Auburn has 2 weeks during the season where they don’t have a midweek game or series, one happens during Finals in the first week of May and the other happened this week, 8 games into the season. So, I thought that this would be a good time to take stock and see where we were as a team during those weeks, to look at the good and the bad. The Tigers sit at 6-2 with nice series victories against Georgia Southern and at Central Florida with a 2-game series sweep over a not good Alabama A&M team. When I projected the season to this point my best case scenario was 7-1 but logically 6-2 so that has worked out. If you had told me that Davis Daniel would only go 2 innings before going on the shelf, I would have said 5-3ish MAAAAYBE 4-4 (yes, one pitcher doesn’t normally make a 2 game difference but look at this past Sunday and tell me you wouldn’t want 6 strong from Davis Daniel in that series).
First, the good.
The newcomers have really been impressive to me. From Ryan Bliss with his all out speed on the base paths, to Kason Howell’s bat which is good enough for the second best BA on the team (.345) along with Rankin Woley right behind him in the category (.344) to Carson Skipper, Richard Fitts and Will Morrison eating up innings and making mistakes early that they will learn from as they go along. I also like that Edouard Julien is showing that the dreaded sophomore slump is something he is fighting to keep at bay with a team leading .360 BA and a 1.408 OPS and a team leading 4 bombs. Also, keep an eye on Steven Williams as we get closer to conference play, after this weekend it is starting to feel like my fellow South Georgian is about to break loose. The last thing is the veteran pitchers in Tanner Burns, who we knew would step up and rock out, but also Jack Owen, who has a 0 ERA in the 9 innings he has pitched and only given up 7 hits in his 2 appearances. That will be a monster band aid if he can keep up even close to that production until Davis can return.
Now for the “let’s work on this…”. The main thing I see is the fielding. Auburn glides in with a .960 fielding percentage after 8 games, good enough to be tied for 185th in the country and 13th in the conference. The offense is pretty good, but not good enough to outscore teams consistently in a conference with the elite pitching Auburn will see week in and week out.
The other hiccup that is very fixable and it has already happened to a point, are approaches at the plate. Remember back in 2017, when everyone remarked how Jonah Todd would work into an 8, 9 or 10 pitch at bat? That’s the kind of scrappy at bats I see a lead off man like Judd Ward being able to have if he can just sit back and breathe. This allows the other hitters in the dugout to get a look at a pitcher’s full arsenal before they ever get their turn in the box, which is huge for a really good offensive team like Auburn. I am picking on Judd a little bit here because his approaches have been more varied and he has already hit the first home run of his career, but I use him as an example for the larger team and, to repeat, the approaches at the plate have started to change for the better, it’s just staying consistent and mindful of it. The last thing is sort of self-explanatory and very fixable, but Auburn needs to find that 3rd reliable arm to get them through series. Tanner Burns is a lock, Jack Owen seems to want to be guy #2 but who can be that Sunday guy to get to the 5th for Auburn. The Tigers have enough arms to get them through the week for the most part but who will they turn to this Sunday will say a lot to me on where Steve Smith and Butch Thompson want to go from here on. Richard Fitts seems like a serviceable option along with Carson Skipper or do they go full on and let Cody Greenhill just power through lineups and get you to the 6th or 7th on most days.
It’s still very early in the season and there are plenty of good things to enjoy with this team. The question will be, can Auburn fix the things that can be fixed and make this into a team that has travel plans deep into June.
Around the League
#1 LSU vs Southern, WED 17-4 W
Tuesday’s game against South Alabama got rained out and moved to early April so it’s just a one game midweek for the Fightin’ Tigas. Wednesday just saw another dominate win for LSU. Not much to take from it except a good tune up before they head to Austin for what promises to be a good barometer test for both squads.
- vs Southeast Missouri State, TUE 11-3 W
- vs Austin Peay, WED 7-6 L/10
WOOOOOH…..Did not see that loss coming. Peay was down 5-3 going into the 9th and was able to scratch out 2 huge runs to push the game to extras. Then turned around and got 2 more in the 10th while Vandy was only able to answer with one to result in…
RECAP & NOTES— Austin Peay Baseball (@AustinPeayBSB) February 28, 2019
Govs score 7️⃣ unanswered runs, stun #️⃣1️⃣ Vanderbilt in extra innings for 7️⃣th win vs. a Power 5️⃣ opponent during @TJanssen06's tenure.
> https://t.co/pYtZEFyJjc#LetsGoPeay pic.twitter.com/uHWavlptNE
Huge win for Peay and, while it won’t send the season into a tail spin, somewhat of a big pump in the road for Vandy.
- @ Jacksonville, TUE 5-4 W/10
- vs UCF, WED 12-9 L
After this weekend, I was really excited to watch this one as UCF tried to make it 4 straight wins over the Gators while Florida tried to buck a trend of dropping midweek games early in the season. This was a back and forth battle that neither pitching staff could stop the other side. As the later innings came, UCF started to put some distance between themselves and the Gators and the aggressive base running Auburn saw this past weekend went FULL TILT!!
MIKA STEALS HOME— UCF Baseball (@UCF_Baseball) February 28, 2019
B comes home!
It's 12-8. pic.twitter.com/7v13pcC9ec
YES SIR WITH THE CELEBRATION! Let’s take a closer look at that dance!
Good win for the Knights (and one that makes Auburn look good in the process) and for Florida, their trend of dropping early games while they figure things out continues.
- vs LIU-Brooklyn, TUE 1-0 L
- vs Kennesaw State, WED 11-1 W
Well, I wondered if the Georgia bats would ever slow down enough to cost them a game in the nonconference and the answer is yup.
