Auburn baseball has a proud tradition that boasts conference titles, trips to Omaha, and the SEC's only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Tigers of the last decade haven't lived up to this tradition. Since 2006, Auburn has only been in the NCAA Tournament once. All too often, the Tigers have struggled even to make it to the SEC Tournament in Hoover. With the SEC baseball season a little over halfway done, these Tigers have a legitimate chance to make a regional.
Here's the SEC standings thus far:
Vandy 29-12 (12-6) (#8 Baseball America; #9 USA Today; #24 RPI)
Missouri 26-14 (12-6) (#14 Baseball America; #23 USA Today)
Florida 30-10 (11-6) (#6 Baseball America; #6 USA Today)
Kentucky 22-16 (8-9)
South Carolina 25-16 (8-10)
Georgia 20-20 (6-11)
Tennessee 15-20 (5-13)
Texas A&M 35-3 (12-3) (#2 Baseball America; #3 USA Today; #5 RPI)
LSU 34-6 (12-5) (#1 Baseball America; #1 USA Today; #8 RPI)
Ole Miss 20-20 (8-10)
Arkansas 22-17 (7-9) (#25 Baseball America)
Auburn 25-16 (7-11) (#25 RPI)
Alabama 20-18 (7-11)
Mississippi State 22-18 (6-11)*
As you can see, Auburn's overall record and RPI are very respectable. Despite that, Auburn is only a half game ahead of Miss State and Georgia, one of whom would not make the SEC tournament if the season ended today. It's important for the Tigers to finish strong.
For the purposes of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, the division winners receive the top two seeds. The remaining ten qualifying squads are ranked by winning percentage. The top four seeds receive byes. The bottom eight seeds play single elimination games to set the field for the traditional eight team double elimination format we're familiar with. So, if the season ended today, the bracket in Hoover would look roughly like this:
Game 1 #6 Kentucky vs #11 Alabama
Game 2 #7 South Carolina vs #10 Auburn
Game 3 #8 Arkansas vs #9 Ole Miss
Game 4 #5 Florida vs #12 Miss State
Game 5 #3 LSU vs Kentucky/Alabama
Game 6 #2 Missouri vs South Carolina/Auburn
Game 7 #1 Texas A&M vs Arkansas/Ole Miss
Game 8 #4 Vanderbilt vs Florida/Miss State
The SEC usually sends 8-10 teams to the NCAA tournament. This year's SEC is top heavy and five teams--Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Florida--are all but locks to make the NCAA tournament and have a good chance of hosting a regional. South Carolina, Auburn, and Arkansas seem likely to make the NCAA tournament if the season ended today. The Tiger's RPI is high in part because of our early season sweep of Radford, a team that is ranked in the top 20 of the RPI. Kentucky, Ole Miss, Alabama, and Georgia would be bubble teams. Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama may be disqualified from tournament play if their overall record drops below .500 which, given the brutal nature of SEC competition, could easily happen.
I've found two recent projections online, both of which have Auburn in the NCAA Tournament. D1Baseball has Auburn as a 3 seed in a Tallahassee Regional. The poll also has Missouri, Texas A&M, Florida, LSU, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and South Carolina in the tournament. College Sports Madness puts Auburn in a Fort Worth Regional. The bracket also projects Texas A&M, Missouri, Arkansas, Florida, Vandy, South Carolina, and LSU as making the tournament. So, if the season ended today, we'd likely make a regional.
How Can the Tigers Make a Regional?
So what lies between our Tigers and an NCAA regional (inevitably set in Tallahassee)? Four SEC series of varying difficulty. The two most crucial of these series are the easiest series and are at home. Auburn hosts Georgia this weekend and Alabama the weekend of 5/8-5/10. Picking up series wins (or sweeps) in these series would put distance between us and the cellar dwellers who will not know the pleasures of the Hoover Met or the Galleria Food Court. If we lose these series the road to Hoover becomes significantly harder.
The two road series are May trips to South Carolina and Florida. In other years these roadtrips would look hopeless but this year, these teams aren't invincible. Picking up 2-3 wins against these teams combined is a reasonable expectation.
If Auburn breaks even or better in these last four series--winning the two home series and avoiding sweeps on the road--Auburn should be on the comfortable side of the bubble after the SEC tournament. We won't host a regional unless the Tigers really catch fire over the last few weeks but just making the tournament would be huge for the program and the besieged skipper Sunny Golloway.
#OmahAuburn? Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves or ever use this unholy, awful portmanteau ever again.
In short, our season hangs in the balance starting this weekend. Auburn is hanging on to the postseason by its fingernails. If things break right, a regional is within grasp. If things break wrong, we won't make Hoover. So come out to the ballpark this weekend and do your part. Cheer loudly as the Tigers continue taking baby steps back to relevance.
* I took the standings from here and have suspicions that they aren't completely up to date but they are the most recent, official standings I could find.