In a year that started with so much promise and an 18-3 start in non-conference action, the Auburn baseball Tigers now find themselves wondering what went wrong after a sweep at Mississippi State over the weekend dropped the Tigers to 28-21 overall and 7-17 in SEC play.
At just 10-18 since March 16, Auburn has struggled to find the consistency that was the mark of the team heading into conference action. That has left the Tigers needing a miracle over the final two weeks to even have a chance at postseason play. Trailing eighth-place Alabama by four games and with two other teams three games better, Auburn has to sweep both Vanderbilt and Kentucky to have any shot at catching up. Based on their play in recent weeks, that's a tall order indeed for the Tigers heading into the final two weeks.
Perhaps the most painful nail in Auburn's coffin came on Sunday in Starkville. With several chances to take the lead and the game against the Bulldogs, the Tigers couldn't come up with the plays when they needed them the most. In stark contrast, Mississippi State managed to get the job done time and time again at the most important times to come away with the win.
It was yet another painful loss for a team that has had to endure key injuries throughout the SEC schedule. Playing without Mike Bianucci for 10 games in SEC play and top starting pitcher Paul Burnside for three consecutive weeks, the Tigers have fallen on hard times once again after surviving o 0-8 start in conference play this season. Sunday's loss was almost a cruel and fitting end to Auburn's hopes, but Coach Tommy Slater says after the game all he could tell his team was how proud of them he was.
"I just brought them up and said, ‘Guys, all you can do is show up and keep going to work,'" Slater says. "'You are persevering and I'm proud of you. I love the way you came out and went about things today.' It stinks. It hurts. Words can't describe how much it hurts. Every one of them hurts right now. I just told them ‘you've got to keep persevering and showing up. We've got six more of these games and if we can continue to play like we did today we can finish with some positive feelings about what we're doing.'"
Player of the Week: For my money it is freshman Joseph Sanders. Despite a critical error early in Saturday's game, Sanders was the most consistent performer at the plate for the Tigers with five hits in 13 at-bats over the weekend with four runs scored and three RBI.
In SEC play this year Sanders is 20-65 with 11 RBI and 10 runs scored.
Pitcher of the Week: It has to be sophomore Evan Crawford. Struggling for much of the year, the Prattville native had his best outing of the season on Friday night as he allowed just four hits and two unearned runs in five and two/thirds innings against the Bulldogs.
Biggest Surprise The season as a whole. Watching this team in the non-conference portion of the schedule, I could have never imagined just seven wins in league play with only six games remaining. You can't underestimate the impact of injuries to Mike Bianucci and Paul Burnside on the team this season. Bianucci's absence in the sweep to Georgia to start the season was particularly huge as the Tigers lost two one-run games that he would have likely made a difference in. Starting the year 2-1 as opposed to 0-3 could have meant a world of difference to a young baseball team.
Stock Report: Falling quickly. In need of a strong second half after starting the first half of the season 4-11, Auburn has three wins in nine games and unquestionably needs to sweep out to have a shot at postseason play.
SEC Standings Week Eight
1) Vanderbilt 17-7 41-9
2) Arkansas 16-8 36-14
3) Mississippi State 13-9 31-12
4) Ole Miss 13-11 32-18
5) South Carolina 13-11 35-14
6) Florida 12-12 25-24
7) LSU 11-12-1 28-21-1
8) Alabama 11-13 27-22
9) Tennessee 10-12 27-20
10) Kentucky 10-13-1 31-15-1
11) Georgia 8-16 19-30
12) Auburn 7-17 28-22
Week Nine Schedule
Vanderbilt at Auburn
Arkansas at Alabama
Florida at LSU
Mississippi State at Georgia
Kentucky at Ole Miss
South Carolina at Tennessee