Just two games behind Arkansas and Ole Miss in the SEC West with a record of 12-9 in conference play and 30-15 overall, the Tigers are looking to continue a hot streak that has seen them win 13 of their last 18 games.
They will be facing a Mississippi State team that is trending quickly in the opposite direction. Losers of eight in a row, including losses to Jackson State and Southern Miss this week, the Bulldogs are last in the division with a record of 20-25 overall and 5-16 in league play. With a record of just 2-14 away from Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, this would seem like the perfect team to welcome in but Auburn coach John Pawlowski said Mississippi State is a dangerous team.
"Although they've got some young guys they've played in some tough venues on the road," Pawlowski said. "They've been in the SEC and have enough games under their belt. Our focus is that we've got to find a way to continue to get better. This will be another tough weekend. You look at this league every weekend and you never know what's going to happen. There are too many good players and good teams."
While Mississippi State has struggled on the mound with a team ERA of 6.67, offensively they have continued to do some good things led by senior first baseman Connor Powers. Hitting .381, Powers has 13 home runs and 61 RBI, all of which lead the Bulldogs by a wide margin. In addition to him veterans such as Jet Butler and Russ Sneed provide some solid sticks at the plate.
"This league is so ultra-competitive," Pawlowski said. "We're playing a very talented team. They've got one of the best bats in the league in Connor Powers and a team that is very, very dangerous. We know we'll have to play well this weekend."
The Tigers' biggest challenge this weekend may not be from the Bulldogs though, it just may be from themselves. A team that just a few weeks ago was focused on doing enough to make it to the SEC Tournament is now fighting for a chance to play for the division title and a possible host site for the NCAA Tournament. While the dynamics of the season have changed in a short time, Pawlowski said their approach to the season hasn't.
"I told the team this week that our focus is the same this week as it's been since SEC play started," Pawlowski said. "Our number one priority and our short-term goal is to get into the SEC Tournament. That's our number one focus. If we can accomplish that goal then we'll move on to the second goal. I want these guys to understand that you've got to take it one step at a time and that first step is getting into the SEC Tournament."
The Tigers will continue with the same rotation they've had the last two weekends as sophomore Cory Luckie will get the start on Friday night against left-hander Tyler Whitney from Mississippi State. Luckie is 5-2 with a 6.23 ERA while Whitney is 0-2 with a 4.84 earned run average.
Saturday Auburn is listed as TBA with junior Cole Nelson or freshman Slade Smith the most likely candidates to get the start. The Tigers will face freshman Chris Stratton (4-3, 5.64). Sunday junior Grant Dayton (5-2, 4.86) gets the call for Auburn while the Bulldogs are TBA.
Game times for the weekend series are 6:30 Friday night, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. for Sunday's final game.
Inside The Numbers:
Auburn his a perfect 12-0 at home against left-handed starting pitchers this season and 15-2 this season.
While Auburn has done well against lefties, the Tigers have hit just .336 versus left-handers while hitting .353 against right-handers. Just 26 of Auburn's 81 home runs this season have come against left-handed pitching.
Right fielder Justin Fradejas has a 26-game hitting streak entering the weekend. Of those games 15 have been with multiple hits. During that time he has raised his average from .200 to .364.
Auburn--Batting Avg. (.348), HR (81), Team ERA (4.84), HR Allowed (39), Team Fielding (.958)
Miss. State--Batting Avg. (.295), HR (49), Team ERA (6.67), HR Allowed (35), Team Fielding (.955)