STAT of the Union & Cautious Optimism
This past weekend was big for Auburn in many ways. Normally, you can’t list the opening SEC series as a “turning point” but I think, for Auburn, it applies. The Tigers were dominated on Friday night and for 8.2 inning on Sunday. It seemed like the offense hit a bit of a lull. In fact, if you look at the overall SEC stats, the Tigers fell off their pace a little bit.
Auburn dropped .012 in Batting Average, .019 in Slugging and .012 in On Base Percentage. Normally these would seem like only incremental drops but the number are a bit misleading. Consider that the only thing preventing a bigger drop for Auburn was the outstanding performance of Ryan Tella, who went 7 for 12 (.583) for the series and added production by Cullen Wacker (.300) and Garrett Cooper (.307). Auburn’s 3, 4, and 5 hitters came through and delivered. Especially on Sunday when they accounted for Auburn’s tieing and winning runs/rbis.
Cooper and Tella were the only regular everyday guys who actually improved their numbers. The distressing bits were the production of Creede Simpson and Jay Gonzalez at the top of the order. Creede hit a cool .077 for the series and Gonzo posted a .083 average. Even more troublesome is that, for Jay, these lack of hits have been replaced by strikeouts. 5 to be specific. With those, Gonzo has taken sole possession of the K lead for Auburn. Why is it important for Gonzo and Creede to hit well? Simply put, they are the spark plug for the offense. Auburn’s normally aggressive style needs it’s two leading base stealers on base in order to “light the fire” of the offense. Auburn only recorded 3 steals on 4 attempts over the weekend (solo bags from Alvord, Bryant, Tella, and an attempt from Wacker). Outside of Tella, these aren’t exactly burners on the basepaths. In order for Auburn to be successful, Creede and Gonzo have to get on. Especially with Tella absolutely raking at the plate right now.
So how did Auburn take the series from Ole Miss? Surprisingly, it was the pitching that pulled Auburn through.
Even though Varnadore got the loss Friday, he still pitched as well as he did since the season opener and lowered his ERA a tick. The biggest addition were Slade Smith’s continued improvement out of the bullpen (and another 1.58 shaved off his numbers) and Cory Luckie’s return to form. Luckie managed to cut his ERA in half from the previous 9.00 ugliness to a more respectable 4.26. The biggest increase was from Kendall, but that’s understandable considering that this was the first time he was actually hit hard and his 4 ERs were a season high. Still, his 5 innings of work combined with Slade’s 4 in relief and a Zach Alvord Grand Slam were all Auburn needed to dispatch the Rebels.
So is there optimism about Auburn? Yes, but for now it is cautious optimism. Once Creede and Gonzo come around and if the pitching holds like it did in Oxford then Auburn can compete against anyone. Seriously.