Auburn opens its SEC Tournament campaign Tuesday against its biggest rival, as the Tigers face Alabama in the second game of the first session. The winner will advance to play LSU in the double-elimination round, and the loser will go home and nervously await the NCAA Tournament selection show.
|Auburn: LHP Conner Kendrick||18-8||75 1/3||5-3||2.03||.257||72||31||17||27||74||4|
|Alabama: LHP Justin Kamplain||19-5||51 2/3||1-0||4.53||.215||40||29||26||18||48||5|
It's not much of a surprise that John Pawlowski will send Kendrick to the mound. He's been the Tigers' Friday starter for weeks, and as his numbers indicate, he's been one of Auburn's most reliable arms. In fact, Kendrick's breakout performance came in a 6-3 win against Alabama in the Capital City Classic on March 5. He pitched the final six innings, allowing just one walk while striking out eight. However, in a home start against the Crimson Tide on March 28, he gave up six runs -- just two earned -- on nine hits and four walks with six Ks in 5 1/3 innings. The Tigers lost that game, 6-2, their seventh straight defeat to open SEC play.
In his last two starts, a 7-4 win over Florida and a 3-0 victory against Arkansas, Kendrick pitched a combined 13 2/3 innings and allowed four runs -- one earned -- on 11 hits and two walks, and he struck out 11. The Gators and Razorbacks don't have the most intimidating offenses in the SEC, ranking 10th and 11th, respectively, in the SEC in batting average, and eighth and 10th, respectively, in runs scored. But Alabama isn't an offensive juggernaut, either. The Crimson Tide rank 12th in batting average (.260) and sixth in runs scored (297).
Kamplain has made 19 appearances for Alabama, but only five of those have been starts. His ERA isn't all that impressive, but opponents are only hitting .215 against him. The logical assumption to seeing those numbers is that Kamplain has some issues with the strike zone, and that's correct. He's walked 18 batters in 51 2/3 innings, which isn't terrible, but his 11 hit batters leads the team and is tied for second in the conference. Obviously, the key to success against the sophomore is patience at the plate.
Since moving into the Crimson Tide's rotation, Kamplain has had his ups and downs. In 30 1/3 innings as a starter, he has a 4.75 ERA and has given up 27 hits and 12 walks. He struck out 21 in those five games. Kamplain's best performance came against Texas A&M, when he allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings. His worst line was against LSU -- 5 2/3 innings, seven earned runs, nine hits, two walks, five strikeouts.
|Justin Camp||18||44 1/3||5-1||2||2.44||.248||40||15||12||19||28||2|
|Trey Cochran-Gill||20||41 2/3||1-1||2||3.02||.223||39||22||14||12||23||0|
|Reid Carter||14||20 1/3||1-1||1||2.66||.221||15||6||6||15||14||0|
|Jay Shaw||12||20 2/3||1-1||1||1.74||.206||14||4||4||11||9||0|
|Jon Keller||16||53 1/3||3-6||0||5.23||.293||61||39||31||28||56||3|
|Ray Castillo||23||40 1/3||2-2||10||2.68||.218||31||13||12||26||40||2|
If this one becomes a battle of the bullpens, Alabama probably has the advantage. Their relief pitchers generally have better numbers than Auburn's. Though, the Tide's go-to guys are a little more likely to give up the long ball, and the Tigers' bats have been enjoying a power surge lately. If either team is trying to hold a slim lead in the eighth or ninth, both closers appear to bring similar abilities to the mound. Dedrick's ERA is higher than Castillo's, but that's due to his early-season struggles. The junior from Tuscaloosa has been solid in recent appearances, picking up seven saves and a win in his last eight outings, all SEC victories for Auburn.
