Okay, so this is a little delayed. Apologies. However, I kept flip flopping back and forth Sunday Night/Monday morning whether to post my initial thoughts on the weekend. In my opinion, the Jacksonville State game today (at 3:00pm) should be lumped in with the four games this weekend. 4 Teams, 4 games, and a good barometer to set the levels for the next couple of weeks. Sure, Arkansas State and UAB are fine competition, but Jacksonville State and especially UVA are a tremendous step up. Still, with the 3 games this weekend I saw a good bit of good, a solid bit of bad, and some room for improvement. So here are some stray observations from the opening weekend of the Auburn Tournament, in which Auburn held off Arkansas State, get routed by Virginia, and dominated UAB.
- So those new bats? DEFINITELY will have an impact on the game. Auburn went without a Home Run this weekend and if memory serves only 3 HRs were hit all weekend by the four teams involved. Of course, the new bats can still rock terrible pitching, as evidenced by the James Madison University Dukes, who hit 23 homeruns in their 4 game opening weekend against Bucknell.
- The lineup still needs a bit of shuffling. Auburn got a bit of spark on Sunday when Justin Hargett batted lead-off (swapping with and moving Justin Fradejas to the 9 hole). Still, there isn't a lot a ton of protection for Kevin Patterson in the linup up. KP batted Cleanup on Friday and Saturday and moved down to the 6th spot on Sunday. He had a better game Sunday, going 1-2 with a double, an rbi, and a walk. Hargett probably had the best weekend offensively. That's a big relief for Auburn and will be much needed in the coming weeks.
- Still a bit of kinks to iron out when it comes to the short game. Auburn laid down some terrible bunts and really didn't push/pull them as well as they did last year. Hopefully with a bit of real world experience, that can change. When they work it's a key part of the offense. Justin Bryant for example, laid down a great bunt and it caused Arkansas State to completely implode.
- The infield is in flux and I wish it wasn't that way. Alvord has a cannon and can easily make plays in the field. However, he took a couple of bad jumps on Saturday and it leads to Virginia runs. Repetition and Communication. That's going to be key to get Alvord accustomed to the field. I still think the IF will be McElroy at 3B, Alvord at SS, and Hargett at 2B. It's just going to have to take a bit of work.
- Two things stood out that were HUGE positives for Auburn over the weekend:
- The pitching. Well, the pitching outside of Saturday. Slade Smith had his sinker working on Friday and Ethan Wallen cleaned up a bit of Zach Blatt mess to preserve the bullpen. Derek Varnadore pitched beautifully on Sunday. Rather surprisingly. 7 innings strong and 0 er. That's fantastic for a Sunday. Justin Bryant was equally surprising in a save opportunity on Sunday. The only worrisome part was that Brad Hendricks and Zach Blatt, two guys who Auburn needs to step up, were virtually ineffective. Still, once the settle in, get some confidence then our pitching staff will be the strength I had hoped it would be going in to the season.
- The bench play. Such a good sight. During the Virginia game, Pawlowski was just subbing guys and giving them experience and they made the most of their chances. Mike Reed (who didn't have a graphic ready for the video board, that should show you who much Auburn expected him to play this weekend. Oh and a guy I incorrectly labeled in my scorebook as Mike Lee) came through in the 8th with Auburn's 3rd hit and first run of the day. Brooks Beisner looked pretty good and so did Tyler Dial (who got the first RBI of Saturday). That's healthy competition for Auburn and will just increase the competitiveness of the club.
All in all I was actually happy with the weekend. Sure, the UVA loss stung but I think UVA and their pitching are on a crash course to Omaha. The guys are good. Here's how I see this "preseason". March 11th is D-Day for Auburn. That's when Arizona State comes in to town. Until then, Auburn has 11 games to adjust, tweak, and fiddle with the lineup/order/fielding/rotation, everything. Auburn will be favored in each of those 11 games, but Bethune Cookman, Jax State, and College of Charleston will still provide quality competition and keep Auburn honest.
So we head into Arizona State. The tilt with the Sun Devils should be Auburn's last dress rehearsal before SEC play. Let's see how the Tigers progress until then.
Today at 3:00pm, Auburn will take on Jacksonville State and we'll see another new face on the mound for Auburn. It's probably going to be an Octopus Day and Auburn will throw out a number of arms to get reps and prepare for the weekend against Radford. War Eagle.
Let's not forget our friend Jobu. I'm feeling a little generous and so we've got 4 (out of 5) Jobus for the opening weekend. Based on the positives in the pitching and the bench.