This weekend series against Eastern Illinois was unexpected for Auburn. Not wholly because of the result (Auburn should have and did win the series), but because we saw the return of some bad habits and inconsistencies that plagued the Tiger last year. The bullpen and pitching staff that had been a strength the first two weeks of the year completely regressed.
Outside of a nice bounce-back start by Rocky McCord on Sunday and Conner Kendrick's continued dominance out of the 'pen, the Auburn arms as a whole were knocked around by Eastern Illinois. No lead was safe in any of the three game, with the worst example, obviously, being the implosion on Friday in which Auburn allowed six runs in the top of the ninth (all with two outs) giving EIU the opening game of the series.
It's easy to blame it on the weather and, yes, that could be a factor, but for two straight weeks Auburn's tapped "closer" Terrance Dedrick has blown a save. Trey Wingenter's Auburn debut was average, Daniel Koger finally showed he was human, and both Jay Wade and Reid Carter struggled in limited action.
For Auburn, it has been a bad combination of an untimely error followed by a complete meltdown on the mound. It happened Tuesday against Kennesaw State and again on Friday against Eastern Illinois. Snowballs become avalanches.
Bottom line, Auburn just wasn't sharp on the mound over the weekend and it showed. It's hard to tell if it was a bit over overwork, the weather, lack of focus after errors, or what. Whatever it was, it has to be corrected before SEC Play.
Before focusing on Brown, we need to discuss the Tuesday loss against Kennesaw State. That (not the Friday game against EIU) was the worst I've seen Auburn baseball look in a LONG time. The No. 1-5 hitters went a combined 1-for-21 and struck out eight times. Add to that five unearned runs, two errors, and being held scoreless until the sixth? It was absolutely abysmal.
After the collapse on Friday to Eastern Illinois, it really looked like Auburn had completely regressed. However, now that the weekend is done, it looks like (for now) that Auburn has righted the ship at least slightly and the offense has started clicking.
There were positives from the past four games. Garrett Cooper, Cullen Wacker and Jordan Ebert are absolutely scorching at the plate right now. In fact, across the board, almost every Auburn batter seemed to find some sort of rhythm at the plate against EIU. The only hitter struggling is Jackson Burgreen who, aside from his first home run in an Auburn uniform, had a weekend to forget (.143).
Here is where we are with Auburn baseball as we head into the fourth weekend of play:
- The pitching staff has shown that it can be dominant but also that it could lose control at any moment. That was the difference between last weekend and the previous weekends. Over the first two weeks, Auburn pitchers walked a total of 14 batters. The last four games? 20 walks.
- Cullen Wacker is now fully healthy and playing the field. That has created a bit of a lineup jumble. His addition has meant more playing time for Kody Ortman and Pat Savage but has also moved Sam Gillikin into a more platoon role.
- Opening up the DH role should allow Auburn a bit more leeway in experimentation. I'm still favor of playing Rock Rucker at the DH to see if he clicks.
- With Burgreen struggling and Ebert, hot it may be time to flip flop them in the order and put Ebert in leadoff and slot Burgreen down in the ninth slot.
- The rotation is set. Koger, O'Neal, McCord with Dillon Ortman in the midweek. Justin Camp and Trey Cochran-Gill have settled into long relief roles. Dedrick at closer might be coming to an end, though. I'm not ready to bail on the idea yet, but with Kendrick's dominance so far and Dedrick's struggles, a swap may be needed.
- Auburn still isn't able to steal bases. Four attempts over weekend and only two successes, with one of those coming from Savage.
- It's way too early to look at Auburn and RPI for the NCAA Tournament. Whatever it is, it's going to be low. The EIU and Kennesaw losses are going to be bad losses. The MTSU one doesn't look so bad in retrospect. Auburn doesn't really have a quality win, either. So, the road to the NCAAs is pretty evident: The Tigers have to make waves in the SEC.
- Speaking of the SEC. It's pretty clear that LSU, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State are going to be the breadwinners of the conference. Kentucky is good but Auburn avoids the Wildcats. Same with Carolina. The positive for Auburn is that Florida, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee have all seemed to be beatable.
Kennesaw State: NO JOBUs
EIU Game 1: Three JOBUs
EIU Game 2: Four JOBUs
EIU Game 3: Four JOBUs