5P Primer: Mississippi State
Welcome to what I like to call “Bear Trap Weekend”. We all know what a “Trap Game” in football is, a game that the better team could easily overlook and then lose because the better team was looking ahead. This weekend is a bit different. It’s not just a trap game, it’s a bear trap. Sure, Auburn might get trapped, but if it does, the affects and damage will be even more damaging and bloody than usual. It’s bigger than a trap, it’s a bear trap. On paper, Auburn is a much better team than Mississippi State. Next weekend, against Vanderbilt probably has some of Auburn’s focus. However, Auburn can’t look ahead. The focus has to be on Mississippi State. If it’s not, then the damage will be very painful.
- Trap 1: A Road Series
- Trap 2: An opponent Auburn hasn’t lost a series to in 3 years.
- Trap 3: A team with obvious flaws, but obviously hungry for an upset.
- Trap 4: An Auburn team possibly looking ahead to next weekend
- Trap 5: Hangover from a midweek loss
Why? Well, partly because of next weekend. Auburn needs a good pad before it takes on the team 1b in the Nation (Vanderbilt). Let’s play with the hypotheticals a bit. The very worst case for Auburn is to be swept by MSU. That would put that Tigers not at square one next weekend, but at square negative one. We be going into the VU series with a losing SEC record (2-4) and with absolutely no momentum. Let’s say we drop the series but don’t get swept. Great, now we will go into the Vandy series with a .500 SEC Mark.
No, what makes this game even more important is that MSU is in the SEC West. A win and Auburn has scratched off 2 of it’s 4 SEC West competition. We’ve established a comfortable lead and actually will have some wiggle room going forth in the season.
This series against the Maroons is a big one. Every weekend is really, but this one especially. Auburn is coming off a midweek disappointment and MSU is tough at home, no matter the record. Auburn needs to win. They need to hope for the sweep.
One of the more overlooked things this past weekend was the revamped lineup for Auburn that saw Creede batting in the 9 hole and loaded a bit of Auburn’s power toward the bottom of the order. Hargettt, Fradejas, McElroy, Gamache, GIlmer, Caldwell, Patterson, Beisner/Wacker, Simpson. It’s a solid lineup and it produced in unexpected ways for Auburn. Personally, I love that lineup. It puts out hottest hitters out in front and gives a better chance to produce runs and create big innings. I know that when Creede fully heats back up that he might move up the order (probably flipping with Fradejas) but I’d hope the majority of the order stays intact. It’s not a lineup with big obvious holes. It’s a proactive and offensively minded setup.
Offensively, Auburn is in good shape. They tagged Arkansas DJ Baxendale for his first earned runs of the year (and actually completely knocked him out of Arkansas’s rotation) and it kept producing and putting pressure on the opposition. Auburn has had one of the most surprising starts this year:
Auburn has outscored its opponents 59-14 over the first three innings of games and didn't allow a run in the first three innings of a game until the ninth game of the season (vs. Bethune-Cookman, March 2) ... Of Auburn's 13 home runs, seven of them have come in the first three innings of games ... Auburn is 6-2 when scoring in the first inning and 11-5 when it scores first ... The team is also hitting .343 (93-for-271) over the first three innings of games.
No, the issue now is with the bullpen. If it’s not one thing, it’s another for Auburn. For a bit it was the middle innings (5/6) and how the bullpen would just utterly collapse. Now it’s being pushed back so that inning 7 and 8 (the more critical innings) are the ones giving the Tiger’s trouble. Why? It’s pretty simple. Auburn can’t do a good job of keeping inherited runners from scoring. The Auburn starters will come in and hit the proverbial wall in the 7th inning and leave in some bit of trouble. Then the bullpen gets to work and leads get lost.
