AU Baseball Analysis: Tigers Still Improving

Auburn improved to 17-2 with victories over Davidson and three wins over Purdue. Last season Auburn's 17th victory came on April 14.

Auburn, Ala.--For the first time in the Tommy Slater Era as Auburn's head baseball coach, the Auburn Tigers enter SEC play on a serious roll after another successful week that saw them defeat Davidson on Tuesday night and then sweep Purdue over the weekend to improve to 17-2 overall.

Off to its best start since the 1999 season, Auburn now turns its attention to a midweek two-game series against VMI before opening the SEC schedule on the road at Georgia next weekend.

Auburn's strength continues to be its pitching staff as the Tigers once again shut down their opponents for the week. In four games last week Auburn's pitchers allowed just nine earned runs with four coming late in Sunday's game against Purdue with the Tigers well ahead. Giving up just 34 hits, Auburn allowed just 13 total runs and struck out 33 while walking just 10.

Brett Butts had a great week for the Tigers on the mound and continues to be one of the big weapons for the Tigers out of the pen.

For the year Auburn's pitching has been impressive. Through 19 games, the team ERA is a paltry 3.05. Opponents are hitting just .246 for the year and have scored a total of just 77 runs, an average of just over four per contest. Sunday's winning pitcher, Evan Crawford, says that getting off to a good start has been fun for this team because the Tigers finally get to ride some momentum into conference play.

"It feels good," Crawford says. "All of the guys are excited. You can't say enough about being 17-2 after last year. It's real exciting. We are ready to go. We're ready to go in the SEC."

At the plate, the Tigers had a solid week, but didn't have the explosive numbers they've had recently. Auburn scored 37 runs and reached double figures in three of the four games. What makes that total remarkable is that the Tigers only hit two home runs for the week and did much of the damage playing small ball.

Slater always talks about playing offense and that's exactly what the Tigers did. In four games Auburn had 10 stolen bases and did a good job of moving runners up, bunting runners over, etc. That is a part of the game last year's team struggled with, but so far it has been a strong point for the 2007 club.

Week's Top Performer: It has to be catcher/third baseman Josh Donaldson. In Auburn's four games, he was 7-15 with a home run, three doubles, four runs scored, and seven RBI. For the season Donaldson leads the Tigers with a .408 average, seven home runs, 11 doubles and 30 RBI in just 19 games. Last year Donaldson finished with 10 home runs, 16 doubles and 42 RBI in 56 games.

Biggest Surprise: The play of sophomore Mike Bianucci in left field for the Tigers. There was no doubting the big man could hit after his freshman season when he led the Tigers with a .359 average, but his move to the outfield has been a good one for Bianucci and the team. Showing good range and a tremendous arm, he has done a solid job in left field and that has allowed the Tigers to get a better offensive team on the field. Bianucci's offense hasn't suffered either as he's hitting .377 with six home runs and 21 RBI this season.

Top Pitcher: Reliever Brett Butts continues to be lights out of the bullpen for the Tigers. In two appearances this week, Butts allowed just three hits in seven innings and didn't allow a run. He struck out seven and didn't walk a batter in his seven innings of work.

Most Improved: He may not really the most improved because we haven't seen him very much, but Ben Jones took advantage of his chance to play this week and came out smoking. First, his pinch-hit single in the ninth inning of Friday night's game set the stage for Auburn's dramatic victory. Getting the start on Saturday and Sunday, he went 5-9 for the two days to increase his chances for playing time down the road. Last season Jones had just seven hits in 31 at-bats for the Tigers.

Auburn's Stock Report: Rising. Auburn continues to improve in all phases of the game as the Tigers get ready for a difficult week against the 12-3 VMI Keydets before going on the road at Georgia to open conference play. This week will be a test for the Tigers with five games and their first true road series of the year. If they can get through this tough stretch unscathed things will be looking up even more next week.

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