Posted: 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, March 12, 2013
For Auburn, these past four games can be summed up by two words: strictly business. That's the biggest positive. Auburn saw a "road game" against the Tigers' biggest rival, a series that could easily be a viewed as a stumbling block if they weren't prepared and the re-emergence of the pitching staff. It was four games of work, rebuilding and moving forward. It was exactly what Auburn needed.
The MAX Capital City Classic on Tuesday continued a trend of dominance for Auburn. The Tigers have now claimed five straight in the series, and it served as a good showcase against improving competition. The real story was Conner Kendrick, who was absolutely masterful. Dillon Ortman struggled early, and the game looked to be a battle of the bullpens. Thankfully for Auburn, the Tigers only needed one man to step up.
Kendrick was absolutely blistering on a downright frigid night next to the Alabama River -- 21 batters faced, no hits, eight strikeouts. That's really all Auburn needed. On a night when the offense struggled, Kendrick showed just why and how important it is for the Tigers to have solid pitching.
The weekend series against Brown showed even more positives: a sweep, a hitting streak, a complete game shutout, limited errors and better all-around play. The stats don't really show it, but Auburn had a great approach at the plate and was able to string together hits and put up crooked numbers, and because of that, the Tigers never really sweated during the three-game set.
The biggest positive of the weekend was the emergence of Pat Savage in the DH position. Savage was stellar, raising his average to a respectable .259. He lead the team with five RBIs, five hits and three doubles, and he lessened the blow of a couple of guys (Cullen Wacker, Damek Tomscha) struggling.
On the mound, Auburn saw continued improvement from Terrance Dedrick and showed flashes of dominance with Kendrick and Michael O'Neal.
Now, the real story begins. Auburn has a revenge game against Kennesaw State Tuesday and then opens up SEC play with Vanderbilt. The first two SEC series -- the Tigers travel to LSU after facing Vandy -- will show exactly what Auburn is made of and if this stellar start is just a fluke of an easy schedule.
There is a lot of red in the batting averages there for Auburn but that shouldn't be a concern. A lot of that is the midweek game against 'Bama dragging the team average down. What can't be overlooked is that Jackson Burgreen is starting to heat up again. He hit only .211 for the four-game week but really exploded during the Brown games. It's little, but it's a start.
1. Jordan Ebert: The freshman stayed red-hot over the weekend. Hitting .357 and extending his hitting streak to 13 games. He extended it in a big way on Saturday with his first home run in an Auburn uniform.
2. Blake Austin: The catcher has been a solid anchor at the bottom of the lineup and kept the Tiger offense from staying cold. He hit .333 over the four-game set.
3. Pat Savage: He had a .333 average and a .533 slugging percentage and helped to provide a potent 1-2-3 combo in Auburn's 7-8-9 positions.
1. Cullen Wacker: .091 for the four games and saw his average drop below .300.
2. Damek Tomscha: A team-low .077 for the week.
3. Daniel Koger: Still searching for his elusive first win on the year. The ERA is a solid 2.42, but he's only extended past the sixth inning once in four starts.
Auburn's stats are pacing well nationally. Currently, the Tigers rank in the top 50 in walks (21st/78), doubles (37th/32), ERA (32nd/2.73), runs (42nd/100) and runs per game (44th/6.7). The problem is that the Tigers play in the SEC, and while those numbers might be good enough to put them in the top 50 of the nation, they are only good enough for about middle of the road in the SEC.
Auburn is only in the SEC's top four in two offensive categories (doubles and doubles per game). The Tigers' opponents this weekend? Oh, the Vanderbilt Commodores are just in the top four in 22 categories. So, it will be no easy task to try and knock off the No. 2 team in the country..
Auburn still has some lineup shuffling to do. The middle of the order (Tomscha/Wacker) has struggled, while Garrett Cooper has excelled being bumped down to the 5-hole.
Will Kendall will make his 2013 debut on Tuesday. I'm not reading too much into it because honestly, I don't think he will be asked to go past the second inning. If anything, he should be on a pitch count, and Auburn will go Johnny Wholestaff against the Owls.
A question that has been brought up: Is Conner Kendrick a starter? I think long-term, yes. But short-term, he's too valuable in the bullpen.
I'm still for a flip flop of Burgreen and Ebert (1/9) in the lineup. I thnk it could alleviate some of the pressure on Burgreen in the leadoff role. The only difference between the two is that Burgreen is a better threat on the basepaths, while Ebert has struggled there. I say that, but they are even with one steal apiece.
Welcome back, Dan Glevenyak. His average isn't showing it, but Yak has been a force on the basepaths. He was a perfect 4-for-4 on steals over the weekend. Plus, he didn't commit an error against Brown.
The walks allowed were much better over the four games. Only 10 allowed over the weekend. Much better than last week's high jump from 15. Trending better. (h/t @johngalatas)
This weekend is going to be tough for Auburn. Taking just a game would be a step in a positive direction for the Tigers. (h/t @BradCraver22)
The biggest difference from last year to this year's team has to be the pitching. It's been worlds better than expected. On the flip side, the biggest area of concern remains errors and strikeouts in the lineup. Auburn has some holes that a good pitching staff can easily work around right now. (h/t @AidanB84)
I really like what Rocky McCord has done his past two outings. He's developing into a nice anchor on Championship Sunday. (h/t @kylebwde)
There are a lot of theories and ideas of where to slot Jordan Ebert. I think he's best at either the top of the bottom of the lineup and can be a great table setter. (h/t @jrclifton)
There are so many unknowns for Auburn right now, it's hard to predict where the Tigers will finish in SEC play. Right now, I'd safely say fifth in the division (behind LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and maybe Arkansas) and eighth overall (Behind those four, plus South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt). (h/t @Zac_ary)
Yes, Auburn is 12-3 but that has come at against some pretty weak competition. The Tigers open Tuesday with an RPI of 105, and their best win was over College of Charleston (33). The other wins have come over Maine (212), Eastern Illinois (217), Indiana State (108), Alabama (76) and Brown (103). That changes in SEC play over the next two weeks against Vanderbilt (9) and LSU (4). (h/t @jwm0004)
Brown, Game 1
Brown, Game 2
Brown, Game 3