It wasn't a perfect week for the Auburn Tigers but it was close enough as they won three of four games, including two of three on the road at LSU, to inch back into the race for the SEC Tournament in Hoover. Now just two games out of eighth-place at 3-9 in conference play at 23-12 overall, Auburn finds itself in a much better position than most imagined after a terrible 0-8 start in the league. With a big trip at South Carolina coming to mark the halfway point of the league schedule, Auburn has a shot to keep the momentum going albeit a tough one against a very good Gamecock club.
Last week was huge for the Tigers as they grabbed a mid-week win over South Alabama before marching into Baton Rouge and taking the first two games of the series behind strong pitching from Paul Burnside and Taylor Thompson. Throwing the first complete game in nearly two full years for an Auburn pitcher, Burnside dominated the action. Allowing just three hits and one earned run, the sophomore gave Auburn the momentum heading into Saturday's game. From there Thompson took it home with a very strong outing in a 7-0 Auburn victory. Although they lost the final game of the series, the Tigers have to feel good after securing their first SEC series win of the year.
The amazing thing about the wins at LSU is that they came without much help from leading hitter Josh Donaldson and any from sophomore slugger Mike Bianucci. Without Bianucci in the lineup because of a sprained AC in his left shoulder, Donaldson got very little to hit and wound up just 1-10 on the weekend. Without its two big bats producing, Auburn turned to the talented freshman class to get the job done and they delivered.
Robert Brooks improved his average in SEC games by almost 70 points last weekend.
Friday night it was Robert Brooks and Joseph Sanders that did the damage as Brooks hit a grand slam for his first home run of the year to break open a close game and give Auburn the victory. Both finished the day with two hits. On Saturday fellow freshman Dustin Spruill provided the fireworks with a huge base hit that, compounded with a LSU error, cleared a bases loaded situation to propel Auburn to the easy win.
There are still two glaring areas that need addressing for the Tigers heading back on the road this week. The first is on Sundays where Justin Bristow failed to get the job done, although in his defense the Tigers committed five errors behind him. He'll likely get another chance next week at South Carolina but must pitch better and get ahead of hitters if the Tigers hope to have a chance at victory.
The second area of concern is hitting with runners on base. Auburn did a much better job of that in the first two games of the LSU series but on Sunday the Tigers left 11 runners on base. While many of those were late, Auburn gave LSU an easy win by failing to advance and score runners when the opportunities came in the middle innings.
Player of the Week: It has to be sophomore second baseman Robert Brooks. Against LSU on the weekend, the Enterprise native was 5-12 with a home run, six RBI and two runs scored.
Pitcher of the Week: While Taylor Thompson was good, Paul Burnside had the best outing for an Auburn starting pitcher in at least two seasons. He has given Auburn back-to-back strong outings since moving to the Friday night role, a good sign for down the road.
Biggest Surprise: The struggles of Josh Donaldson in SEC play. Tearing up the pre-conference schedule, Donaldson is hitting just .222 in league play and has just three RBI and no home runs in 12 games. He has to pick up his game and get a healthy Bianucci back in the lineup if Auburn hopes to continue to climb out of the cellar in the Western Division.
Stock Report: Going up. Auburn won its first SEC series of the year and won on the road. Things don't get any easier for the Tigers though as they must now travel to South Carolina for a series this coming weekend. Auburn hasn't won a series in Columbia since 1997 and has defeated the Gamecocks just five times in the last 24 meetings between the two schools with two coming the last two seasons.
SEC Standings Week Four
Auburn 6, LSU 1
Vanderbilt 3, Alabama 0
Ole Miss 9, Georgia 8 (13)
Mississippi State 11, Arkansas 9
South Carolina 12, Florida 2
Tennessee vs. Kentucky (ppd.)
Auburn 7, LSU 0
Vanderbilt 4, Alabama 2
Georgia 4, Ole Miss 3
Mississippi State 2, Arkansas 1
Florida 9, South Carolina 8
Tennessee 11,12; Kentucky 5,2
LSU 10, Auburn 1
Alabama 5, Vanderbilt 3
Ole Miss 9, Georgia 0
Arkansas 9, Mississippi State 3
South Carolina 8, Florida 6 (11)
Kentucky 3, Tennessee 1