Every baseball game should tell you something about your team. Every game should teach you something. Plainly put, it is either good or bad. You can either sow the seeds of change or prepare to harvest the rotten fruit of errors.
Even in midweek games, Auburn has to take the philosophy of: "What can we do to get better?".
That's why I always like to take a little check list into each game or series. There are things I want to try to make extra attention to notice to see if Auburn is trending in a positive of negative direction. Here's what I'm paying attention to for tonight's game at Samford:
1) Jon Luke Jacobs: Road Warrior
As phenomenal as JLJ has been (0.96 ERA and all that jazz), he's mainly pitched at the friendly confines of Plainsman Park for 3 of his 4 starts (Alcorn, Alabama State, South Alabama) the lone road game wasn't exactly a road test. It was the Neutral Site matchup against Alabama in the Max Capital City Classic. Tonight is the first true road test. JLJ will pitch the bottom half of an inning for the first time and will need a great night to keep his streak of wins alive.
2) Breaking in the Bullpen
We saw Jay Wade and Trey Cochran-Gill last weekend. It would be nice for Auburn to get a nice lead so we could give guys like Zach Blatt, Ethan Wallen, Chase Williamson, etc some work. The problem with playing so many close games for Auburn is that we are using the same guys over and over again. The same guys who might not be available later. A perfect night to me would be if we can rest Justin Bryant, Cory Luckie, Dillon Ortman, and Slade Smith and have them ready for the weekend.
3) Tuning up for Mississippi State
Really, Samford is the perfect team to play before facing Mississippi State. Especially since SU is throwing out LHP Joseph Burns. He hasn't pitched much (12.1) but he does have 11 ks (and only 2 walks) in those innings and opponents are hitting a cold .096 against him. He'll present a similar style as Mississippi State Pitcher Chris Stratton (though the pitch on opposite sides) in a High K, low BB, veteran hurler. He's the prototypical Reliever turned Starter and pitches with that same hurried attitude.
4) Get Yak back on Track.
Game winning SAC Fly notwithstanding, Dan Glevenyak struggled during the LSU series. Granted, one of the reasons he went 0 for 24 against the Bengals is because some of his opportunities were erased by SAC Attempts. That, coupled with a sore hand (from a hbp) probably added to the problem. Still, Yak remains one of Auburn's key SAC guys and he also has the ability to steal successfully. Doing that will present more RBI chances for Zach Alvord at the bottom of the lineup.
5) Cool Off the Dogs
Samford is coming into the game with a bit of a hotstreak. They've won 5 of their last 6 with the lone loss coming at #1 Florida. How do you tame the consistent bats (a number of SU guys are hitting above .300) of Samford? Well you really want to hold them to under 5 runs. Six of their 9 losses have come when the Bulldog bats are held in check. They will make mistakes in the field and won't steal as much but SU can hit and they WILL hit if given the chance. The trick is to keep them off balance.
To be honest, Samford is a team that scares me. This is almost like playing an SEC game in the middle of the week. Auburn will need to be playing some of its better baseball to avoid the upset. A win would be huge. Not just for confidence going into the MSU series, but for Auburn's RPI as well.
Make no mistake. Samford will be fired up tonight. There is still a quiet group of Auburn fans who would rather see Casey Dunn (Samford's Head Coach) on the Plains than John Pawlowski but that ship has sailed. Still, there's that added bonus for Dunn to face his former team and Samford isn't a pushover. This is a good hitting and veteran team who have high hopes to make a regional and make some noise there. The park will be packed and it will probably be one of the toughest midweek games Auburn will play all year.