Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Season Comes down to Alabama

I can’t harp on it. In a perfect world, Auburn should have held on to their 11-5 lead in the Top of the 9th on Sunday and left the weekend tied for first in the SEC West. Instead, Auburn went from safely in Hoover to clinging to the final seeds. Right now, Auburn is in a 3 way tie for the 7th and 8th seeds with Ole Miss and Mississippi State, with all three teams having identical 11-13 conference marks. Here’s what’s left with 2 weekends to go:

Team SEC Record Remaining SEC Comb. Rec.
Vanderbilt 19-5 UF, @UGA 23-25
Florida 18-6 at VU, UK 23-25
Carolina 18-6 Arkansas, @Alabama 24-24
UGA 14-10 at UK, VU 24-24
Arkansas 12-12 at USC, UM 29-19
Alabama 12-12 at AU, SC 29-19
Auburn 11-13 Alabama, at UT 17-31
Miss. State 11-13 at UM, LSU 19-29
Ole Miss 11-13 MSU, at Ark 23-25
LSU 8-16 UT, at MSU 16-32
UT 5-19 at LSU, AU 19-29
UK 5-19 UGA,at UF 32-16

Yeah, it’s an incredible cluster there. LSU, just barely, has an “easier” schedule over the next two weeks. I say easier because, well, this is the SEC, and anything can happen. Ole Miss took two from Carolina this weekend and cemented them back in the conversation. Same thing with Arkansas over Florida. Mark Ethridge from SEBaseball was asked how he thought the remaining West teams would do over the next two weekends. His best guess? 3-3 for every team. I can’t be in his head, so I can only go by my gut. Here’s MY best guess on how everything shakes out:

Team Opp. 1 Opp. 2 Finish
Vanderbilt 2-1 2-1 23-7
Florida 1-2 3-0 22-8
Carolina 2-1 2-1 22-8
UGA 2-1 1-2 17-13
Arkansas 1-2 2-1 15-15
Alabama 2-1 1-2 15-15
Auburn* 1-2 2-1 14-16
Miss State 1-2 2-1 14-16
Ole Miss 2-1 1-2 14-16
LSU 2-1 1-2 11-19
UT 1-2 1-2 7-23
UK 1-2 0-3 6-24

I’m playing completely with the hypotheticals amd I’m taking Ethridge’s best guess of the West finishing 3-3 each and trying to apply it to the remaining scheduled. If that happens? Well, we didn’t really go anywhere. Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State are still deadlocked. Then it would go down to tiebreakers. I’d have to double check the rulebook at that point. Personally, I think Auburn can sweep Tennessee. I also think Auburn can take 2 of 3 from Alabama and if that happens? Well, let’s look at that scenario:

Team Opp. 1 Opp. 2 Finish
Vanderbilt 2-1 2-1 23-7
Florida 1-2 3-0 22-8
Carolina 2-1 2-1 22-8
UGA 2-1 1-2 17-13
Arkansas 1-2 2-1 15-15
Alabama 1-2 1-2 14-16
Auburn* 2-1 3-0 16-15
Miss State 1-2 2-1 14-16
Ole Miss 2-1 1-2 14-16
LSU 2-1 1-2 11-19
UT 1-2 0-3 6-24
UK 1-2 0-3 6-24

If Auburn does that? Well, then the Tigers wins the West. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Midweek Needs

I never thought I’d more happy to play two midweek games then this week. Both these games are hugely important to the Tigers’ postseason life. Auburn is sitting at 25-22 overall. If they can win BOTH these games (Tuesday at Samford/Wednesday vs Alabama State) then Auburn would go to 27-22 overall. That’s a five game cushion over .500. The Tigers can’t make the postseason with a losing record and have to make Hoover with a record 3 games over .500. Why? Well, unless Auburn wins the SEC Tournament, it will lose 2 games in Hoover. There’s only 1 midweek game remaining. Worse case scenario? Auburn splits this week and loses next week to South Alabama. That puts Auburn at 26-24 overall. Add in the SEC records (and even the 3-3 scenario) and Auburn would go to Hoover with a mark of 29-27. Meaning they could leave Hoover with a .500 record. That could force Auburn to win one game in order to just make the NCAA tournament. It’s a VERY dire situation. This is pins and needles from here on out.

