- vs Samford (TUE) – 6-4 W
- vs Jacksonville State (WED) – 8-7 W/10
For just the 3rd time this season, Auburn won a one run game to make it a perfect mid week and now turn their attention to the final remaining Top 25 team, though you could make an argument for Georgia, left on their regular season schedule, the Florida Gators. Instead of the traditional recap of both games, we will do more of a ‘What Did We Learn’ from the 19 innings that Auburn played over the last two days. First, the easy, Auburn’s offense is really good. I will admit, midweek pitching isn’t major league quality, however you still have to hit the pitches thrown and Auburn did just that, pounding out 14 runs on 18 hits and working 14 walks off of opposing pitching. The defense was interestingly suspect, as the Tigers committed 3 errors in the field and had a bizarre triple as a ball tipped off the glove of Steven Williams, who thought the ball was foul and didn’t look to the umpire to make sure he called it foul, and the Jax State hitter never stopped till he was standing on 3rd base. The defensive lapse in two games is just more interesting than it is concerning to me, Auburn has shown this season that its play in the field is normally pretty good so no real cause for concern.
The main thing we learned about this team in the mid week was that they used the games exactly how they should and had to, by learning about their pitching staff. Auburn used 13 pitchers against Samford and Jax State to get the wins, for most it was confidence builders and for others it was just midweek work. Auburn had Cody Greenhill come in and grab the 20th save in his Auburn career. Peyton Glavine also earned the second win in his Auburn career with a 2 inning, one run on two hit, four strikeout performance. Trace Bright looked good for an inning but struggled to get an out against the middle of the Samford lineup while Will Morrison got his first extended action of the season, going 2 innings, giving up a run on 4 hits with a walk and a strikeout. Carson Swilling looks like the top reliable arm out of the pen with a 2 inning 2 strikeout performance.
Against Jacksonville State, Mason Barnett and Joseph Gonzalez got back to form as Barnett went a quick inning with a strike out and Joe went 3.1 innings giving up 3 hits with 3 stikeouts. Nate LaRue made his Auburn debut on the mound and went strong through an inning before giving up a solo home runs but got 2 strikeouts on the day. Brooks Fuller got in a pretty good inning of work, giving up a run on a hit with a walk and a strikeout and Blake Burkhalter went 2 innings and only made one bad pitch which tied the game, but it was just one mistake pitch. All in all it was a solid two days for the staff which badly needs confidence at this point in the season.
Auburn heads right back out to the field Friday for a 3 game set against the Florida Gators. Everyone knows the series history, especially recently with Florida but this season has been up and down for the Gators. They entered the season as Vanderbilt’s basic equal across the College Baseball scene but lost the season opening series to Miami and have been up and down since. They enter the weekend with a 9-6 SEC record and series wins over Texas A&M (sweep), Ole Miss and Missouri (sweep) while dropping series against South Carolina (swept) and Tennessee. Kevin O’Sullivan has mixed up his pitching rotation a few times this year, but rest assured Auburn will for sure see a few of these guys. Tommy Mace has long been the next big name in Florida pitching and this is his time. Mace comes in with a 4-0 record with a 3.78 ERA in 50 innings. As far as what to expect from Mace, his out pitch is a jackhammer curveball that he can get across in the low 80s. He’s also developed a slider that he can get across in the mid 80s that could be confused for a cutter. His fastball sits in the mid 90s while he slows his change to about 88. His only issue this season has been location, which is the reason for the high-ish ERA but he’s gotten the offense to back him up on most of his outtings. Jack Leftwich may be the best arm on the staff and the stats confirm that. Leftwich holds a 6-2 record with a 3.02 ERA and a .88 WHIP in 47.2 innings. Leftwich’s fastball, just like Mace, sits in the mid 90s and has a slider that will go in the low 80s. His changeup also sits in that range which makes it even more dangerous for a swing and miss opportunities. The key with Leftwich is to hit him early, because he will get into a rocking chair after that and make it a long day for the offense. The other name to know is Hunter Barco who comes into the weekend with a 5-2 record in 9 starts with a 4.7 ERA in 46 innings. Barco will pound the bottom of the zone with a sneaky heavy fastball in the low 90s and a changeup and slider that both sit in the low 80s. Barco is a ground ball guy that will frustrate you if you don’t select and hold off till you find your pitch. I will be interested to see how he does with the Monster at Plainsman Park if one of Auburn’s right handed bats is able to get under one enough and often enough to try and golf one or two out. On the offensive side of the plate, there are four Gators to watch out for Nathan Hickey who leads the team with a .358 BA on the season. Also hitting over .300 are Colby Halter (.322) and Jacob Young (.321). Sterlin Thompson isn’t far off the path with a .295 BA. The Mark Reynolds award for the Gators goes to Jud Fabian who leads the team in both Home Runs (12) and Strikeouts (52) on the year. In summary, Florida is really really good. They haven’t hit their full potential this season but are still ranked in the Top 15-20. If Auburn has built enough pitching confidence, this is a series Auburn can take with their offense. I think Auburn gets a game this weekend but, until we see the pitching staff come through with the out in a high leverage situation, I lean with the Gators taking the series, but like I said last weekend, Auburn is good enough to win this. Will they do it is a completely different question.