After starting the baseball season as a favorite to repeat as SEC West Champs, the Auburn Tigers had gone into a slump the last two weeks, losing eight of their last nine games. But the Tigers sent a message last weekend that early reports of the team's demise were premature if not greatly exaggerated.
For the first time since 2003, Auburn swept a three game series with Kentucky to put them selves back in the middle of the division race for the SEC West.
The Tigers broke out of the slump with a vengeance scoring almost as many runs in three days (35) as they had in the previous seven games. Auburn completed the sweep 8-2 Sunday afternoon.
Slumps and streaks are a common part of baseball at every level. A team's collective psyche is often the difference between success and failure. It can make the difference in teams being championship contenders or sitting at home for the post season. Slumps bring frustration as everything seems to go wrong; which in turn leads to deflated confidence with accompanying mental lapse's and mistakes.
If a team does not snap out of the slump, then negative karma becomes a self fulfilling prophecy leading to more poor performance. Maintaining a positive psyche is imperative and very often connected to a team's play on the field.
In the last two weeks, Auburn went from a number 20 national ranking to the bottom of the Western Division. But sweeping UK may be just what the doctor ordered for John Pawlowski's Tigers. There is no better medicine for the athletic malaise of a slump, than a team winning and winning in every phase of the game.
The Auburn offense has been there all year but hits have not been coming in a timely fashion. Too many runners have been left on base and there has been a failure to generate run support in the late innings. That scenario was reversed in Lexington with the Tigers scoring 35 runs on 48 hits including 26 runs coming in the last four innings.
Almost every batter in the lineup was productive. Casey McElroy continued his offensive prowess but the real bright spots came from Kevin Patterson breaking out of his personal slump and Tony Caldwell finally playing up to pre season expectations. Caldwell went 8-14 with three home runs and 10 RBI's.
Patterson said, "The last two weekends have been a nightmare both hitting and pitching and coming out here and banging out some hits and putting up some runs was huge for us." Pawlowski added, "Our offense is confident, guys are seeing the ball real well right now."
Pitching, although still a concern was much improved and the best performance came out of the bullpen, which heretofore has been the Tigers' Achilles heel. The brightest spot may have come from Cory Luckie who picked up a four inning save in Saturday's 15-8 win. Cory was named the Tigers' Pitcher of the Week.
Pawlowski said the SEC West is always "a roller coaster ride." But now that the Tigers have busted out they are in a position (one and a half games out) to make a push for the Division Title.
However, Auburn faces a tall task this weekend, when they have to travel to Baton Rouge to play LSU. The Purple Tigers are another team that was picked in some polls to win the West yet so far have not lived up to their preseason billing. While they have a respectable 21-12 record, the Bayou Bengals are presently sporting a 3-9 conference record after being swept this past weekend by Arkansas.
Nevertheless, to have a chance Auburn (18-14) will have to play great ball, as they will be playing in the intense atmosphere of one of the toughest venues in all of college baseball - the 11,000 seat storied Alex ‘Box' Stadium.
As usual, LSU has a strong roster from top to bottom including one of the SEC's best hitters in junior outfielder Mikie Mahtook. He leads his team in almost every category. He has a .500 SEC- batting average, a .766 slugging percentage, and has hit 10 home runs.
Auburn needs to take one or two games out of Baton Rouge to stay in the hunt. Admittedly that may be easier said than done. The Purple Tigers are 18 - 7 at home for a .720 average in the ‘Box.'
Although playing LSU will not be like playing UK, I believe The Slump Is Over.
The corner has been turned and the Orange and Blue Tigers will be able to permanently right the ship as they move into the last half of the season.