There’s no need to exaggerate how big tonight’s Auburn baseball game and the weekend’s Auburn baseball series against Ole Miss is, is there? It’s the biggest game and biggest series since 2003, period, end of story.
So it’s time for a round of links and a few assorted thoughts to get you ready. Enjoy.
— The basics: the series pits the nation’s No. 16 and No. 17-ranked teams (Auburn’s one spot ahead), both of which come in with identical 36-17 overall records. Game time is 6:30 p.m. central tonight and tomorrow, 4 p.m. Saturday. The series is moved up a day from the usual Fri.-Sat.-Sun. configuration to accommodate the SEC tournament.
— As usual, probably your most comprehensive preview is Kevin’s at PPL. His concluding thoughts:
Tonight is the key for Auburn. I honestly, think Pawlowski is using the outcome of this game to determine the rest of the rotation. If Auburn can steal a win tonight, then Cole Nelson could go Friday. If Auburn loses? Probably Grant Dayton. (My thinking could be flip flopped but I think you get the point) It’s do or die for Auburn and I have full confidence that if Auburn wins one game Thursday or Friday then they can win the series. Ole Miss has just had too many problems on Sundays (Saturday this weekend).
Makes sense. He’s predicting Auburn to take two of three.
— As for the stakes, despite what you might have read elsewhere, Auburn will win the SEC West if they take two from the Rebels. Arkansas could win a share of the division crown by sweeping Vanderbilt, but Auburn would win the head-to-head tiebreaker and earn the top West seed at the SEC Tournament anyway. (The Hogs aren’t very likely to sweep up in Nashville anyway.) If Auburn does win the series, any Vandy win gives them the division outright.
There’s a flip side, however; if Auburn loses two of three, they have no way of winning the division. They would lose a head-to-head tiebreak with Ole Miss, obviously, and even if there’s a three-way tie at the top, Arkansas’s sweep at the hands of South Carolina would eliminate them from the tiebreak and reduce it to the same head-to-head battle between the Rebels and Tigers.
So: better win, Auburn, and not just because of the divisional title. I’ll let Kevin explain:
For the regional hosting spot? Auburn has to win the west. Yes, there is a possibility they could sneak in if they drop the series to Ole Miss (but they’d need a good showing in Hoover). Since the NCAA has adopted their new CWS format (1999) The SEC West Champion has always hosted a regional. Simple as that.
That would appear to be the case again this year. The projection consensus seems to be that four SEC teams will get regional hosting privileges, with a fifth likely to draw a top seed but get shipped to a regional hosted by Big East champion Connecticut. Two of those four teams will be Florida and South Carolina. A third will be whichever team wins the Vandy-Arkansas series.
The fourth? Probably whichever team wins the Auburn-Ole Miss series, since they’ll move past the Vandy-Arkansas loser in the pecking order, at the minimum.
So: division title, better seed at SEC Tournament, hosted regional vs. potential trip to Connecticut, easier/harder path to Super Regional and Omaha. Think we’ve got enough on the line?
–Speaking of that SEC tourney seed, Andy Bitter’s got a useful look at the current seed status for the league. The difference between getting the second seed vs. the 4th or 5th is the difference in playing the likes of Kentucky, Tennessee, or reeling LSU vs. playing Arkansas or Vandy. Yikes.
— Couple of free links from AuburnUndercover, one a look at outstanding Ole Miss game 1 starter Drew Pomeranz, the other a more general preview that shows just how “staggering” Auburn’s offensive numbers are:
Auburn’s .355 team batting average is far ahead of second-place Vanderbilt’s .319. Its school-record 106 home runs dwarfs Kentucky’s 80. Auburn also leads the SEC in slugging percentage, runs scored, runs batted in, on-base percentage, hits and total bases. It is second in doubles and second in triples and, remarkably, second in sacrifice bunts.
Hunter Morris is fifth in the league with a .398 batting average and leads in home runs with 20. Dan Gamache is right behind him with a .397 batting average. Brian Fletcher is hitting .368 and leads the league with 57 runs batted in. He has 18 home runs, tied for second behind Morris. Every Tiger regular is hitting .327 or better.
Since missing the first 28 games of the season with a high ankle sprain, Mummey has been on the nation’s hotter hitters. He has hit five home runs in his past three games. He is hitting .371 with 14 home runs in 25 games.
— One last link: if you’re stuck following the game on the Internet, you’ll have to follow the AUfficial site’s Gametracker for stats and such, but Kevin’s Twitter is probably the fastest place to get updates.
— If Auburn loses tonight, it won’t be time to panic. Auburn’s dropped Game 1 several times and come back to win the series, and there have been multiple instances of the Rebels winning Game 1 behind Pomeranz and dropping the other two to lose a series.
However: if Auburn can manage a win tonight, it would be huge, huge, huge. The Rebels are so much weaker on Saturday and Sunday–a collective .500 vs. 7-2 on Fridays–that the odds of Auburn’s sluggers losing both Game 2 and Game 3 against weaker pitching seem awfully, awfully long. The Rebels could win tonight, split the other two, and take the series; Auburn could lose tonight, sweep the other two, and win the series. But I have a hard time seeing the Rebels lose tonight and still managing to walk away series winners.
So tonight is critical, and Auburn should go for the throat … by staying patient, as Kevin suggests. Pomeranz has his reputation for a reason, but he just hasn’t been quite as sharp lately. Against LSU he walked nine batters in only three innings and got the early hook; against Arkansas he gave up nine hits and four earned runs in his 6.2 innings; against ‘Bama he gave up just one hit and struck out nine but also issued seven walks, and again lasted only five innings. And none of those teams, of course, are remotely as explosive at the plate as Auburn.
If the Tigers can force Pomeranz to work, get some runners on base and a run here or there, and get him off the mound after only five innings or so, they’ll be in great shape. Aside from lights-out closer Brett Huber, the Rebels don’t have much in the bullpen … not enough, most likely, to hold Auburn at bay until Huber can seal the deal. As discussed earlier this week in this space, the Rebels have thrived in tight games because they’ve gotten Huber a slim lead and he’s done the rest. Auburn can’t let that happen.
— I’m not sure playing on the road is going to hurt Auburn or help the Rebels all that much. Ole Miss does have the home sweep of LSU and the series win over Florida in Oxford, but more recently they lost two of three in convincing fashion to Arkansas, and earlier lost a home series to Tennessee. Auburn’s most inexplicable series result of the SEC season–the loss to the Tide–came on the road, but so did the dominating sweep of Georgia, a razor-thin series loss to a powerful Vandy team, and the series win over the Hogs. Sure, I wish the series was at Plainsman Park, but the game’s going to be decided by the guys on the field, not where said field is located.
— Should I make a prediction? I’d be pretty cowardly, after saying for so many weeks that Auburn was underrated and the lucky-lucky-lucky Rebels were overrated, if I didn’t. I believe, as I’ve believed for a while, that Auburn is simply the better team in this matchup and I believe they’ll take two of three.
Photo by Leffie Dailey.