Can Auburn Baseball Make a Case for the Postseason?

By Posted on: April 16th, 2013 in Baseball 6 Comments »
5169bf07e1f5b_image- Michael O'Neal

                   Michael O’Neal is on track to be the Tigers first 10 game winner since 2003.

After the Auburn Baseball team plays Samford  tonight in Birmingham, the last  half of the SEC Baseball season will begin on Thursday. And despite winning their last two series, the Auburn Tigers have a mountain to climb if they want to play in the post season.

Even though Auburn sports a 17-4 non conference record, the Tigers began the SEC season at a dismal 0-7, the worst conference start since 2007.

But after winning the series with No.17 Texas A&M in College Station, the Tigers won for the seventh time in eight games and fourth time in six Southeastern Conference games this past weekend when they took two of three from Georgia at home.

It was a shot in the arm to win consecutive SEC series after winning just one game in the first three series. However, Georgia has one of the worst teams in recent years and Auburn really should have swept the Dawgs. A sweep would have gone a long way in making up lost ground from the first half of the season.

While the pitching staff led by Michael O’Neal (7-2) has done a good job with a team ERA of 3.33 (the lowest mark at this point in the season since 2002) – the offense has struggled. It was the lack of offense that prevented the Tigers from getting the sweep against Georgia.

Auburn had a combined 25 hits in its two victories against the Bulldogs on Friday and Saturday but could only muster three in the last game of Saturday’s double header.

In the first half of the season, John Pawlowski became the Tigers’ all-time third Winn ingest baseball coach (by number of wins.) Yet Auburn finds itself in the familiar position of possibly not making the NCAA. Because of it, some believe Pawlowski will be on the hot seat if

… the Tigers fail to make it to the NCAA tournament. The mid-season record of 22-14 and 5-10 in the SEC is not a bad record per se  but it doesn’t get any easier from here on out. 

Nine of the 15 remaining SEC games will be on the road, including series against No.16 Mississippi State this weekend and No. 7 Florida in the season final. The Tigers must also face No.10 Arkansas and No.18 Ole Miss at home. To have a chance to get into an NCAA regional, Auburn needs to at least split those remaining series.

After winning the SEC West three years ago and hosting a regional, Auburn has narrowly missed making the NCAA field the last two years. A sweep of at least one opponent would not only improve their record and enhance their chances, but would do wonders for their confidence. That prospect is doable although it will be a tall task.

The good news though, is the Tigers control their own destiny. At the midpoint of the conference season, they are in 11th place. Still, before all is said and done there could be a lot of rearranging in the conference standings with 15 games left to play.

I still believe it’s possible for the Tigers to wind-up with a good year – an SEC/NCAA postseason year. But the metal of Pawlowski‘s Tigers is about to be really tested.

Will they finish strong and propel themselves into the SEC and NCAA Tournaments? Or will they wilt into a near miss team once again? The fate of their future and quite possibly John Pawlowski’s may hinge on it.

Go Tigers beat Samford and MSU!

 

Monday Musings

By Posted on: March 24th, 2013 in Baseball, Basketball, Football, News, Other Sports 5 Comments »
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A New Era in Accessibility.

Expect to see a lot more of the Auburn football team this spring. While former coach Gene Chizik preferred keeping a lid on practices, Gus Malzahn is opening things up a bit. While we won’t be returning to the open policies of Tommy Tuberville, the media will have a half hour a day to watch practice. Unfortunately, fans will still be locked out when things get started Wednesday.

Malzahn also plans to make coaches and players more accessible after practice. Auburn will practice 14 times before closing things out on A-Day April 20th…

I don’t know about you, but sentencing for Harvey Updyke last week was somewhat anti-climatic. The Toomer’s Tree killer was given a three year prison sentence, but in reality will only serve another six months. He’ll be placed on five years probation and will be prohibited from attending any college sporting events or speaking with the media. He’ll have a nightly curfew of 7 p.m. I say there’s no way he goes five years without violating parole. I predict at least two additional visits to the big house in the coming years…

Watching all the upsets by these small schools in March Madness makes you wonder why programs like Auburn and Georgia can’t compete. These small programs don’t have the shoe contracts or recruiting budgets of schools in the SEC, yet find a way to compete. As long as I’ve watched Auburn basketball, I’ve never been able to figure it out…

While some still believe this Auburn baseball team has a chance to be good, starting off 0-6 in conference makes you really question that logic. Then again, opening against the second and third ranked teams in the country is no easy task. You have to believe a good team would at least grab one win. Losing both series to Vanderbilt and LSU was maybe expected, get swept six straight was certainly not.