I think, and again I’m not the coach, that Auburn isn’t fully utilizing their bullpen. We will tap on the same few guys. Perhaps a change of blood is in order. Instead of the normal look of Hendrix, Ray, and then Wallen; I’d personally like to see a guy like Jon Luke Jacobs see if he can bring a change of pace. Slade Smith is still working out a few bullpen kinks. Zach Blatt can be brilliant (see Alabama/Arkansas) or brilliantly bad. Hendrix is still a mystery. Ortman is a wildcard. I know Auburn doesn’t have a true closer, but if Wallen is becoming that defacto guy, then he needs to be used in that regard. There is always a bit of trepidation when I see him come in during the 7th inning. Wallen will be stellar for two innings but then he will just get gassed a bit. It’s almost too much for him to handle. No, JLJ is the wildcard. Outside of maybe a random midweek start, his role is going to be in the bullpen. So Auburn needs to see him in that role. Just to, in the very least, give the bullpen at least some semblance of depth.
All eyes for the Auburn pitching staff should be on Cory Luckie tonight. Sure it’s a bit early, but realistically, Luckie is pitching for his position. Andrew Morris had a solid outing midweek and he might be taking the Will Irvin path to the weekend rotation. I would say that given on more midweek performance by Morris, and another dud by Luckie and Cory could (unfortunately) be in the bullpen by the Kentucky series. Luckie needs a solid performance tonight. Desperately. That means more than 6 innings. It’s pretty simple. We know Cory has it in him, the pressure is just mounting for him to perform.
So who’s laying the bear trap this weekend? It’s the Mississippi State Bulldogs, a squad Auburn has had a bit of success with recently, but not so much historically:
MSU holds an 89-83-1 all-time series lead against Auburn in a rivalry that dates back to 1907. State's lead in the series has narrowed in recent years, with the Tigers having claimed seven of the last eight meetings and four of the last five series, including last year's sweep (9-6, 16-14, 11-8) at Auburn. The Bulldogs' last series win over the Tigers was a 2007 sweep in Starkville during MSU's run to its eighth College World Series appearance.
Last weekend was not pleasant for the Bulldogs, they didn’t even score a run in the first two games against Vanderbilt, but part of that was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was for the Bulldogs to rebound and salvaged the finale:
In their last outing, the Bulldogs erased a 6-1 Vanderbilt lead and went on to record a 9-8 series-ending win over the Commodores last weekend in Nashville. It was the most runs allowed this season by Vanderbilt, which entered the series first in the NCBWA poll. Senior third baseman Jarrod Parks cracked his second home run and recorded his second three-hit game of the campaign to pace the Diamond Dogs at the plate. Freshman Taylor Stark singled in a run to launch a five-run, eighth-inning rally. He later took the hill to register the last five outs of the game and earn his first career save. The first career hit by freshman infielder Tim Frazier, a two-run pinch hit single, tied the game, while rookie outfielder C.T. Bradford, who made his debut as a starting pitcher in the game, singled in the go-ahead run moments later. The Commodores pitched 10-0 and 4-0 shutouts at the Bulldogs in the first two games of the series.
The Bulldogs are paced offensively by two seniors:
Senior Jarrod Parks (.412) leads the Bulldogs in hits (28), extra-base hits (10) and RBI (20), while senior infielder Nick Vickerson (.267) paces the SEC in both runs scored (29) and stolen bases (17).
The Mississippi State Bulldogs, in year 3 of John Cohen’s rebuilding process. They come in showing some flashes of success and sporting a 15-6 record. Their signature wins have come with two victories against Georgia State.
Auburn swept the series last year and has won 4 of the last 5 series. Last weekend, the Maroons took three games to score a run against Vanderbilt, but did rebound with a surprising 9-8 win in the final game.
Two seniors pace the offense. Jarrod Parks and Nick Vickerson
For Auburn, this is a bear trap weekend. It all starts with Cory Luckie tonight. He’s competing for his job at this point and is facing an anemic offense and goes against a pitcher with a less than stellar stat line. Still, Auburn has to overlook that and take care of business on its end.
I think the roll continues for Auburn. Tigers take the series and need to try to work for the sweep.