Forked Over, Again
I can’t sit here and sugar coat it. This weekend stung. It really did. Mainly because I saw an Auburn team that didn’t fully progress from weekend to weekend. Instead, Auburn regressed and it cost us. It stung because Auburn really could have won this series against Arizona state. The Friday Night game came down to a fluke call that reopened the door for the Sun Devils. Auburn didn’t respond to the adversity and dropped the series opener 8-7:
Reliever Ethan Wallen walked Austin Barnes to start the ninth. After a bunt moved him to second, Carrillo's RBI single up the middle scored him to tie the game at 7.
Andy Workman batted next and hit a sharp grounder up the middle that got past the pitcher's mound and struck umpire Jay Pierce on the foot. The ball ricocheted to second baseman Justin Hargett, who was ready to fire to first when Pierce ruled the play dead, putting runners and first and second.
Pawlowski argued the call saying the play should have been live, although the umpires were backed up by the rulebook, which says a fair ball that hits an umpire before it passes an infielder other than the pitcher is dead and runners advance one base.
"Sometimes those things happen," Pawlowski said. "It's unfortunate the ball hitting the umpire. That's part of baseball."
After an ASU runner was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a grounder to short, MacPhee hit a grounder into hole between first and second that took a bad hop over Hargett's head and into right field, allowing Workman to score with the winning run.
Wallen was overused a bit this weekend. Becoming the De Facto closer tends to have that affect, but by this point Wallen was in his second full inning of work. Ethan has incredible stuff and was lights out last weekend but against Arizona State he just kept getting dinged. It was a bit tough to watch. However, the problems for Auburn can’t be boiled down to one inning. Instead it was mounting inconsistencies on the base paths and a lack of timely hitting. Numerous times over the weekend, big innings were stopped short because of base running miscues. Zach Alvord ran through a sign, Wes Gilmer was caught in a rundown from 3rd to home, etc. There were tons of little things.
However, the biggest things were rough outings by starters. Luckie went 4.1 innings, Slade went 3.1, Varnadore went 6 full but was tagged more than usual. Still, just by going a full 6 innings, Auburn put itself in position to win, and it did on Sunday. Yet, I can’t sit here and say these guys were ineffective. They were actually surprisingly good at times. Luckie hit 8 ks and Slade had to deal with a mixed up and make shift infield which included a Gilmer at 1B, Alvord at SS, McElroy at 3B, and Caleb Bowen catching. It’s not the strongest lineup Auburn could put out defensively. A quick side note on Alvord. There has to be a role for him somewhere. At first, I could understand it. His bat just wasn’t there. Now however, I think he could add a bit of a spark plug to the offense. His last two starts (Saturday against ASU and last weekend against NYT) Alvord went 4 for 6. Hopefully Zach can get some midweek work and prove himself some more.
When the Auburn starters can’t go over 5 innings, it taxes the bullpen. A bullpen that is still finding itself. Andrew Morris is stuck a bit in relief role. Dillon Ortman actually stepped up and was a bit of a silver lining on Saturday. I don’t think Auburn has found guys it can consistently call on in relief. Wallen is there somewhat, Ray can be dynamite, Blatt turned a bit of a corner on Sunday. The shuffling process is still going on and Auburn is running out of time to find a good working solution. Credit Pawlowski though, he knows the team and can normally get the best out of his guys. Personally, I would have liked to see a couple of new arms like Jon Luke Jacobs or Jay Wade. I don’t have the answer and for Auburn the options are limited. The Tigers have established 4 guys as solid starters (Irvin, Smith, Luckie, Varnadore) and only 9 guys in relief. Technically 9, but Jay Wade and Will Kendall have only made 1 appearance each. In Kendall’s case that was a forgettable outing. Are there any fresh arms left? Not really. The only one yet to make an appearance is Chris O’Neil. Even taking that into account, the options are limited. Only 2 relievers are lefties (Ray and Kendall) and realistically it’s only Ray that takes up the lion’s share of the work. Pawlowski can’t set up lefty/righty match ups easily and has to instead has to use guys based on strengths.
Finally, one of the toughest things to watch was Creede Simpson struggle at the plate. He’s been in a super funk and went hitless over the weekend. His average has dropped from .304 after the Radford series to .232 after this weekend. Outside of positive blips during the Memphis and WKU games, his average has just gone southward. It hit rock bottom on Friday when Creede went 0-5 with 4 Ks. It finally reached a point where Creede had to be pulled after 1 at bat Sunday for Bobby Andrews.
There were positives and you can’t overlook those: Auburn didn’t get swept; Zach Blatt had one of his best outings in relief ( 2 ip/0h/0bb/3 ks and a W) and the Auburn bats battled at the plate and actually had some guys step up. Dan Gamache had an incredible weekend (.500 with 9 rbis) and has settled in nicely as a DH. Wes Gilmer was another bright spot (.417) and is making it hard to move Alvord into the infield (and Gilmer out of the lineup) while he’s hitting at such a hot clip. One of the highest bits of praise came for the newcomers like Jay Gonzalez and Bobby Andrews who helped boost Auburn.
The weekend (which admittedly went as expected but still stings) is over and Auburn has a short turnaround. The “preseason” officially concludes on Tuesday Night when the Max Capital City Classic against Alabama is over. Arkansas comes to town and Auburn will have a few things to work on if they hope to start league play on the right foot.