One of the SEC's best teams on the mound, the Bulldogs will present a challenge for the Tigers at the plate.
Led by SEC Co-Player of the Week Ryan Tella and his .500 batting average in SEC play, the Tigers have been getting better contribution up and down the lineup in recent weeks thanks to increased production in the middle of the order.
A highly-rated prospect coming out of high school, third baseman Zach Alvord sat behind Casey McElroy at shortstop last season and waited his turn. He did get some playing time, but struggled against quality pitching as he hit just .197 in 71 at-bats. That continued early in 2012 when he made the move to the hot corner, but recently he has started to come into his own as a college hitter.
Entering the Saturday game against Ole Miss three weeks ago Alvord was hitting just .255, but on that day he went 2-4 and hit a grand slam in the Auburn win. Since that Saturday the third baseman is 10-27 with two home runs and 11 RBI and has raised his average to .307. Pawlowski said Alvord has matured a great deal since last year and that is playing out on the field.
"I think that's a good word, maturity," Pawlowski said. "He came in with a lot of accolades and a lot of ability. Sometimes guys mature and develop at different rates. I think we're just starting to scratch the surface of what he can be offensively.
"He hit a big home run for us the other day. Against Ole Miss he had a big home run too. He's hitting the ball the other way and I think he's starting to get a little more comfortable at third base. He's starting to settle in to be the player we thought he could be."
Alvord isn't the only player who has picked up his game in recent weeks. Starting strong in his first year out of junior college, first baseman Garrett Cooper hit a lull one month into the season with his average dipping down to .270 before the Tigers took on Belmont at home. Going 4-10 that weekend with a home run, Cooper has exploded since then with hits in 10 out of 11 games. With 15 hits in 44 at-bats during the stretch he has his average up to .321.
Those two bats in the middle of the order along with Justin Bryant have given this Auburn offense some punch to go along with the speed at the top of the order. Pawlowski said that has been big for his team.
"Justin Bryant is starting to get some at-bats in and we know from two years ago the type of offensive player he can be," Pawlowski said. "I think you get Cooper going and Zach going and Justin Bryant starting to see it better, that really helps. It provides a little more stability in the lineup.
"We're not going to score 10 runs every night, but what we are going to do is when we have guys in scoring position it allows us a little more consistency and the opportunity to drive guys in."
Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 7 p.m. CDT on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.