I’ll hold off passing judgement on this team for a few weeks, before putting them in the basket with football and basketball. It’s a big hole to overcome, but all is not lost – yet…

We saw this coming from 10 miles away. The Toomer’s Oaks slated to come down in a few weeks will quickly be converted to souvenirs. However, if you were hoping to buy a big slab of wood with Toomer’s written on it, you’re out of luck. Because of licensing issues, they’ll be called Auburn Oaks. Nobody loves the tradition of rolling those trees more than me, but without the Toomer’ name on them, the appeal is just not there. I’ll pass…

Word is, Auburn will be putting up power lines along Toomer’s Corner next season for fans to roll. There won’t actually be power running to them like the old days, but it will take the tradition back to where it started. Before fans turned to the oaks, they rolled the power lines situated on the corner. It may be four years before the soil is suitable for planting on the site. All in all, this is probably the best short term solution…

Despite them being our hated rival, you hate to see Alabama athletic director Mal Moore exit like he did. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone on either side of the rivalry that had a bad word to say about him. He’s had some tough personal battles in recent years. I hope he finds peace in retirement… 

You Play Like You Practice!

By Posted on: March 21st, 2013 in Baseball, Football, Other Sports 1 Comment »
Play like Practice

Those green jerseys aren’t so easy to earn, this year.

     War Eagle, everybody! Spring has sprung, although you wouldn’t know it from the heavy layer of frost on the ground this morning. In less than a week, the Auburn Tiger football team will hit the practice field, and try to put the wheels back on the program. And encouraging news continues from the Plains.

      Yesterday, Auburn coaches and select players met with the media and revealed some of the details of a grueling off-season regimen. When Auburn’s conditioning drills began, strength coach Ryan Russell instituted a three level system for grading players. All players started with an orange jersey, and had to earn their way up to “average,” or a blue jersey. Only guys working at a championship level could advance to a coveted green jersey.

     On the very first day of lifting weights and running, three Auburn Tigers showed enough mettle and tenacity to earn the green shirt. These were Gabe Wright, Dee Ford and Jay Prosch. After last year’s team was pushed around up front, it was encouraging to hear that two defensive linemen made the grade!

     It’s probably little surprise to anyone who follows Auburn football that Prosch has stepped up in the weight room. He was one of the few bright spots on a poor Auburn offense last season, and there’s little doubt that he be a valuable asset this fall in the Malzhan/Lashlee offense. Much like Eric Smith was a couple of years ago, Prosch will be a dynamite blocker from the H-Back position. In addition, we learned last year that he can catch the ball, and pick up first downs on short yardage situations. Prosch was not stopped for a loss all last season.

More good news after the jump!

     This spring will feature another starting quarterback battle, something Auburn fans have become used to during the past five seasons. Junior Khiel Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace are battling hard for the distinction, with both reputedly putting in long hours on their own in the film room, and during player-led workouts. May the best man win!

     And finally, a bit of post-season non-football good news! Auburn’s lady Tiger basketball team took the floor last night in the first round of the NIT, and downed UAB by 23 points! The hustling, pressing Tigers forced 23 turnovers, and converted those into 30 points. Auburn was led by Tyrese Tanner, who scored 29 points. Here’s hoping the 80-57 win catapults the Tigers into a deep run through the tournament!

     Also, the men’s baseball team picked up the pieces after a disappointing weekend getting swept by Vanderbilt. The team knocked out a couple of mid-week wins over Alabama State and Southern Miss, to run their overall record to 15-6. With tough teams like Vandy and LSU as SEC openers, the team can’t afford to drop those wins during the week, something last year’s team did frequently. We’ll be pulling hard for the Tigers against LSU this weekend in Louisiana.

