Baseball Analysis: Strong Start, Weak Finish

Two big victories were followed by two big losses as the Tigers failed to take the series from South Carolina after winning on Friday night in Columbia.

Auburn, Ala.--What started out as a week with such promise after lopsided victories over Mercer and South Carolina turned into yet another frustrating week for the Auburn baseball Tigers as they lost big on both Saturday and Sunday to lose their fourth series in five tries in the SEC and find themselves squarely on the outside looking in at the halfway point of the conference schedule.

After starting the conference season with eight consecutive losses, Auburn had been playing better in the previous week and carried that over into last week's play with a 22-6 bombing of Mercer Tuesday night at Plainsman Park. The good times continued on Friday night as Paul Burnside was outstanding in picking up his sixth win of the season and Auburn's offense was dominant as the Tigers pounded the Gamecocks 16-1. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that was the end of the good times as South Carolina came back to win the series in impressive fashion.

Saturday, the Gamecocks used a six-run first inning thanks to two three-run home runs to get the early lead against the Tigers. Pitcher Arik Hempby made the lead stand up as the Tigers scored just one run in a 10-1 loss.

Sunday wasn't any better as South Carolina scored five in the second to again get the early advantage against Auburn starter Justin Bristow. After cutting the lead to one in the fifth, the Tigers saw their chances evaporate quickly as the Gamecocks scored seven runs to break the game open on the way to an 18-4 victory.

With an overall record of 25-13, Auburn has already surpassed its win total for the entire 2006 season, but a conference record of 4-11 means a lot of work has to be done if the Tigers hope to make it to postseason play this year. The job doesn't get any easier as Auburn takes on rival Alabama at home this coming weekend in a huge three-game series. With Arkansas at home followed by a road trip to Mississippi State, at home against Vanderbilt and at Kentucky to close the regular season, Auburn is in a must-win situation against the Crimson Tide.

If the Tigers hope to have any chance at making a trip to Hoover they need at least two victories against Alabama this coming weekend. With the schedule facing the Tigers, anything less would put Auburn in an almost impossible situation with just 12 games remaining and likely needing 14 conference wins to make it to the SEC Tournament.

Sophomore Mike Bianucci returned to the lineup and had four hits, including two home runs, and six RBI in the series at South Carolina.

Player of the Week: Auburn senior center fielder Bruce Edwards had one of the best weeks of his career as he was 8-14 in four games with four RBI and seven runs scored. He just beat out Luke Greinke, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games and was 9-18 with five RBI and four runs scored.

Pitcher of the Week: Once again sophomore Paul Burnside gets the nod as he was outstanding in his second consecutive Friday night win. Going head-to-head with one of the SEC's best offensive teams, Burnside gave up just five hits and one run in seven innings to improve his record to 6-1. His ERA fell to a very strong 2.70 with the win.

Surprise of the Week: The total turnaround in the games for the Tigers. After outscoring its opponents 38-7 in two victories, Auburn was outscored 28-5 in the final two games against South Carolina to lose the series.

Stock Report: Holding steady. Unfortunately, that's not going to do the Tigers much in terms of reaching its goal of reaching the SEC Tournament after starting the year 0-8 in league play. A must-win situation now faces the Tigers as they have to win the series against Alabama. No way around it.

SEC Standings Week Five

Western Division
Arkansas 29-10 11-4
Mississippi State 23-8 8-5
Ole Miss 25-12 8-6
Alabama 22-15 7-8
LSU 21-16-1 6-8-1
Auburn 25-14 4-11

Eastern Division
Vanderbilt 32-6 9-6
South Carolina 28-8 9-6
Florida 20-19 8-7
Kentucky 26-9-1 6-8-1
Tennessee 20-14 6-7
Georgia 13-23 5-10

SEC Week Six

Alabama at Auburn
Arkansas at Georgia
LSU at Mississippi State
South Carolina at Ole Miss
Kentucky at Florida
Tennessee at Vanderbilt

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