#9 Auburn vs Samford (@ Hoover Met)
- TUE: 8-4 W
Early on, this didn’t look great. Jordan Armstrong looked really good through 2 batters but after that, the next 5 reached and Samford led 2-0. Auburn had to go to Carson Skipper, who through a little bit more than a normal bullpen session, going 2.1 and got the Tigers out of trouble. After that, it was normal work for the pen as 5 other Tigers got time to work innings including John Armstrong who was fantastic in his 2.1 with 3 Ks and a hit. On the offensive side, the Tigers answered the Bulldog runs with 5 of their own in what turned out to be the clinching inning. They would add 3 more in the 7th to put this out of reach while every starter would finish the evening with a hit. All in all it achieved everything the Tigers wanted to do. Introduced this team to the Hoover Met, where the Tigers will play next week in the SEC Tournament. It allow Auburn to get some work in for the pitching staff. Auburn was able to finish the non-conference slate at 21-5 and a 12-1 mark in midweek games, while going 6-0 in midweek games outside of Plainsman Park.
Well, there were a couple of things on the check list for the Tigers this week. One is complete, get the win over Samford and hold that RPI right where it is going into the weekend. Check.
Now, the task is clear, win the series at Kentucky. Nothing less will do. 2 wins over the Cats clinches a Tuesday bye in the SEC tournament, puts Auburn at 17 wins and (at least in my estimation) locks in a host regional. Want to go above and beyond? Sweep the Cats on the road and all the sudden, you might have locked a National Seed up.
All that said, it won’t be easy. Last season, this Kentucky squad swept a series in Auburn against the Tigers. Kentucky is currently the 12 seed for the Tournament, however they are one of 4 teams that are fighting for 2 spots (sure South Carolina hasn’t locked up a spot yet but their magic number is 1 and I have a good feeling that they make it). So the Cats will pull out all the stops to try to get the series. And they have the power to do it, just ask Tennessee. The only blemish on the Vol record this year is a series loss in Lexington. The Cats are coming off an impressive 13-0 whipping of Tennessee Tech on Tuesday evening and having salvaged a game at South Carolina so again, Auburn needs to approach this one will all the attention in the world. Offense is what really drives the Cats for the most part. Chase Estep and Jacob Plastiak are the power hitters for Kentucky with 13 and 12 home runs to their credit respectively. Adam Fogel is also tied for the team lead in doubles with 13. Daniel Harris IV is the team leader in BA with a .322 on the season. As a team, the Bat Cats come in 11th in the conference. In the field, Kentucky is about the same, coming in at 10th in the conference. For reference, Auburn is 5th in the league, behind Miss St, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida.
The mound for the Cats has been the sticking point all year. With a team ERA of 4.95, it doesn’t look that rough and there is talent to be sure. The problem has been consistency. The Cats have 2 guys they lean on as starters for the most part and then lean on a deep pen that can carry the water. Sean Harney is the Ace starter of the staff, he carries a 3.09 ERA with a 5-4 record on the year with 14 appearances in 55.1 innings of work. Another name to watch on the starter line, at least for the last 2 weeks, has been Austin Strickland. He only went an inning against South Carolina but the week before, went 3 innings against Tennessee, only giving up 2 runs. Strickland enters the weekend with a 7.71 ERA in 18.2 innings. The main guy out of the pen for Kentucky is Tyler Guilfoil. The Junior has a 1.29 EAR on the year in 42 innings of work and has appeared in 18 games for the Cats. He also is the team leader in Saves with 5.
This is a series Auburn can win to be sure. Personally think Auburn gets 2 games this weekend. If Auburn can get Thursday in the bag, it could be a really fun weekend for Auburn. The main thing to remember, Auburn just needs 2 to clinch a Tuesday bye in Hoover and locks up a regional host. Should Auburn get 3, I believe that all but locks up a National Seed.
Game times for this weekend are Thursday at 5:30 pm, Friday at 5:30 pm and Saturday at 1 pm. All games will be streamed on SEC Network+.