What Auburn Needs to Do

It’s pretty simple. Auburn needs to take the series from Alabama. Doing that gives enough breathing room in every other area and will salvage the season. If you take the series from Alabama, then you can go into the UT series just needing to win. If you drop the series? Then you have to sweep Tennessee, on the road. If Auburn takes the series from Alabama then forces Arkansas to either take the Carolina series, or sweep Ole Miss. It also forces Alabama to have to sweep Carolina in Columbia in order to win the West. Although it won’t be official and crazy things can happen, if Auburn can win the series from Alabama, it will punch it’s ticket to Hoover.

What Auburn Can’t Do.

It can’t get swept. That’s the bottom line. Even if it loses the series to Alabama, Auburn could still make up ground the following weekend at Tennessee, but would be in a must sweep mode. If Auburn is swept, at home, to Alabama, then it’s almost too big a hole to climb out of. No postseason, at all.

Who Auburn Should Root For

Here’s where it gets tricky. For the next two weeks. Auburn should become huge South Carolina and Mississippi State fans. You want Carolina to sweep their remaining series (vs Arkansas/vs Alabama) because it allows Auburn to climb to top of the West. Let’s play that hypothetical out:

Team Opp. 1 Opp. 2 Finish
Vanderbilt 2-1 2-1 23-7
Florida 1-2 3-0 22-8
Carolina 3-0 3-0 24-6
UGA 2-1 1-2 17-13
Arkansas 0-3 2-1 14-16
Alabama 2-1 0-3 14-16
Auburn* 1-2 2-1 14-16
Miss State 1-2 2-1 14-16
Ole Miss 2-1 1-2 14-16
LSU 2-1 1-2 11-19
UT 1-2 1-2 7-23
UK 1-2 0-3 6-24

Auburn could still lose the series to Alabama and it would bring up a scenario where Auburn could sweep Tennessee and win the West. If Auburn drops a game to Tennessee after that? Well, it’s just chaos at that point. It means that some team will tie for first in the SEC West, and not even make Hoover. Even without a sweep, Auburn needs Carolina to win so it can keep Alabama and Arkansas in check.

Who else should Auburn root for? It’s going to pain me to say this, but Auburn probably needs to root for Mississippi State to win it’s final two series. Auburn has to push Ole Miss out of the SEC Picture. Which is more plausible scenario? Ole Miss taking a series from Mississippi State THEN taking a series from Arkansas in Baum? Or Mississippi State beating Ole Miss (which it’s already done once this year) and beating LSU at home? I’m going with the State scenario.

Team Opp. 1 Opp. 2 Finish
Vanderbilt 2-1 2-1 23-7
Florida 1-2 3-0 22-8
Carolina 2-1 2-1 22-8
UGA 2-1 1-2 17-13
Arkansas 1-2 2-1 15-15
Alabama 2-1 1-2 15-15
Auburn* 1-2 2-1 14-16
Miss State 2-1 2-1 15-15
Ole Miss 1-2 1-2 13-17
LSU 1-2 1-2 10-20
UT 1-2 1-2 7-23
UK 1-2 0-3 6-24

If that plays out then Auburn would be the last team in to Hoover. They’d still make it, just barely. Plus, they’d still have a high enough RPI to just make an NCAA regional. If Auburn beats Alabama, and the rest of those scenarios play out? Then Auburn could potentially sweep UT and win the West by 1 game.

Let’s flip that coin though and see what happens if Ole Miss takes care of business:

Team Opp. 1 Opp. 2 Finish
Vanderbilt 2-1 2-1 23-7
Florida 1-2 3-0 22-8
Carolina 2-1 2-1 22-8
UGA 2-1 1-2 17-13
Arkansas 1-2 1-2 14-16
Alabama 2-1 1-2 15-15
Auburn* 1-2 2-1 14-16
Miss State 1-2 2-1 14-16
Ole Miss 2-1 2-1 15-15
LSU 2-1 1-2 11-19
UT 1-2 1-2 7-23
UK 1-2 0-3 6-24

That sends Arkansas, Auburn, and Mississippi State all down to a three way tie for the final two spots. In that scenario, I think it comes down to their records against each other. Arkansas would be (3-3), Mississippi State would be (4-2), and Auburn would be (2-4), so Auburn would be out.

After All That What Does it Mean

Pretty simple. Beat Bama. Then everything else can fall in to place. Auburn desperately needs to beat Alabama so it won’t have to scoreboard watch for the next two weeks. May 13, 14, 15. That’s going to be the defining moment of Auburn’s baseball season.

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