Auburn, Ala.--When the Auburn Tigers (11-10, 1-2) take the field this weekend in the first of three games against the Arkansas Razorbacks (15-6, 0-3) at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville, it will be with one of the hottest offenses in the country. Scoring runs in bunches the last two weeks, Coach Butch Thompson’s team is hoping to continue that this weekend against what will be a tough Arkansas team.
“It has been fun,” Thompson said. “It has been amazing. It’s still so early, but at times this stretch here has been as good on offense as I can remember being a part of as an assistant coach, anytime in my time being in the SEC for 15 years. It’s as good a one-two-three-four punch, I’ll extend it to four hitters, as I’ve seen.”
For Auburn to come away with the series win the offense will likely have to continue to play well. That starts at the top of the order with center fielder Anfernee Grier, left fielder Josh Palacios, second baseman Jordan Ebert and first baseman Niko Buentello comprising one of the top 1-4 lineups in the country so far this season.
Batting .400 in his first season at Auburn, Buentello is tied with Grier for the team lead with six home runs and also leads the way with 34 RBI in just 21 games. Hitting .358 with 19 runs scored, Ebert has been solid in the three-hole for the Tigers as well, but it has been Grier and Palacios that have set the tone for Auburn.
“I think everybody is just playing with confidence right now,” Grier said of the offense. “With everybody hitting it makes it easier as a hitter because hitting is contagious. I think everybody is playing loose and playing with confidence and that’s making the game fun.”
Leading the SEC with a .433 average and adding a pair of home runs, eight doubles and 15 runs batted in, Palacios has been a huge boost for Auburn since arriving from junior college. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., the left fielder has been as hot as anyone in the country recently and his numbers back that up.
Josh Palacios watches one of his two home runs this season
Over his last nine games Palacios has gone from hitting .300 to his current number on the strength of a 24-40 stretch (.600). He has scored 16 of his 26 runs in the last nine games alone and has brought energy and fire to the Auburn lineup.
Not to be outdone, Grier is just behind Palacios with a .432 average and leads the country in runs scored with 34 this season. Adding 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts, Grier’s combination of power and speed at the top of the order has been impressive to watch.
Now with the duo going back and forth with impressive game after impressive game, both say it has become somewhat of an internal battle to see which one can top the other. That has helped them and the entire Auburn offense take things to another level.
“I have to compete against him right now,” Grier said. “He’s making me step up my game. It’s fun. We go out and have a good time in the game and just live with the results at the end of the day.” For Palacios the battle with Grier is just one of the things that is driving his success at the plate right now. With two very good hitters behind him, Palacios said it makes teams have to pitch to him and that’s always a plus.
“That drives us a lot because it’s good, friendly competition,” Palacios added. “He goes up there and gets a hit and I feel like I’ve got to go up there and do something better or at least get a hit and move him over.
“It really helps us that Ebert and Niko are behind me as well. Those guys, they’re forced to pitch to me because I’ve got those guys behind me. All of us combined together make it really hard to pitch to our team.”
Game times for the weekend series at Arkansas are scheduled for 6:35 p.m. on Friday, 6:05 p.m. on Saturday and 1:05 p.m. on Sunday.