Facing a pitching staff with a team ERA of 3.70, eighth in the SEC, Auburn should have plenty of opportunities to put runs on the board this weekend. When you delve deeper into the numbers for the Bulldogs things look even more promising for the Tigers. In conference games only Mississippi State’s team ERA is a whopping 6.92, last in the league.
The only problem is Auburn’s offense has also dropped off dramatically in SEC play after series against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt the first two weeks. Batting just .237 as a team in games with the second-fewest runs scored in the first six league games, the Tigers know it is time to put it all together if they hope to make a run at the postseason and it starts this weekend.
“We’ve taken the last few days of practice to really get our minds right,” shortstop Cody Nulph said. “The last few games have been tough ones for us, but we haven’t been set back. We’re just as determined as we were before. We haven’t lost a step. We’ve gotten better every day.
"We know we’re a good team and we can compete with anybody," the juco transfer said. "I think the series against Vanderbilt is a perfect example. We had a game right in our grasp, we didn’t close it, but we know we’re a team that can play with anybody.”
Getting an introduction to life in the SEC has been tough for Nulph so far with just two hits in 26 at-bats (.077) against the Aggies and Commodores. Sam Gillikin leads the way with a .385 average with Daniel Robert (.364), Anfernee Grier (.346) and Jordan Ebert (.305) the only regulars hitting above .300 through two series.
While he is hitting just .214 against league foes, redshirt sophomore Kyler Deese has come up with some big hits and leads the team with six RBI. Despite getting just two hits in 12 at-bats, second baseman Melvin Gray has done some good things as well. With Damon Haecker getting a look in the outfield to keep Deese and Gray in the lineup, it makes Ebert perhaps the odd-man out this weekend against the Bulldogs.
“The main reason for Haecker going to the outfield is this--Melvin is playing great at second base,” Golloway said. “That is what it is. Then you go to third base and start looking at Kyler Deese and the way he can still hit left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching. He’s been such a sparkplug and has played nothing but great. We looked at both of them as potential guys that could play in the outfield. Then the decision was made that Haecker probably plays a little bit better in the outfield than Deese and Deese is doing a good job. Both are good third basemen.
“I like the fact that Damon Haecker is really a quarterback in the infield, but Cody Nulph is starting to take over a little bit and Melvin is very good with his knowledge of the game," Golloway added. "We feel good about our infield so we moved Damon to the outfield because we felt like athletically we would be better with him than what we had at the time. It didn’t have a lot to do with the bats because Ebert’s bat stayed in the lineup.”
Another move the Tigers made on Tuesday night that could get more play this weekend is J.J. Shaffer in center field with Grier moving back to right. Hitting .333 this season, but just .091 in SEC play, Shaffer could give Auburn more of a defensive outfield with the ability to run down balls in center field. That remains as another option this weekend for the Tigers in Starkville.
Game times for the series are 6:30 p.m. CDT on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. All games can be seen on SEC Network+.