|Garrett Cooper, 1B||186||.355||.481||.543||66||30||37||12||1||7||30||10|
|Cullen Wacker, LF||198||.318||.376||.419||63||23||34||12||1||2||33||2|
|Ryan Tella, CF||213||.263||.328||.366||46||42||37||11||1||3||47||5|
Auburn has had its share of struggles at the plate this year, but the Tigers' hitters have been coming on strong lately. They average 4.9 runs per game for the season, but since the start of the Ole Miss series, that average is 5.4. In addition to Cooper and Wacker, who have been Auburn's best hitters all year, and Tella, whose average is down with too many Ks, but still has good production, second baseman Jordan Ebert and and right fielder Hunter Kelley have been coming up with some big hits lately. Over the last nine games, the two have combined for a .329 average with four doubles, three homers, 13 runs and 10 RBIs. Shortstop Dan Glevenyak has been hot, too, hitting his only three home runs of the season all in the last two weeks.
|Ben Moore, RF||217||.290||.364||.438||63||36||38||12||4||4||25||6|
|Brett Booth, C||204||.275||.373||.402||56||43||32||8||0||6||34||10|
|Austen Smith, 1B||195||.272||.343||.426||53||32||35||12||0||6||47||2|
Alabama doesn't have any regular hitter currently batting over .300, which is pretty amazing considering the Crimson Tide don't rank near the bottom of the SEC in runs. Freshman center fielder Georgie Salem has enjoyed a nice season, hitting .278 with 30 runs and 25 RBIs, and second baseman Kyle Overstreet, another freshman, has a .284 average with 22 runs and 35 RBIs. As a team, the Tide doesn't really have any great strength on offense, but they've managed to score 5.3 runs per game this year, which was good enough for 14 SEC wins.
|Auburn (SEC rank)||Alabama (SEC rank)|
|Batting average||.275 (8)||.260 (12)|
|On-base percentage||.359 (8)||.347 (12)|
|Runs||269 (11)||297 (6)|
|RBIs||243 (10)||262 (6)|
|Extra-base hits||136 (5)||109 (t-11)|
|Home runs||31 (t-5)||25 (10)|
|Stolen bases||33-of-54 (12)||51-of-77 (8)|
|Errors||64 (11)||54 (6)|
|ERA||3.36 (7)||3.69 (10)|
|BA against||.250 (6)||.260 (10)|
|Walks||185 (8)||231 (14)|
|Strikeouts||314 (14)||400 (7)|
|Saves||18 (t-4)||19 (3)|
Based on those numbers, Auburn is a better team than Alabama in almost every way. However, the Tigers don't strike many hitters out, while the Tide rank in the middle of the SEC pack, and in the category that matters most, runs scored, Alabama easily outpaces Auburn.
|vs. LHP starter||12-8||15-5|
|Commits 2-plus errors||11-7||5-9|
|Opponent commits 2-plus errors||20-1||21-7|
|Scores 3-plus runs||32-5||31-13|
|Opponent scores 3-9 runs||22-17||18-20|
What do the records tell us? Well, when it comes to playing during the day, at neutral sites and against left-handed starting pitchers, Auburn and Alabama are pretty similar teams. The Tigers are undefeated at neutral sites, whereas the Crimson Tide are winless, but the sample size is too small to make any sort of assumptions. Alabama is a little better against lefties, and when scoring first, both teams are quite good. The big differences come in regard to the amount of runs being scored and errors committed.
Alabama is a better defensive team, but when the Crimson Tide have bad games in the field, they have a more difficult time overcoming the mistakes, while Auburn does a better job of overcoming multiple errors -- perhaps because the Tigers are more accustomed to doing so. When their opponents commit at least two errors, both teams unsurprisingly have good records, but Auburn is nearly flawless when opposing teams are sloppy in the field. Pawlowski's club punishes poor fielding.
The Tigers would rather play a high-scoring game. They're better than Alabama in games when opponents score between three and nine runs, and when Auburn scores at least three runs, the orange and blue are awfully tough to beat.
What's going to happen?
Honestly, it's impossible to say. Auburn and Alabama are really similar teams, and either could win. If the Crimson Tide aren't sharp in the field and it isn't a low-scoring pitchers' duel, expect Auburn to come out on top. But if the Tigers aren't patient at the plate and Alabama doesn't give them many extra outs, the Tide will probably emerge victorious.