Tonight’s victory— LIUBrooklyn Baseball (@LIU_Baseball) February 27, 2019
✔️ First win over a top 10 opponent in program history
✔️ First win over an SEC opponent in program history
•Jackson Svete collects his first win of the year
•Nick Torres picks up his first college save #GoBlackbirds | ⚫️
OOOOOOUCH….that’s a lot of 1st that you don’t wanna see your name on… Good response though with a dominate win over a Kennesaw State team that has some good wins over West Virginia and Illinois-Chicago already this season.
#12 Mississippi State
- vs Jackson State, TUE 17-4 W
- vs Southeastern Louisiana, WED 12-0 W
Two absolute whippings after a good showing this weekend and the Diamond Dogs are flying high going into a big weekend that will see them take on the likes of Texas Tech in Houston this weekend among others.
#13 Ole Miss vs Tennessee-Martin, TUE 12-6 W
A nice way to return home for the Rebs as they double up the former Auburn Tiger Ryan Jenkins and the Skyhawks. Auburn welcomes in Jenks and the Hawks next Tuesday for a quick two game set so this was a bit of a preview but Ole Miss was never truly threatened in this matchup. Also, it’s so nice to see a beer bath home run where no one is in polar outfits.
#16 Arkansas vs Memphis, WED 10-3 W
Another dominate win for the Piggies as they cruise past Memphis in impressive fashion. Memphis actually had the lead but Arkansas was able to push the Tigers past their breaking point on this pitch.
Kenley comes through and that starts a rally.— Razorback Baseball (@RazorbackBSB) February 27, 2019
- 2 RBI single by Kenley
- Nesbit walks and a throwing error scores Opitz
- Franklin singles to short and he beats out the throw; 2 more runs score.
- 6 pic.twitter.com/dnIxlb0mz9
Also, this gif tells me it is still too cold to truly enjoy the great game just yet. I think I am looking at the second weekend of conference play before I make my debut (looking at you Starkvegas).
- vs Houston Baptist, TUE 12-5 W
- vs Incarnate Word, WED 6-5 L
That….that is a surprise…Incarnate Word does have a solid record with a win over Notre Dame to their name but nothing like this. The Cardinals were able to hang a 4 spot in the 5th inning and make it stand up for the rest of the night.
Impressive win for Incarnate Word and a hurtful loss for the Aggies that seems to be a bit of a trend as for SEC teams this last week of February.
South Carolina vs Appalachian State, TUE 3-1 W
A little bit more of a scuffle than the Gamecocks may have envisioned on Tuesday morning but the result is fine. Carolina took the lead for good in the 3rd and added the insurance in the 8th to lock in the victory. Now they prepare for Clemson!
- vs Liberty, TUE 7-1 W
- vs Middle Tennessee St, WED 2-0 W
There are 2 undefeated teams in the SEC, one is LSU…and yup, this team. First they get an impressive victory over a surprisingly good Liberty team, then they have a dominate win over MTSU, as seen below.
HIGHTLIGHTS— Tennessee Baseball (@Vol_Baseball) February 28, 2019
Catch today's top plays from the 2-0 win over MTSU! pic.twitter.com/FA4NXy3EDD
Pitching has been the surprising thing for this Tennessee club as this is their second 1 hitter of the season. Is this the Vol squad that breaks through and makes the NCAA tournament? Did they catch the lightning in a bottle that Georgia found last year? It’s starting to look promising.
- vs Eastern Kentucky, TUE 7-3 W
- vs Northern Kentucky, WED 5-4 W
Two nice wins to open Kentucky Proud Park (yup, they went from The Cliff to that) but after you get past the name, the park and the accommodations are second to none.
Also, we have our first SEC TEAM STEAL HOME alert of the season (that I know of)!
Ok, so it was a delayed steal but still.
Alabama vs North Alabama, TUE 6-0 W, WED 4-1 W
That’s more like it for the Tide. There was no room for error and they got the job done. Now, can Alabama go down to Mobile and take the series from a South Alabama team that has started to get noticed by the national media? That is the task this weekend, not to sweep, but go 2-1.
Missouri vs Alabama A&M, TUE 13-5 W
Exactly what it needed to be for Missouri. Like I said in the Weekend Wrap-up, this really needs to be an undefeated week for Missouri as the competition is at a level they should definitely be above.
Auburn returns to the homestead to host Jeremy Johnson and the Bearcats of Cincinnati. So far its been a rough go of it for Cincy, starting off the year at 1-6 with a lone win coming against Houston Baptist last Sunday and falling on Tuesday to Indiana by a 7-1 final. Names to know other than JJ, who is batting a solid .321 on the year which is 2nd best on the team, is Joey Wiemer, who leads the team with a .393 average and a .943 OPS on the year. Jeremy is also tied for the Home Run lead (1) with Jace Mercer who has a .241 average on the year. On the mound, Cincy will go with a starting mixture of Garrett Schoenle (ERA of 2 in 9 IP), Nathan Kroger (ERA of 2.53 in 10.2 IP) but their normal Friday night guy has been AJ Kullman (ERA of 10.8 in 6.2 IP). This is a series that Auburn should sweep and anything less would be looked upon as a huge upset by the Bearcats. Elsewhere in the conference, there are a couple of series to keep an eye on this weekend as Texas will host LSU in a preview of what could be a Super Regional matchup if everything shakes out. Clemson and South Carolina will have their annual grudge match and watch out for that Georgia-Georgia Southern series in Statesboro. With Georgia dropping a midweek game to winless LIU-Brooklyn 1-0, how will the team and the bats respond against a Southern team that is angry with themselves for letting series’ against both Auburn and West Virginia get away from them. Until next time, enjoy your weekend everyone!