Auburn Falls to 3-27 in SEC Play This Academic Year… And No One Seems to Care

By Posted on: March 18th, 2013 in Baseball, Basketball, Football 18 Comments »

jacobs sideburnsReflecting on another stellar week of Auburn Athletics, I sat with a group of friends this weekend and tried to put into prospective how bad the situation is on the Plains. In case you missed it, and I pray that you did, Auburn was swept in a three game series by Vanderbilt at Plainsman Park.

On Friday, athletic director Jay Jacobs gave a vote of confidence to embattled basketball coach Tony Barbee. Coming off the worst season in Auburn history, and you know it’s monumental when you say that, Jacobs has pledged to assist Barbee in the rebuilding process.

“Coach Barbee and I will continue to work together to support our basketball program at the highest level so we can give our fans the kind of program they expect and deserve,” said Jacobs.

I don’t know about you, but I feel 100% better knowing that Jay is rolling up his sleeves and going to work on behalf of Auburn people everywhere. Meanwhile, Auburn president Jay Gogue was seen Friday walking on campus whistling Zippity Doo Dah.

Vanderbilt has long been the gold standard for futility in the SEC. As my friends discovered over a few cold beers this weekend, that’s no longer the case. Here are a few sobering stats to get you thinking:

  • Auburn now stands 3-27 in the SEC this academic school year in football, basketball and baseball. With Auburn traveling to Baton Rouge on Friday, it stands to get worse.
  • The Tigers have lost eight consecutive basketball games to Vanderbilt.
  • Auburn baseball has lost five of the last six games against the Commodores. Granted, Vandy is a top five team, but that begs the question, ‘Why not Auburn?’
  • Auburn has been outscored by Georgia and Alabama 146-21 over the last two seasons in football.
  • The Tigers have not scored an offensive touchdown against Bama since Phillip Lutzenkirchen did his dance in the end-zone of Bryant Denny Stadium in 2010.

These were just a few depressing nuggets that Miller Lite pulled out of us on a warm spring night. We decided to stop there in case anyone became suicidal. After all, we had one friend whose wife just left him. But rightfully so, he was more depressed about the situation at Auburn. 

I promise I’ll stop beating this dead horse at some point. I know it’s depressing to read this stuff on a Monday. I’m just stunned that Auburn people with deep pockets seem not to care.

It’s like they’ve double-downed on Gus Malzahn and pray that he makes everything right for all sports. The apathy is disturbing. Most everyone seems optimistic about football, but any success this fall will only mask the bigger issues taking place in the athletic department.

I’ll ask again, “Does anyone care?”

Auburn Fails to Give Pitchers Run Support, Falls to Dores 8-1

By Posted on: March 17th, 2013 in Baseball Comments Off
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Michael O’Neal took the loss for Tigers despite another strong performance.

Auburn’s batters were confounded by some of the best pitchers in the country Saturday and the Auburn Tigers stranded 11 base runners in an 8-1 loss to the No.2 Vanderbilt Commodores.

However, the Vandy pitchers were not entirely on their game, issuing nine walks to the Tigers in their game at Samford Stadium. The Tigers had 4 hits, but they came in the last three innings when it was too little too late.

Starting pitcher, Michael O’Neal (4-1) had a solid outing through the first six innings but couldn’t get any run support from the offense. He sat down the first nine batters he faced, giving the Auburn pitching staff 29 consecutive batters retired going back to Friday night’s game.

O’Neal  held the Dores scoreless till the fifth inning, which ended his streak of consecutive shutout innings at 13 2/3 innings. He  gave the Tigers a chance, but no pitcher can get it done when his offense leaves that many runners on base. After Michael was pulled for issuing a walk in the seventh, things went downhill for the Plainsmen.

Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski said, “It’s a little frustrating. We had nine free bases and had guys in scoring position, we just unfortunately weren’t able to come up with a big hit in those situations.”

