Following two weeks of Auburn baseball knocking off the SEC-leader each weekend, the Tigers have continued moving up the rankings. They are now in the Top 10 in every major baseball poll.
NCAA Baseball Poll Grid for this week.— PlainsmanParkingLot (@AUPPL) May 1, 2017
This is a far cry from where Auburn was expected to be at the beginning of the season. This team has continued to evolve with every series. The team that started the season probably couldn't have done what they did this weekend. So, how did we get here?
The Tigers began the season with a lot of questions at the plate. They had to replace virtually every major offensive weapon from last season. Into that void stepped transfers Jonah Todd, Luke Jarvis, Jay Estes, and recently Josh Anthony, as well. It wasn't just the transfers, though. Freshman Conor Davis has come on strong, as well. He hit the walk-off home run to beat South Carolina early in the season. Will Holland has been pretty good, as well, and Jeremy Johnson had a great series in his first SEC set of the year.
That's the hitting. On the mound, we knew the Tigers had two great pitchers in Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize. The biggest questions were the Sunday starter and the bullpen. Davis Daniel has improved with every week as the 3rd starter. The bullpen has continued to struggle at times, but they've definitely improved over the course of the year, as well. Cole Lipscomb and Andrew Mitchell had great performances against Mississippi State. Freshman Elliot Anderson got in some good action this weekend, too.
The old saying of "this team just finds a way to win" has been thrown out plenty of times. It really applies, though. Early on, it was through the ace pitching of the starters and occasional flashes of the bats. Lately, it's been through power-hitting on top of the pitching. Auburn has been without one of its ace pitchers for three series in SEC play. They've won all three of them. This team has confidence that they can do anything.
One of my favorite parts of that is the way Butch Thompson has handled the team and his pitchers. Can you imagine a coach in the heat of a conference race sitting one of his aces two weeks in a row against the top teams in the conference? Mize probably could have pitched last weekend. He probably could have pitched Saturday night. Had the series been played as originally scheduled, he would have pitched Sunday. How many coaches - after losing Game 1 and needing to sweep the doubleheader - would have left his ace to rest one more week rather than move up his appearance less than 24 hours? It's obvious he cares about his pitchers and also that he believes his team can make up for it all.
This team is built to win. They seem to be getting better with every week. They're primed to make a run the likes of which we haven't seen on the Plains in quite some time. The next series up is against 2-19 Alabama (who has quite a few 1-run losses in those 19, so don't just look at the number). A big finish to the season against Bama, LSU, and Ole Miss and we could be looking at a national seed for the Tigers.
It's been a fun ride, so far. Let's keep enjoying it and hoping it continues to get better!