The task won't be an easy one for Auburn as Alabama is 13-1 at home this season including a series win against Vanderbilt to open SEC play. Hitting .312 as a team with an ERA of just 3.91, the Crimson Tide is a veteran team that creates a lot of problems for opponents.
"You look at the players they have on the infield, you look at their pitching staff, that's a very solid team," Pawlowski said. "Their center fielder is a heck of a player. You're talking about a team that has been there before. They have been to postseason play. They've been in the SEC Tournament. They've got a lot of experience on their side. I think this league is so tough…it's an important series. It's early, but yet you want to continue to get off to a good start."
That center fielder is Taylor Dugas. The undersized sophomore has been anything but a small player for the Crimson Tide since arriving last season. A Freshman All-American in 2009, the 5-7, 165-pounder hit .352 with two home runs, 20 doubles and 27 RBI. He's picked up right where he left off last season with a .439 batting average and an incredible .570 on-base percentage. With 25 walks and just a pair of strikeouts while adding 11 stolen bases, Dugas is the quintessential leadoff man and Pawlowski said he's someone the Tigers will have to be wary of at all times.
"You look at his numbers and he's walked 25 times and struck out two times so he's doing something right," Pawlowski said. "He's their table setter. You've got to keep him off base. He had a big game against us last week in Montgomery. It's important to keep him off base."
The job of slowing down Dugas and the Alabama offense will fall on an Auburn pitching staff that has done a much better job the last two weeks of keeping the Tigers in games. Friday night sophomore Cory Luckie (1-1, 8.84 ERA) will face off against fellow left-hander Adam Morgan (3-0, 3.55) from Alabama. Saturday's pitching matchup should be a good one with junior Cole Nelson (4-1, 3.12) up against right-hander Jimmy Nelson (4-0, 1.78) for the Crimson Tide. Both teams are listed as TBA on Sunday with junior left-hander Grant Dayton (3-1, 5.70) likely getting the ball for Auburn.
One thing that has hurt Auburn's pitching performances this season has been its defense. With 49 errors on the year, the Tigers are at the bottom of the SEC defensively and it showed again on Wednesday night as costly late errors proved to be the difference in a loss at Troy. In 25 games this season Auburn has gone errorless just four times and not once in the 14 games. Pawlowski said that's a concern the coaching staff has at the moment.
"It's an area we've got to address," Pawlowski said. "We're trying to address it. Defensively we've got to shore up some things. One play here and one pitch there could mean the difference in a ballgame. It certainly showed up Wednesday night."
One of the areas of concern is at third base where sophomore Dan Gamache is currently fourth on the team with a .349 average, but leads the team with 11 errors. Pawlowski said Gamache has done well, but there's a possibility that Justin Bryant could play third with weekend against left-handed pitching. Even more down the line, the return of Trent Mummey back to the outfield perhaps as early as next weekend could mean a look at sophomore Creede Simpson at third base. Either way it's something Pawlowski knows they've got to shore up.
"It's a double-edged sword," Pawlowski said. "I know he's capable of playing solid defense over there. He's going to swing the bat. I think he brings a lot to the table offensively. Defensively he struggled a little early. We'll keep working with him. He's certainly capable. I have confidence in him and confidence in these kids that they'll play better defense."
Offensively the duo of Brian Fletcher and Hunter Morris lead the Tigers at .398 and .396 respectively. Fletcher leads the team with nine home runs and 33 RBI while Morris is right behind with eight homers and 32 RBI. While Morris has huge numbers, he's struggled since his two homer, nine RBI game at Georgia two weeks ago. In the six games since Morris is just 7-24 with only one RBI as teams have been much more careful with both he and Fletcher in conference play.
Game times for the weekend series are 6 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Friday's game can be seen live on CSS as well as ESPN360.com.