All season, Auburn has been a team that got the job done at the plate, on the mound, and in the field at opportune times. Last week none of that happened as the Tigers struggled in all three areas at key times which led to a hard week on the diamond.
Auburn's biggest struggles came at the plate last week. In the series opener against VMI, Auburn managed just four hits in the loss. The Tigers came back strong in game two with a 17-hit performance that included a Josh Donaldson walk-off two-run shot for the game-winner. That would be the highlight of the week and the next-to-last extra base hit for the Tigers as they were silenced in Athens by a strong Georgia pitching staff.
Josh Donaldson's homer against VMI was the highlight of the week for the Tigers.
Playing without slugger Mike Bianucci against Georgia because of the flu, Auburn couldn't get anything going offensively against the Bulldogs, managing just 24 hits in three games and a lone double in three games. All season long the Tigers had been good about earning walks and not striking out as often as last season. Last week that again reared its ugly head as Auburn struck out 31 times for the week with 21 coming in the three games against Georgia. The Tigers only earned 14 walks over that span and just seven from Bulldog pitchers.
That, coupled with a batting average of .265 for the week and .242 for the weekend, makes for a tough offensive week. The only bright spot was the continued good play of Donaldson. Despite playing without Bianucci behind him in the order, Donaldson went 8-21 on the week with a home run, three RBI and two runs scored.
Unfortunately, it wasn't just the offense that struggled last week for the Tigers. The pitching staff had just as many problems and, even though it is only one week into the SEC schedule and the Tigers pitched well enough to win all three games against Georgia, it is cause for concern down the road. Auburn's starting pitchers have been solid this season but haven't pitched deep into many games, forcing the relievers to pitch early and often in games. Auburn's last starting pitcher to pitch six full innings of work was Bryan Woodall back on Feb. 23 against Jacksonville in Mobile. That had been fine to this point because Auburn's bullpen was lights out through the first 19 games of the season.
Things changed this week and they changed in a big way. After allowing just 59 hits, 24 runs and 14 earned runs in 80 1/3 innings to start the season, Auburn's bullpen had a rough week last week. In 19 1/3 innings, Tiger relievers allowed 24 hits, 14 runs, 10 earned runs and walked 13 batters. In the 80+ innings to start the year, Auburn relievers had issued just 21 total walks. If Auburn's starters don't begin to get deeper into games and soon, this could be a developing trend instead of a one-week happening.
This week the Tigers don't have any midweek games, but will take on the Florida Gators in the SEC home opener beginning Friday night at 6 p.m. CDT. Game times are 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. The first two games will be aired by the Sunshine Network while CSS will have both the Saturday and Sunday contests.
Week's Top Performer: It would have to again be Josh Donaldson. He had eight of Auburn's 45 hits for the five games and his home run in the bottom of the ninth against VMI earned the Tigers their only win of the week.
Biggest Surprise: It wasn't Auburn's struggles early in the week to a solid VMI club, it was getting swept at Georgia by a Bulldog club fighting to try to get back to .500 this season. Although they had played a tough schedule, Georgia is a team still trying to find an offensive identity. Over the weekend they pitched well enough to win without it against the Tigers.
Top Pitcher: Sophomore Bryan Woodall pitched well enough to win in the series opener Friday night at Georgia, allowing two runs in five innings of work.
Auburn's Stock Report: It's a down trend for the Tigers. Even though Auburn is just 1/10 of the way into SEC play, this weekend is a huge series for the Tigers. Winning two of three is a almost a must at home after being swept on the road to open the year. One thing is certain, in the SEC the year will only get tougher.