Tigers, Others Playing For Position

Columnist Phillip Marshall takes a look at where the Tigers stand in baseball going into the final week of the regular season.

It's difficult sometimes for folks in these parts to avoid looking at other sports the same way they look at football. If one football team beats another by five touchdowns, that probably means the team that won is substantially better than the team that lost. It's a black mark on a season record that can't be removed. But in other sports, that's not necessarily true. And in no sport does margin of victory mean less than in baseball. Truth is, it can be better to lose in a blowout and not waste the best of your bullpen than to lose a close game.

That football mentality said Auburn's 20-3 loss to LSU on Saturday was a disaster. It wasn't. The Tigers bounced right back to win 14-8 on Sunday. When the Tigers look back at last weekend's series, it won't be the 20-3 loss that eats at them. It will be the 6-5 loss Friday when they had the go-ahead runs on base in the top of the ninth inning. Anyway, in the end, the Tigers got as much as most would have expected out of a weekend in Baton Rouge. They head into the final weekend of the regular season against Ole Miss at Plainsman Park in position to accomplish big things.

Winning the championship is probably out of the question. For that to happen, the Tigers would have to sweep Ole Miss and Arkansas would have to sweep LSU in Fayetteville. It could happen, but the odds are very long. But, in reality, winning a conference or division championship is a secondary goal in baseball. LSU coach Smoke Laval said as much before last weekend's series. The goal is to get to Omaha, and with a strong performance this weekend, Auburn could be in position to earn its way there without ever leaving Plainsman Park.

Arnold Hughey and the Tigers will take on Ole Miss this weekend at Plainsman Park.

With two wins over Ole Miss, the Tigers would probably be a shoo-in to be a host of one of 16 regionals. The top eight seeds also will be hosts for super regionals if they win their regionals. Whether two wins would be enough to get that done is uncertain. It might be, considering the difficulty of Auburn's nonconference schedule. The Tigers' RPI was second best in the country last week. Three wins--meaning a 19-11 SEC record--probably would be enough.

Based on past years, what happens in the SEC Tournament next week in Hoover probably won't have a lot of impact one way or the other for the higher seeded teams. Some lower seeded teams, particularly if they have losing SEC records, might need to win some games to squeeze into the 64-team field.

Much remains to be decided about how the SEC Tournament field will shake out. If the season ended today, LSU (18-8-1) would be the No. 1 seed. South Carolina (16-11) would be No. 2 because the East champion automatically gets that spot. Auburn (16-11) would be at No. 3, Ole Miss (16-11) at No. 4, Mississippi State (15-11) at No. 5, Alabama (13-14) at No. 6, Arkansas (13-14) at No. 7 and Tennessee (13-14) at No. 8. That picture could change dramatically next weekend. Mathematically, Auburn could come out as high as No. 1 or as low as No. 6. Vanderbilt could take Tennessee's spot if it can sweep the Vols in Nashville.

When the regional sites are announced after the SEC Tournament, the teams watching with most interest will be LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State. It is unlikely all five will be chosen. Four is a pretty good possibility and three almost a certainty. LSU will certainly be chosen, regardless of what happens this weekend at Arkansas. For the other four, what happens this weekend could be the deciding factor. South Carolina plays Georgia at home and Mississippi State plays Alabama at home.

For what it's worth, here's my projection of what it will look like when the dust clears: 1. LSU (20-9-1), 2. South Carolina (18-12), 3. Auburn (18-12), 4. Mississippi State (17-12), 5. Ole Miss (17-13), 6. Tennessee (15-15), 7. Alabama (14-16), 8. Arkansas (14-16). In the SEC Tournament, that would mean first-round games would be LSU vs. Arkansas, South Carolina vs. Alabama, Auburn vs. Tennessee and Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss. Until next time…

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