helluva time coming, but Auburn did it. The Tigers got their first home sweep over Mississippi State since 1985 and the first home sweep over an SEC opponent since 2002 (Vanderbilt). It was a thrilling series, complete with a record-setting 7 HR performance on Saturday and game closing/saving performances on all three days.

Auburn beat Mississippi State 9-6, 16-14, and 11-8 to move into a tied for 2nd in the SEC, one game out of the SEC West Lead, and surprisingly just 2 games off the overall SEC lead:

RANK TEAM SEC RECORD Remaining Schedule
1 Florida 17-7 UGA, @USC
1 South Carolina 17-7 @Arkansas, UF
3 Arkansas 16-8 USC, @Vandy
4 Auburn 15-9 UT, UA
4 Ole Miss 15-9 @UA, AU
6 Vanderbilt 12-10 @MSU, Arkansas
7 LSU 12-12 @UK, Miss St
8 Tennessee 11-13 @AU, UA
9 Alabama 10-14 UM, UT
10 Kentucky 9-15 LSU, @UGA
11 Miss State 5-19 Vandy, @LSU
12 UGA 3-19 @UF, UK


There are just two weekends left in the SEC slate and Auburn hasn’t guaranteed their ticket to Hoover yet, but the Tigers have eliminated 3 teams from catching them (Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Georgia). Those are the only certainties. Mathematically Auburn still have a chance of missing out of the SEC tournament. Realistically however, that’s not going to happen. Auburn is going to Hoover. It would take an absolute 6 game collapse and some unlikely upsets for Auburn to fail to make Hoover.

 

 

Back to this weekend. I don’t want to be Debbie Downer here because ultimately a win is a win but with all the excitement of Auburn hitting 7 HRs on Saturday and outslugging State all weekend, there was some things that gave me pause. Auburn pitching got absolutely rocked by State in games that honestly shouldn’t have even been close. The 28 runs was the second highest combined SEC run total for MSU all year. The Dogs scored 23 against Ole Miss, 17 against Bama,  38 against UT, 12 against Carolina, 24 against Georgia, and 7 against Florida.

That might not seem like a big deal, but for an Auburn team that has been searching for pitching positives, this weekend wasn’t one. Granted, I could be overanalyzing this but I’m not sure how a staff that limited one of the best offenses in the SEC a weekend before was unable to cruise against the second worse team in the league.

Maybe it was rust as the Tigers had their first full week without baseball in-between games. Maybe it was just the way the weekend was going to play out. I don’t know. I just know that Auburn still hasn’t found a Saturday starter, our bullpen wasn’t as sharp as it has been, and Auburn can’t continue to rely on Austin Hubbard to bail out games because, although Hubs is a workhorse, when his pitch count gets up he’s less effective. I saw that against LSU and against UK. Austin has sneaky stuff (especially his slider) but he can get overworked really easily.

 

 

The other thing was the Tigers offensive philosophy/strategy. The small ball approach was completely absent. I only saw one hit-and-run and don’t know how many stolen bases Auburn attempted. Instead, Auburn went back to last years gAUrilla ball approach.

Ultimately however, it doesn’t matter. Auburn won. That’s all that matters. A win in a 3-1 ball game is the same as a win in a 16-14 ball game. They look the same at the end of the day. Maybe that’s the real problem: that it’s not even a problem at all. Auburn has come on so strong over the past few weekends that I’m having to look for something/anything to be critical about. I always prescribe to the philosophy of “if you’re not improving something then you are declining somewhere else”.

What else did I see this weekend? I saw a team that didn’t fold. Even after being down 9-0, Auburn rallied. Even after State would pull uncomfortably close, Auburn would pull away. Justin Fradejas saw his hitting streak come to an end. It was bound to happen, but when it did he received a nice standing ovation from the Auburn crowd. The Auburn crowd? Definitely electric. The players and coaches commented on it in the postgame how the fans stuck around on Saturday even after Auburn was looking at a nine run deficit. Finally, Kevin Patterson. KP is such an oddity. Normally, walks aren’t much cause for celebration but for Patterson it was. Late in the Saturday game, Matt Lane, a LHP for MSU came in on relief. Normally, this would be a situation where Pawlowski would lift KP based on his struggles against LHP. Instead, he left Patterson in there and KP worked a walk. To me, that’s a sign of improvement and it might be a reason to keep KP in against LHP. His power has definitely shown that he should be there. Personally, I wish KP would stay for his Senior Year. He’d be guaranteed 1B and would have a full season to break records and improve his draft stock. That decision will ultimately be left up to him.

HITTER OF THE WEEK: I have to give this to Ryan Jenkins. He just continues to come on hot. This weekend Jenks went 7 for 12 (.583) with 3 runs scored, 6 RBI, 2 doubles, and a HR. Pretty solid. He’s brought his average all the way up to .353.

PITCHER OF THE WEEK: Austin Hubbard would be the obvious choice. The closer recorded 2 big saves but also shut the door Friday in a non-save situation. However, I got to go with Cole Nelson who responded with his “demotion” to the bullpen by going 1.1 innings with 1 BB/1 h/and 3 K. It was a dominating performance that Auburn had been missing all weekend out of the bullpen.

