To say the baseball season has been a bit disappointing so far would be a bit of an understatement. The strange thing is that it has largely been for reasons different than we anticipated. Auburn was expected to struggle with pitching and maybe have some defensive issues while hitting the ball well. What's actually happened is that Auburn's pitching has been well above expectations, defense has been pretty good, and the bats have struggled.
Things aren't going to get easier for Auburn when the Tigers enter conference play. The opening weekend of the SEC slate will feature one of the top teams in the nation in Texas A&M. With only a game against Georgia Tech - another top ranked opponent - between Oral Roberts and the Aggies, it's imperative that the Tigers get some things figured out this weekend.
Oral Roberts was the preseason pick to win their conference, the Summit League. They were the regular season and tournament champions in 2015. This will be their first trip to Auburn and the first meeting between the two teams in baseball.
When Auburn Is On The Mound
The Tigers' rotation for the weekend is set with Justin Camp set to start Game 1 this afternoon, freshman Casey Mize will take the Saturday game, and Cole Lipscomb will finish out the series on Sunday. All three pitchers have been very impressive in their appearances to date. The ERA of Auburn's starters over the last six games - four of which have been losses - has been 2.12, with opponents batting .197. That seems pretty good. It also shows just how much of a struggle Auburn's offense has had, since the record in that six-game span is 2-4.
Oral Roberts hasn't exactly been too prolific at the plate - they've only gone above five runs four times in their eleven games, and that against less-than-SEC caliber pitchers to say the least - so there's hope that Auburn's starters will be able to get deep into the games before relinquishing the mound to the bullpen. The Golden Eagles have a team batting average of .302, which isn't bad. That's with an On Base Percentage of .380, Slugging Percentage of .409, and 6 total home runs.
When Auburn Is At The Plate
On the flip side of that, Oral Roberts' pitchers have only allowed their opponents to score five or more runs five times. Sure, that's almost half of their games, but their pitching staff has been pretty decent. That's against the likes of teams like Dallas Baptist and Arkansas - Little Rock, sure, but it's still not bad. Auburn is going to need the bats to get going to feel comfortable.
That's where Auburn has had problems, unfortunately. Auburn's combined batting average is .286. Slugging Percentage sits at .422, and On Base Percentage is .382. The Tigers' bats have been about as prolific as the Golden Eagles' have been. I guess this is where we're fortunate to have the pitchers that we do. Auburn is either going to have to get something going on the offensive side of the plate or hope that the pitching is on fire.
There have been bright spots, of course. Anfernee Grier is batting .460 and has a nice hit streak going. He's gotten on base in every game, so far. Jordan Ebert's .368 is impressive, as well, and Nike Buentello leads the SEC in RBIs with 23. Buentello also leads the team in home runs with three.
Keys For Auburn
1) Get the Runners Home. This is probably the only one I need to put here. Auburn has squandered plenty of opportunities this season to get runners home. 110 total runners left on base, so far. I wish I could find stats for runners left on base who were in scoring position, too. With the number of one-run games the Tigers had at the beginning of the season, the record would have been greatly improved if only the offense picked up enough to get a few of those guys across the plate.
2) Good Performances From the Bullpen. I'm not worried about the starters in this one; Camp, Mize, and Lipscomb have performed well this season. It's when the Tigers get the bullpen that I'm concerned. It's not as if the bullpen has been horrible, either. It's a combination of not getting runs on offense and then giving up just enough late in the game to the opponent. If the bats are still cold, Auburn will need the bullpen to pitch well.
3) Nice Weather. So, the forecast is pretty nasty. There are good chances of thunderstorms all day Saturday and Sunday. It almost wouldn't shock me if they try to get two in tonight, but with the gymnastics meet in town, I doubt that happens. Hopefully the weather cooperates enough to get this series in, though.