By: Kevin Ives
Plainsman Parking Lot
“Always remember that Goliath was a 40-point favorite over Little David” – Ralph “Shug” Jordan
Goliath, in this case, being LSU. A team that has beaten Auburn seven straight times (10 out of the last 12). A team that Auburn hasn’t taken a series from in Plainsman Park since 1998. A team that Coach John Pawlowski has never beaten in 4 tries. The defending National Champion. The Six-Time National Champion. LSU is that giant philistine and Auburn is David. Plain and simple.
It’s hard to find a weakness in the LSU armor, but there are a few. Yes, they are slight. Yes, they are few. However, if Auburn can take advantage of them, then they can do something few Auburn baseball teams have done. It only took David a single stone. It will take a few more for Auburn.
Anthony Ranaudo could almost be considered Goliath personified. The phenomenal LSU pitcher stands 6’7 and 230 lbs. He’s got a mid-90s fastball and has scouts all over the nation drooling at his potential. However, he’s got two big weaknesses that could play into Auburn’s hands. First, he’s Right Handed. Auburn is hitting RHP at a .350 clip this season (versus .346 to LHP). However, the biggest stat disparity comes from Auburn’s power against RHP. Against lefties, Auburn has hit just 14 HRs. Against Righties? A staggering 35. Considering that Ranaudo is fastball first and RHP, I know Auburn DH Kevin Patterson is salivating at the possibilities. Last year, Homeruns were all Auburn could muster against Ranaudo (solo shots from McElroy, Morris, and Fletcher) and this year the only run allowed by Ranaudo (in limited work) is a solo HR by Georgia. On top of that, I’m still not convinced that Ranaudo is 100%, as he still hasn’t pitched more than 5 innings in a game. I doubt he’s still on a pitch count, but regardless, this will be the first big test of his return. As a staff, LSU has allowed 28 HRs which it toward the bottom in the SEC.
For Auburn, the strategy should be simple: score early and score often. I know this might seem like common sense, but that’s really the only way to beat LSU. A close game or a slight lead for LSU hugely favors the Bayou Bengals and their almost unhittable relief unit.
Also, more than any game before, Auburn desperately needs an error free game. LSU is super aggressive on the basepaths and has the speed to force constant pressure on a pitching staff. Any player that gets on for LSU is likely to attempt a steal and I know Tiger Coach Paul Manieri is aware of Ryan Jenkins and his penchant for errors. For Auburn, it’s been so far so good; 3 Straight Error Free games and 3 straight wins. That’s no coincidence. Another error prone position for Auburn, Third Base, could see a facelift as well with that addition of Trent Mummey (but more on that later).
It all boils down to one key question for the weekend: Can Auburn’s pitching staff handle and control the LSU offense. The Bayou Bengals has a potent attack that mixes power, speed, and timely hitting. They are extremely patient at the plate, working counts deep and not being fooled by junk. Yes, Auburn did handle the nation’s top offense (Georgia State) in check during a midweek game. But the difference between LSU and GSU is that the Panthers have feasted on college baseball afterthoughts like North Carolina Central and Alabama State, while LSU’s numbers have come against much stiffer competition.
If Auburn can shut down the LSU bats, then they could sweep the series. If they can’t then it will be a long weekend.
THE MUMMEY RETURNS- One of the more interesting bits of strategy this weekend is how Coach John Pawlowski handles the return of Trent Mummey. If he’s fully healthy, then he will slot in CF with Justin Fradejas and Brian Fletcher flanking Mummey in the OF. That leaves Tony Caldwell and Creede Simpson, two of Auburn’s best hitters, without a place. One scenario would be to place TC at DH and let Creede play 3B. Earlier in the season, Simpson was in the running for the Third Base position, so he does have some experience there. However, if you place Caldwell at DH then that bumps Kevin Patterson out of the lineup altogether. For a player who can absolutely crush right handed pitchers, KP needs to play at least Friday and Sunday and he proved that last weekend against Alabama. Pawlowski could move Caldwell to Catcher (where he’s played the last two games) but then Auburn would lose the experience of Ryan Jenkins behind the place. Color me curious as to how CJP finalizes his lineup.
PROTECTING PLAINSMAN PARK- Friday features a night game, that’s on tv, and features two of the top pitchers in the SEC. Auburn needs an electric atmosphere to cancel out a rowdy LSU fanbase that will travel well. Pawlowski knows this and spent the past week visiting Frat Houses and having players pass out flyers on the concourse to drum up support and interest. Now, I could lament the fact that CJP even has to do this, but I won’t. I’ll just accept it as a barometer of where the Auburn baseball is as a program right now.
It’s going to be a fantastic series this weekend and one, hopefully, the right Tigers will pull through. As usual, I will give live updates on the game on the AUPPL twitter (http://twitter.com/AUPPL) and both Friday and Saturday’s games will be televised. This is the premiere game on Auburn’s home schedule and one fans really shouldn’t miss.