From the very beginning of this series, we’ve been saying the same thing, week in, week out, every Monday (or Tuesday or, that one time, Wednesday): Auburn is one of the best teams in the SEC. Maybe not the best. But as close to it as anyone who is not South Carolina can claim to be. And eventually, thanks to better luck and an easier schedule, the standings would reflect that.
And despite Auburn’s Friday night loss to the visiting Vols, after the 18-0 beatdown Saturday and 9-2 cruise-job Sunday, they finally do. Arkansas finally got around to facing the most consistent team in the league in the Gamecocks and even at home, managed to drop all three games; Ole Miss has finally started to see the other statistical shoe drop and lost two of three in Tuscaloosa. Result: not only a clinched trip to Hoover, but a perch all alone atop the SEC West standings, 17-11 and a game ahead of both the Hogs and Rebels.
But can they stay there through the SEC’s final weekend? How else might the final league standings shake out? It’s time to turn one more time to the SEC baseball Pythagorean win-loss rankings. Last week’s edition is here; for information on the formula used and what the point is, click here or here.
@Florida d. Georgia: 4-3, 4-3, 9-3
@Auburn d. Tennessee: 3-9, 18-0, 9-2
South Carolina d. @Arkansas: 3-2, 5-0, 5-3
@Kentucky d. LSU: 11-9, 9-4, 6-4
@Alabama d. Ole Miss: 4-5, 4-1, 6-3
Vanderbilt d. @Miss. St.: 13-8, 13-7, 14-4
Teams are ranked by their collected Pythagorean wins (or “expected” wins), followed by their actual wins, difference off the Pythag (i.e. how lucky or unlucky they’ve been), and runs scored/runs allowed.
1. South Carolina, 18.692. (Actual W’s: 20, +1.308 difference, RS/RA = 180/120)
2. Auburn, 18.428 (W’s: 17, -1.428, 239/163)
3. Vanderbilt, 16.457 (W’s: 15, -1.457, 161/116)
Note here that Vandy has fewer Pythagorean wins than Florida or Arkansas, but that’s because they’ve played two fewer games after the Nashville flooding. They rank higher because their Pythagorean win percentage is better and if they’d played 27 games instead of 25, they’d be at around 17.7+ wins.
4. Florida, 17.597 (W’s: 20, +2.403, 171/125)
5. Arkansas, 17.391 (W’s: 16, -1.391, 187/139)
6. LSU, 13.155 (W’s: 12, -1.155, 193/198)
7. Kentucky, 12.775 (W’s: 12, -.775, 181/191)
8. Ole Miss, 12.641 (W’s: 16, +3.359, 152/162)
9. Tennessee, 12.188 (W’s: 12, -.188, 166/183)
10. Alabama, 12.083 (W’s: 12, -.083, 171/190)
11. Miss. St., 8.613 (W’s: 5, -3.613, 180/263)
12. Georgia, 4.764 (W’s: 3, -1.764, 115/237)
— Gah, what a disastrous weekend that was for Arkansas. They go from 1st to 5th according to the Pythag and of course, more importantly, from controlling their own destiny in the West to needing a series win at a potentially-superior Vanderbilt team just to stay in the hunt.
— For Auburn, it looks like winning this weekend’s series would do the trick in terms of clinching the West. Even if the Hogs swept Vandy (unlikely), both teams would finish on 19 wins and Auburn would take the division thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Even in the event Auburn lost the series, as long as they picked up one victory they could still have a claim if Arkansas took two of three in Nashville; that would leave the Tigers, Rebels, and Hogs all sitting on 18 wins and no way to break the tie head-to-head. (All three would have gone 1-1 against the other two, if that makes sense.) I don’t know what the next tiebreaker is or where to look it up; if someone wants to help out in the comments, that’d be cool. UPDATE: Ole Miss would end up winning out after Arkansas was eliminated from the tiebreak due to the sweep against Carolina. See below.
Though winning two in Oxford won’t be easy, honestly, Auburn can’t have asked for a whole lot more, I don’t think. They get one series against a level of competition not all that different from the Kentucky and Tennessee teams they’ve already taken 2 of 3 from, and markedly worse than the Arkansas team they managed the same against. And if they get those two, they win the division. Simple. There’s a reason I said last week that if Pythag was going to pick a winner in the West heading into last weekend, it would have picked the Tigers.
— Of course, it would have been nice if the Rebels had dropped just one close game somewhere along the line to make things all but academic. Ole Miss is a fairly ridiculous 11-0 in games decided by two runs or less, a just-as-ridiculous 8-0 in one-run contests.
Admittedly, that may not be entirely luck. A Rebel fan going by the handle rebel84 had this to say in response to last week’s rankings:
I’ve figured out why we are such an outlier in these rankings. It’s 3 reasons.
1) We don’t hit well at all, near the bottom of the SEC in every important hitting category.
2) We have a really good closer.
3) The rest of our bullpen is really bad.
So, in short, what this leads to is a lot of low scoring, close games for us, in general, especially because our starters have been pretty good. The difference comes in the times that we have the 3-2 lead the time we have the 3-2 deficit.
When we’re down, or tied, in a game, we go to other relievers, who generally suck and get knocked around, turning close games into games decided by 3 runs or more.
When we’re up by 1 or 2 runs, we bring in our closer, who is generally lights out. Our bats don’t extend the lead, because they suck, and we end up winning 1 or 2 run games.
I’m enough of a geek to think “luck” still plays its part–11-0?–but I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in this. Which makes Auburn’s game plan brutally simple: jump on the starters, get in to the weak side of Ole Miss’s bullpen, and cruise. Don’t let Brett Huber–the closer in question here, who has 10 saves on the season and held Alabama hitless over two innings to ice Ole Miss’s lone win over the weekend–come in with a lead.
— Pythag is usually pretty sharp, I think, but even it can’t foresee things like “LSU completely collapses and Kentucky winds up taking 5 of 6 from Carolina and the Bayou Bengals.” The ‘Cats have to be the substantial favorite now to snag the last trip to Hoover, what with their final series coming against Georgia as Tennessee and Alabama only eliminate each other.
— Then again, the way they’re playing, can we count on LSU to get it done against Miss. St.? The Bulldogs are bad, but they’re not that bad, and they’re long since due to pull out a close game somewhere along the line.
Another point about LSU: a few weeks ago I opined that the league had divided itself into two perfect six-team groups of haves and have-nots. Now? It’s 5 on one side, 7 on the other. The gap between the No. 5 Hogs and No. 6 Tigers is twice as wide as the gap between LSU and No. 10 Tide.
— Florida vs. Carolina, straight-up, for the overall SEC title. Both teams have been on the fortunate side, but one’s been way more fortunate than the other. So I’d back the ‘Cocks.
— We’ll see how things play out next week–if Ole Miss and the Gators each win their divisions on the strength of two one-run victories I’ll eat my words–but it looks like luck won’t play much of a role in deciding the final standings. Only three teams are more than a game-and-half ahead or behind of their Pythag, and one of those is Miss. St.
— Lastly, a shout-out to these Auburn Tigers. The streak is over, the drought is snapped, the past really is the past. War Eagle, gentlemen.
Photo by Leffie Dailey.