For just the 18th time in school history and the first since 2008, the Auburn baseball team is 4-0. It's a pretty rare and impressive feat and one that should give fans some glimmer of hope to start the 2013 campaign.
Let's start with the good. The overwhelming surprise was the bullpen. Going 16 innings and only allowing three earned runs, the bullpen ended the four-games series with a 1.69 ERA and also notched a win and a two saves. It was incredible effectiveness and a stark contrast from last season when the bullpen melted down into a hodgepodge of hope and prayer instead of effective door-closers.
Auburn also quickly found a closer. Terrance Dedrick was phenomenal: two appearances, four batters faced, three trikeouts. He came in late in both the Friday game (picking up a win) and the final game of Saturday's doubleheader (recording a save).
A good portion of the bullpen's credit should go to two standout long-relief guys: Chase Williamson and Justin Camp. Camp picked up a bulk of the load Saturday (4 IP/1 ER/4 H) and Williamson followed suit Sunday (3 1/3 IP/1 ER/3 H) and both picked up their first Auburn wins.
If Auburn can keep this level of effectiveness up in the bullpen against better competition, the Tigers can expect big things.
On the offensive side, there were some big positives to crow about. Auburn was able to use basically the same lineup for each game and hit .312 for the weekend. Instead of last year's "death-by-a-thousand cuts" single-driven approach, Auburn collected 12 doubles (leading the SEC) and saw solid production from the bottom half of the order.
Jackson Burgreen really stood out offensively. The freshman, playing in the place of Cullen Wacker, who was suspended/injured, started all four games in left field and finished with a .353 average and three doubles.
The top half of the lineup was especially effective. Burgreen, Dan Glevenyak, and Ryan Tella all batted 1-2-3 and accounted for 14 of Auburn's 27 runs (a little over 50 percent of the run production). Burgreen and Glevenyak developed into nice table setters for Tella, who finished the series with a team-high six RBIs.
One other big positive for Auburn? Coming from behind. All four wins came after the Tigers trailed, something Auburn only managed to do nine times all of 2012. The Tigers didn't panic; the waited and bounced for big innings on Saturday and Sunday and used the solid bullpen performance to keep any Maine lead manageable. Again, this strategy, if continuing against stronger competition, will be key for long term success.
The final positive is just that Auburn is 4-0. Yes, it was against Maine, but Auburn did something that eight SEC teams (including No. 1-ranked Arkansas) couldn't: leave the opening weekend unscathed. That alone is a big positive and shouldn't be understated.
Now for the negatives. These aren't really negatives, but mainly, things to work on. I'm not at the point to call these concerns until they become an actual pattern.
Auburn, like last year, showed that an effective starting pitcher can completely handcuff the Tiger offense. On Friday, Tommy Lawrence from Maine went seven innings (2 ER/4 Ks) and almost spoiled the Tigers' opener. I was initially going to include Maine's Sunday starter with Lawrence (Mike Connolly/5 1/3 IP/4 ER) but Auburn did what I hoped will become a trend: The Tigers simply wore down the starter and feasted on the bullpen. Of all the negatives, this is one that is the most minor and something I can chalk up to first-game jitters.
One the opposite side, the Auburn starters were just decent overall. ERA wise? The were dang good with a 2.00 ERA over 20 innings. My only issue is how deep the starters went into the game. None of them got out of the sixth inning. This is a little nit-picky at this point, but for later in the SEC season, Auburn will need to have its starters go deeper to lessen any strain on the bullpen. Daniel Koger was still having a few control issues (2 BB/2 HBP) and was wasting a lot of pitches that led to his pitch count hitting the high 90's after five. For a Friday night starter, Koger will need to pitch conservatively and not give free passes.
Speaking of free passes, a version of those was one of my biggest negatives with the weekend. Errors. Four games, eight errors. That's inexcusable. Glevenyak lead the team with three. Damek Tomscha had two. Tanner Cimo and Mitchell Self each had one. There's a phantom error missing on the Auburn site (it lists eight total errors, but only list seven by the players). Still, Auburn didn't have a single game without an error. The Tigers felt it on the scoreboard, too. Five unearned runs were given up over the four-games series. This has to change. The quickest change could be slotting Jordan Ebert (played two games without an error) into a permanent spot at second. Glevenyak's bat will keep him in the lineup for now, but unless those errors start to improve, head coach John Pawlowski's hand might be forced.
The final negative? Steals. Maine did an incredible job of keeping Auburn honest on the basepaths. Six attempts and only two successful steals for the Tigers. That's way down from the norm from last year. Stolen bases set up the offense last year and were an effective way for the offense to stay clicking when the hits were hard to come by. The lack of steals this weekend is only going to be concerning if the bats start to slack.
As for the weekend as a whole? It's a plus: 4-0, a bullpen that shined, an offense that capitalized on big innings, freshmen that impressed. It was a great weekend overall. That's not to say Auburn should get too confident. Next weekend presents a unique challenge: a hungry College of Charleston team and two solid mid-major clubs in Middle Tennessee and Indiana State. Every team will be different and each team will play its best game against Auburn.
Hitter of the Week: Jackson Burgreen. The freshman shined in his Auburn debut. A catalyst in the lead-off position, Burgreen paced the Tigers with a .353 average, five runs, two walks, and three doubles in four games.
Pitcher of the Week: Conner Kendrick. The transfer from Gulf Shores was absolutely unhittable. Two appearances, three innings, five strikeouts and no earned runs. Batters hit a paltry .182 against Kendrick.
Final Grades: The Jobus should give a good rough look at how the game went for Auburn. Here are you game ratings (Out of five Jobus):