It’s important that the Tigers get a win in the final game of the series today or take two of three from LSU next week. Otherwise Auburn will be in a hole going forward in league play.

Auburn will try to avoid the sweep today at 1p.m. Rocky McCord (2-0) will be on the mound for Auburn while Vandy will start south paw Philip Pfeifer (2-0). The game will be broadcast on the Auburn Baseball Radio Network.

Go Tigers, beat the Dores!

UPDATE: After falling into a 7-1 hole, Tigers mustered a furious rally but came up short; losing to Vanderbilt 8-6. Auburn’s next game will be against Alabama State Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Auburn Looking to Even Series Against Vandy

By Posted on: March 16th, 2013 in Baseball Comments Off
513be95eb04cd.image-Micahel O'Neal

                                      Michael O’Neal will start second game of the series.

“Good teams are going to take advantage of some mistakes. We made some mistakes and they took advantage of it and that was the difference in the ballgame.” That’s the way Auburn Coach John Pawlowski described Auburn’s  loss to Vanderbilt last night at  Plainsman Park.

The coach added, “The difference was they had a couple of big swings and the second home run was obviously the determining factor in the game,” However, The Tigers proved they belonged on the field with the No.2 team in the nation.

The score was not indicative of the way the unranked Tigers played. Vandy went up 5-0 early on, off of 2 homers that produced 4 runs. But Connor Harrell’s fifth home run of the season was the last hit allowed by the Auburn pitching staff.

Auburn pitchers Daniel Koger, Jay Wade and Will Kendall combined to retire the final 20 Vanderbilt hitters in order. Koger finished the game allowing five runs on five hits and two walks in six innings while Wade threw two perfect innings behind him and Kendall had a 1-2-3 ninth, including two strike outs.

The Tigers rallied late and was one hitter away from getting the tying run to the plate after being down 5-0.

The loss snaps Auburn’s winning streak at seven and drops the team’s record to 13-4, 0-1 SEC while Vanderbilt is now 17-2, 1-0 SEC.

The Tigers will be looking to even the series at 2:15 p.m. today. Left-hander Michael O’Neal (4-0) will be the starter for Auburn while Vanderbilt will counter with  right-hander Tyler Beede (4-0). The game will be televised on SportSouth and will also be available on the Auburn Baseball Radio Network.

Let’s Go Tigers!!

UPDATE:
Auburn stranded 11 batters and failed to give pitchers run support as Vandy won game two  8-1. Sunday’s final game of the series will be at 1p.m. CST.

Real Auburn Baseball Season Begins Tonight

By Posted on: March 15th, 2013 in Baseball 1 Comment »

                              
                      South paw, Daniel Koger will be on he mound for Auburn’s opening SEC game

This time last year, Auburn Baseball prepared to enter South Eastern Conference play with a 10-7 record. This year the Tigers are 13-3 on the eve of the 2013 SEC season. Admittedly some of that success is due in part to scheduling but most of it is due to playing some pretty good baseball.

The Tigers won their seventh straight this past weekend with an 8-3 win over Kennesaw State. It was Auburn’s third straight error free game. And that’s a stat that must be sustained to be competitive in the SEC West.

Also last season Auburn ended the year with a 31-28 record and made their third straight SEC Tournament appearance. Yet the Plainsmen were left out of the NCAA’s Big Dance after a close 5-3 loss to Defending National Champion South Carolina.

Auburn had enough wins but needed a better RPI; something that may have happened had the Tigers done as well in 2012 as they have so far this year against the non conference part of the schedule.
 
A weaker out-of-conference schedule can be a crap shoot. While a team may enhance their record with wins, they may also hurt their RPI, especially if they don’t win the majority of those games.

And tonight, the real season begins for Auburn when they open SEC paly against Vanderbilt (14-2) at 7 p.m. at Plainsman Park. The Tigers couldn’t open against a more formidable opponent.

The No.2 Commodores were a consensus top three preseason pick and currently are ranked No.2 in the nation. They just don’t have any weakness from top to bottom …

The Dores are quick, can mash the ball, and play great defense.

