By Kevin Ives
Plainsman Parking Lot
I'm sure most fans in the SEC hear Vandy and immediately think, "Oh yes. Nerds. This should be easy". However, make no mistake, this is not a Vanderbilt team to be underestimated. Yes, Auburn does hold a 77-35 series edge. Yes, Auburn did take 2 of 3 from the black and gold. However, this is a dangerous Commodore team. It's a team that ranks in the top 5 in most major offensive categories. This is also a Vandy team that has the best pitching staff in the SEC (statistically) leading the league in Runs Allowed, ER allowed, team ERA, and HR allowed. This is also a Vanderbilt team that has only lost 3 games at home all year. Hawkins field isn't an intimidating place and the dimensions are fairly similar to Plainsman Park; but Vandy protects its turf better than any team in the league. I know it seems like I say this every week, but this is another big SEC series for Auburn. Simply because both teams come in near the middle-top of the SEC. A series win in Nashville could really secure Auburn's ticket to Hoover.
SCOUTING THE DORES- If you want the definition of "team baseball" then look no farther than Vanderbilt. There are no real superstars who are lighting up the league in individual categories. Yet there they sit, as a team, at the top. VU, offensively, is not a power packed lineup. It's closer to death by a thousand paper cuts in its effectiveness. Timely hitting, constant pressure (VU ranks in the top 3 in steals and steal attempts), and speed up and down the lineup are what makes the Commodores tick. Their best overall hitter is Jason Esposito, who ranks near the top in Doubles and RBIs.
ACE VS ACE (PART DEUX)- Last weekend, Auburn bumped up Cole Nelson (the Tigers defacto ace) to face LSU's Ace. That didn't work out so well as Cole was rocked and didn't even record an out. It's so hard to pinpoint just what went wrong as pitchers are delicate creatures to begin with. However, it could be the short rest or pitching at night. Two factors that were in play his last super struggle against Arizona State. The Ace for Vanderbilt is Sophomore Sonny Gray. He might be 4-4 on the year, but he's their stud and workhorse, coming off a complete game (albeit a loss) against South Carolina last weekend. He leads the SEC in innings pitched, is 4th in Strikouts, and has only give up 1 HR.
IT'S PAT- Kevin Patterson should (hopefully) see a ton of playing time. Vandy will trot out 3 RHP for the weekend and the monster DH has shown he can gobble them up. Just having him in the lineup gives Auburn a huge power boost, even if it bumps someone else out.
I DON'T KNOW'S ON THIRD- Who will play 3B this weekend is still a mystery. Every option Auburn turns to has their pros and cons. Dan Gamache is one of AU's most patient and clutch hitters, yet his glove and errors have are getting to be close to a liability. Wes Gilmer gives Auburn switch hitting options in the lineup and showed a stellar glove last weekend. However, his power and hitting ability is lacking. Creede Simpson is a darkhorse option and his bat could be a welcome return to the lineup. Yet, the transfer from Auburn High has yet to play 3B and hasn't played the infield since JUCO.
FREDDIE MERCURY- Justin ‘Freddie" Fradejas is still streaking and is coming off and SEC POTW performance. He's on a 15 game hitting streak where he's hitting .359 with 15 runs scored. I personally love watching the kid play because its almost unfair for the opposition when you watch how easy it is for Fradejas to get on base on a simple bunt hit.
KEYS TO WINNING- The Auburn offense. This might seem like common sense, but after looking at the Vandy lineup and studying the box scores of some of their losses, I really think Auburn can silence the VU bats (which have actually gone quiet cold over the past few games). The will steal, but the also have some major holes in their lineup including Andrew Giobbi, who has been caught stealing an SEC high 18 times and has grounded into an SEC high 7 double plays. Plus, with the performance of Auburn's bullpen over the past few weekends, I've seen the Tigers confidence grow and feel they can compete with anyone, because they know the offense can score runs.
So that's just what it needs to do. Score runs. It will be another tough pitching staff on the mound and Auburn looked lost at times against Carolina and Bama at the plate. Auburn will need to keep focused on their station to station baseball and manufacture runs. Homeruns and even doubles might be at a premium, so AU will need to get runners on, get them over, and get them home.
Sunday's game will be on ESPNU and of course, I'll be live tweeting the games (http://twitter.com/AUPPL)