With just nine SEC games remaining and with the Tigers probably needing at least six wins to make a serious run at NCAA Tournament play, the time is now or never for the 2013 Tigers.
"All three of our conference series left--Ole Miss, Florida and Arkansas--are all quality opponents," Coach John Pawlowski says. "I have told our team this and I'll continue to reiterate it to them, it's not necessarily who but how we play. It's real important for our team to understand that.
"We know we're going to get everyone's best effort in this league and it doesn't matter who you play," the coach says. "We have got to be able to do the things we do to be successful. This will be a huge weekend for us against a very good Ole Miss team."
The first order of business for the Tigers is to get the offense back on track. When talking about Auburn's offense right now in SEC play the numbers tell the story of why the team is 7-14 in league play and in jeopardy of not being one of the 12 teams that qualifies for the SEC Tournament.
This season Auburn has scored two runs or less in 11 of the 21 conference games and has scored a total of just 11 runs in its last seven SEC contests.
"We've pitched well enough, but we've had some breakdowns in particular innings that have hurt us," Pawlowski says. "We have to be able to pitch through some of that because some of it is self-inflicted. I thought at Missouri this past weekend we played solid defense.
"The thing right now is the confidence in our offense," he adds. "This past weekend the top of the order just didn't get on. Consequently, Cullen Wacker is leading off several innings or hitting with two outs and nobody on. We have to get some stuff going at the top of the order and gain some confidence against a very good Ole Miss pitching staff."
Coach John Pawlowski
Pawlowski says to expect adjustments in the batting order with second baseman Jordan Ebert dropping down in the line and shortstop Dan Glevenyak making a return to the starting lineup and likely batting second. Glevenyak hit .319 last year, but his currently at .227. He has started 35 of his team's 43 games this season.
"It's just frustrating--really frustrating," Pawlowski says of his team's offensive struggles that include a streak of failing to get a hit the last 19 times the Tigers loaded the bases. That happened twice as the Tigers lost two of three games at Missouri.
"We need something good to happen and shine the light on the program this weekend," the coach says.
It hasn't been all bad for Auburn's offense as seniors Garrett Cooper and Cullen Wacker have both swung the bat well recently. Hitting .347, Cooper leads Auburn with six home runs, 33 RBI and 27 walks plus he has been hit by a team-leading seven pitches. Second on the team in hitting with a .340 average, Wacker has two home runs and 29 RBI.
Garrett Cooper leads the Tigers in runs batted in this season and has a team-best .469 on-base percentage.
Auburn's offense will need to hit on all cylinders against an Ole Miss pitching staff that is fourth in the league with a 2.54 earned run average. Leading the way is Friday night starter Bobby Wahl and his 8-0 record for the Rebels, who are 11-10 in SEC games and 32-14 overall. A former closer, Wahl has an ERA of just 1.22 this season and is holding opponents to a batting average of .182.
"Ole Miss is a very talented team and a team that has some tremendous arms on the mound," says Pawlowski, who adds, "I think the biggest thing is knowing that we get an opportunity to play at home. We certainly look forward to it."
On the mound the Tigers will counter with junior left-hander Conner Kendrick on Friday night and fellow junior Michael O'Neal on Saturday.
Earning his first SEC win last week at Missouri, Kendrick is 3-2 on the season with an ERA of just 1.94. Looking to become the first Auburn pitcher to win nine games since 2003, O'Neal enters the weekend 8-3 with a 2.34 earned run average.
Michael O'Neal's eight wins are twice as many as any other pitcher on the Auburn staff.
The Tigers, who are 25-18 overall, are expected to send sophomore Daniel Koger to the mound on Sunday. He's currently 0-2 with a 4.04 ERA. However, Pawlowski notes that any pitcher on the roster with the exception of Saturday starter O'Neal could end up playing on Friday if they are needed to help the Tigers secure a much needed victory.
Despite final exams taking place this week, Pawlowski says the Tigers have had good practices working around the players' schedules.
Game times for the series are set for 6 p.m. CDT on Friday, 2:15 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday's game will be televised on Fox Sports South. The all-time series between the Tigers and Rebels is tied a 73-73-1.