The starting pitcher will be one of the hottest pitchers in the country, Kevin Ziomek, (4-0, 0.87 ERA) who has 46 strikeouts in 31 innings of work. Auburn will counter with sophomore Daniel Koger (0-0, 2.42 ERA).

At this point, Vandy is the odds on favorite to win the Conference and most Dore fans already have visions of Omaha in their minds. And why not? The Commodores either lead the conference or are in the top three in almost every offensive and defensive category.

While Auburn comes into the series with their best starting record in six years, none of the teams faced so far are at the level of Vanderbilt. A weak out-of-conference schedule is a two edged sword. It helps a team boost their confidence but can it help them make some headway in league play?

The next few weeks will answer that question for the Tigers as they move into their real season – the SEC season.

The good news, if there is any for the Tigers, is that since John Pawlowski took over the program four years ago, Auburn has won each of its SEC-opening series, including series wins over No. 9 Arkansas at home in 2011 and at No. 12 Ole Miss in 2012.

Nevertheless, it will be a tall assignment to keep that streak going against the No. 2 team in the nation.

Auburn Baseball off to Best Start in Six Years

By Posted on: March 12th, 2013 in Baseball 2 Comments »
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Auburn Catcher Blake Austin tags out Alabama’s Austen Smith at home plate, during Auburn’s victory in the Capital City Classic March 5,2013.


Despite low expectations from pre season pundits, the Auburn Baseball Team has been playing some pretty good baseball this spring. With a 12-3 record thus far, the Tigers are off to their best start in six years.

Since the football and basketball teams both had historic down seasons, its up to the Baseball Tigers to salvage some respect for the school’s big three sports.

The boys of the diamond  have had a particularly good week. On last Tuesday, the Tigers beat archrival Alabama 6-3 in the annual Capital City Classic in Montgomery. Then Sunday’s 6-3 win over Brown gave the Orange and Blue their second series sweep of the season.

With Sunday’s victory, Head Coach John Pawlowski passed former Tiger Coach Steve Renfroe to become the third all-time winningest coach (by wins) in Auburn history with 146.

Yet the best thing about the season so far is the performance of …


the pitching staff. Most thought that the Tiger hitting would be the team’s strength with the Tigers returning four of their top six batters from a lineup that led the SEC in batting averaging last season. However, there were serious question marks for Auburn pitching.

Yet the staff so far has an overall ERA of 2.73 and posted a 2.25 ERA in last week’s 4-0 record.  Junior Conner Kendrick started the week off by pitching six shutout innings out of the bullpen in a 6-3 win over Alabama while junior Michael O’Neal continued it with a complete game shutout of Brown.

Kendrick leads the team with 22 strikeouts and has a 0.00 ERA in 16 1/3 innings in six appearances. In addition, he has held opposing batters to a .077 batting average.

O’Neal has only given up two extra base hits in his four wins. He is carrying a 1.40 ERA and has held opponents to a batting average of .204.

Reinforcing the defense is Junior catcher Blake Austin  who was recently named to the Johnny Bench Award Watch List. Austin has thrown out five of seven base stealers, giving him a career total 25 caught stealing.

On offense,. Junior Garret Cooper has a slugging percentage of .531, with Blake Austin at .439, and  Ryan Tella at .436. Damek Tomscha has now reached base in all 15 games this season and has a .422 on base percentage.

In addition, the Tigers have a freshman sensation in Jordan Ebert. He hit his first home run Friday night and is carrying a 13 game hitting streak. And Jordan leads the team with a .404 batting average.

Now is the time in the season where the Tigers will be tested. Tonight, Auburn gets a chance for revenge of an earlier loss to Kennesaw State in a road game. However, the real season begins Friday when the Tigers open Southeastern Conference play against No. 2 Vanderbilt on Hitchcock Field at Plainsman Park.

Those low pre season opinions were highlighted by the coaches picking Auburn to finish last in the very tough SEC West. However, polls are just that – opinions. The reason you play the game is to see who really is going to win. Admittedly, there is a lot of baseball left to play – but so far, you gotta like the way the Tigers are playing.

War Eagle!