Tuesday’s game against South Alabama has been rained out. The impact for the Auburn baseball team is more than just a missed game (and an extra game later in the season); It erases a chance for positive momentum following Sunday’s 9th inning choke against Belmont before heading into SEC Play.
So now Auburn opens SEC Play with a focused goal: Make it to Hoover. It’s an easier task this year with the field expanding to 10 teams in anticipation of Missouri and Texas A&M’s addition next year. It makes getting there a bit easier. I mean, all you have to do is be better than two teams and currently those two teams are Alabama and Vanderbilt, with Tennessee holding a slight edge in the overall record.
What to we know about the 2012 Auburn baseball team? What I know is that Auburn has 4 issues the Tigers have to fix to be successful in SEC Play.
1. AUBURN HAS TO STOP STRANDING RUNNERS
Auburn is a team that will get hits. Mainly singles. Rarely Homeruns. We’ll will put guys on but, for now, the problem is getting them home. The number of LOB is astounding. The numbers is currently at 167. Auburn’s average of 9.8 LOB/game puts Auburn on pace to leave an astounding 550 men stranded. Compare to years past: 501 LOB in 2011 (8.6 avg), 527 LOB (8.2 avg) in 2010, and 405 LOB (7.2) in 2009. That is definitely one area of improvement.
However, you have to applaud Auburn’s approach at the plate. Strikeouts are down, hits are up, steals are setting a record pace. Auburn has adjusted well to their new “small-ball” style. We can get guys on. We just have to get them in.
2. AUBURN HAS BULLPEN DEPTH. WE SHOULD USE IT.
Despite their setbacks and some blown saves, I actually have faith in the Auburn pitching staff. Simply because we already have an established core of 4 starters: Jon Luke Jacobs, Derek Varnadore, Daniel Koger, and Will Kendall. We have a nice base of Middle Relievers/Spot Starters in Slade Smith, Chase Williamson, and Rocky McCord. We have a setup guy (Ortman) and a closer (Bryant). We have guys that are filling roles.
But even with everything that is good with the bullpen, we still have issues.
Auburn, so far, has continually relied on the same guys. Blatt. Bryant. Luckie. We’ve seen great stuff from Chase Williamson and Trey Cochran-Gill. I think we should use them more and develop them. Ethan Wallen has made one forgettable appearance. Cameron Blinka and Caleb Smith have yet to appear and Auburn has some other arms like Jay Wade that I would like to see more of.
3. AUBURN HAS TO FIND A DH. Offensively, that’s the biggest area that Auburn is lacking. Once Bobby Andrews started to struggle, it forced Cullen Wacker to LF and reopened the DH spot in the lineup. So far, it’s been a mix of Kody Ortman or Pat Savage. I think it might be time to see if anyone else could fill that role. Ortman and Savage bring the biggest power threat but that’s not necessarily what Auburn has to have. The Tigers just need a consistent and productive hitter. Justin Bryant was rumored to be getting another shot in the field. Jarred Smith has been replaced by Zach Alvord in the field but that doesn’t mean his bat has to completely leave the lineup. Maybe even giving a normal “first off the bench” guy a shot like Tanner Cimo or Mitchell Self. Just production.
4. AUBURN HAS TO CUT DOWN ON ERRORS: This remains one of the most frustrating parts of Auburn. Stupid mistakes in the field. Costly errors at that. Take Belmont for instance. An error made the Sunday finale a 2 run deficit instead of a 1 run game. Auburn can make some incredible plays in the field. I’ve seen them myself. Alvord is developing better into a 3B. Creede has taken to 2B quite nicely (even though he does lead the team in errors). Glevenyak brings consistent production to keep him in the lineup. I think the infield is starting to gel a bit and hopefully with a little more time and luck we can start to shave off some of those errors and get those fielding percentages up.