Gut Check Time For Tigers

Auburn's John Luke Jacobs (5-2) is the probable starter in the first of three games against Arkansas in Fayetteville Thursday night. The game will be broadcast by ESPNU beginning at 6:30 p.m. CST. (photo, college baseball news staff)

Baseball is a perplexing game. It probably more than any other team sport mirrors the ups and downs and the paradoxes of real life. That's certainly been the case this year for the Auburn Tigers.

While Auburn picked up their 26th win last night against Presbyterian 18-2, the Tigers are a woeful 10-14 in the SEC and find themselves in a precarious position for post season play.

The season began with so much promise. Just one month ago, the team was in first place in the SEC West and ranked No.23 in the nation. Today the Tigers are in 10th place overall.

It's been a roller coaster ride thus far and the train appears to be teetering on running off the track. It's almost paradoxical how this team can score 35 runs in a sweep of Tennessee and then one week later be swept by a mediocre Georgia team.

It's paradoxical that the Tigers could take series wins against No.8 LSU and No.12 Ole Miss and then be swept by bottom feeder Alabama. Then a couple weeks later sweep Tennessee and turn around and lose three in Athens. Auburn may have lost more than the series against UGA too - they may have lost their chance for an NCAA bid.

It's paradoxical that Auburn would have to move last years ace Derek Varnadore to the bull pen and then lose one of the best pitchers in the SEC (Will Kendall) to a shoulder injury and still sweep the Vols.

Yet, the paradox of it all is that while the hope of playing in the post season may appear to be lost, if the Tigers can win three of their remaining six SEC games against No. 13 Arkansas and No. 5 Florida - that will change.

Is that scenario possible? ...

Yes. - Is that scenario probable? ... Probably not. But that's why they play the game.

And before anyone doubts these Tigers too much; remember they are still the top hitting (.301), slugging (.431) and on base percentage (.369) team in the SEC and are second in runs scored (127).

There are eight games left in the next 10 days. The Tigers need to win their two remaining non conference games and win three league games to finish 31-25 to go to the NCAA big dance. Taking two out of six from the Hogs and the Gators might be enough but finishing the stretch 5-3 would certainly do it.

It's now down to the wire. It's now gut check time. A time that will not only be a test of this team's playing ability and Pawlowski's coaching ability but it will be a test of nerve and determination.

Auburn has demonstrated flashes of greatness this season, winning four SEC series including taking the first three of the season and leading the league in hitting. However, the Tigers have also shown an unusual capacity for mediocrity, losing to Samford and dropping two to cellar dweller Vanderbilt.

Consistency has been the problem for the Tigers all season. Auburn has to be more consistent in the fundamentals to have any chance against Arkansas and Florida. Being smart on the base paths, good defense, and good pitching has to be there in every remaining outing.

Baseball is a perplexing game. Just like life we never know what twist and turns may come our way.

But while the Tigers may not be able to see the twist and turns of the next eight games, they can buckle down and play with the focus and determination that saw the team lead the SEC West back in April.

One thing's for sure, there is no more tomorrow. It's either get the job done or be prepared to sit at home for another post season. The pressure is on ...

It's gut check time.

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