 

JOBUS: 4 out of 4 of them. Auburn is rolling.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

5P Primer: Mississippi State

 

 

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: Mississippi State

PRESENTING: The Mississippi State Bulldogs. Historically a powerhouse in the SEC, State has fallen on hard times. Maybe fallen is too soft a word. Mississippi State has pretty much collapsed since their magical 2007 NCAATournament run when the Dogs upset Florida State and Clemson on their way to improbable College World Series birth. For MSU its almost another rebuilding year with a freshman heavy roster. Longtime State skipper Ron Polk is long gone from Starkville and is now an assistant at UAB. Pat McMahon, who bolted for Florida, is in the Yankees minor leagues. That leaves John Cohen in year two to try to rebuild a proud Maroon and White program that boasts alums like Rafael Palmeiro (below), Jonathan Papelbon, and Will Clark.

PREVIOUSLY: Where to start with MSU. To say it’s been rough is an understatement. MSU comes in with a 20-25 Record and a 5-16 Mark in the SEC. Their only SEC series wins have come against UGA and Tennessee. They’ve been swept by Florida, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Alabama and are winless in May, having lost 6 straight SEC games and dropped midweek contests to Jackson State and Southern Miss. Last season Auburn took 2 of 3 from the Dogs and MSU and UT are the only two SEC squads that Auburn beat in both the 08 and 09 seasons. Auburn will have at least one familiar face in the MSU dugout. Former Tiger assistant Butch Thompson is now pitching coach for MSU.

PLAYMAKERS: Well this is going to be a short conversation. The only real playmaker is Connor Powers but dang is he a good one. Rivals ranks him as the #3 1B in the Nation. He’s already been named SEC POTW twice this season. Powers turned down the LA Dodgers last year (11th rd/337th pick) to return to Starkville for his Senior year.  Powers is absolutely crushing the ball, hitting .381 (7th in the SEC), slugging .726 (3rd), with an OB% of .486 (4th). He’s tallied 64 hits (8th) with 61 RBIs (1st), 17 doubles (2nd), and 13 HR (4th). The 6’2 242 lbs 1st Baseman from Illinois is the first and last name to remember for the Bulldog Offense.

 

 

There are a couple of other guys on the Bulldog roster like Ryan Duffy and Luke Adkins who could do damage, but Powers will be the headline maker.

Pitching wise? Good Lord. MSU comes in with the 2nd Worst ERA in the SEC. They’ve had absolutely 0 consistency in pitching and all but 2 pitchers have STARTED a game this year.

This weekend, Auburn will see SR LHP Tyler Whitney on Friday and FR RHP Chris Stratton on Saturday. TBA gets the nod for Auburn on Saturday and MSU on Sunday.

Tyler Whitney 4.84 ERA/ 0-2

OPP IP H ER K BB D
ARK 3.0* 5 0 0 0 ND
UT 4.0* 5 3 3 3 ND
UT 5.0* 6 2 5 0 ND
BAMA 4.0* 5 3 3 3 ND
MISS 7.0 7 1 8 3 L

Chris Stratton 5.64 ERA/ 4-3

OPP IP H ER K BB D
ARK 6.0 7 2 5 2 ND
UT 9 8 6 7 4 W
BAMA 3.1 9 8 1 1 ND
MISS 4.2 7 7 5 3 ND

Stratton, while just a freshman has at least been a full starter all season. Whitney on the other hand is just converting himself from reliever to starter. Either way the numbers aren’t extremely impressive for either guy.

Honestly, they aren’t that impressive for the entire staff and it’s that inconsistency that has plagued MSU all season. Just a small microcosm will be MSU’s May 2, game against Ole Miss. There’s the “Johnny Wholestaff” approach that Auburn has deployed a couple of times this year and then there is the pitching docket that MSU trotted out:

Pitcher IP H R ER BB SO BF NP
Luke Bole 0.2 1 2 2 4 1 7 32
Kendall Graveman  0.1 2 3 1 0 0 4 13
Caleb Reed  1.0 2 3 3 1 0 6 29
Chad Girodo L,1-3 2.2 3 4 0 3 1 15 46
Corey Collins  0.1 1 1 1 2 0 4 18
Matt Lane  0.1 2 3 1 0 0 4 12
Greg Houston  0.2 2 2 2 0 1 4 19
C.C. Watson  1.0 2 1 1 0 2 6 20

MSU lost 19-11.

PREVIEW: I honestly don’t know. I could harp on the “every team is dangerous” and “this could be a trap game” but my gut here tells me something else. MSU is bad and there is no sugar coating it. Statistically it’s scary really:

 

STAT VALUE SEC RANK
Batting Avg .295 10
Slugging % .466 8
OB % .400 6
Runs 323 9
Hits 449 9
RBI 298 8
HRs 49 9
Strikeouts 345 2
     
ERA 6.00 11
Opposing BA .302 11
Batters K 322 9
Hits Allowed 476 11
Runs Allowed 318 11
     

 

I hope you are reading that correctly. Mississippi State ranks in the bottom half in ALMOST EVERY STATISTIC.

 

PREDICTION: From what I’ve seen in Auburn over the past few weeks, they won’t overlook Mississippi State. That’s a good thing. Yes, MSU is bad but any SEC team is dangerous. This time however, I can’t see it be the case. AUBURN SWEEPS

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