Auburn - MSU Baseball Series Preview

Mississippi State and Auburn play a three-game Southeastern Conference series this weekend at Auburn.

Weather - Friday should see clear skies with temperatures in the mid-80s at gametime. | Saturday, the temperatures should be in the low-80s with a 30% chance for thunderstorms . | Sunday should see temperatures in the low to mid-70s with partly cloudy skies.

Gametimes (CDT) - Friday 6:30 p.m. | Saturday 3:00 p.m. | Sunday 1:00 p.m.

6-Year Series History - MSU leads Auburn with a 10-8 record during the past six seasons.

Coaches - John Pawlowski, who is in his second season as Auburn's head coach, turned around a College of Charleston program that had not won more than 31 games in a season prior to him joining the program. In his nine seasons as its head coach he led the team to an overall record of 338-192 including a 170-86 conference record. His last five teams at CoC won 39 or more games, including a high of 48 in 2005. Three of his teams won the conference championship (2004, 2005, 2007). And his teams played in 3 NCAA postseason Regionals with one advancing to Super Regional play. Overall, his NCAA postseason record is 6-6. In his first season at Auburn his team was 31-25 and 11-19 in SEC play.

John Cohen, who is in his second season at Mississippi State, came to State from Kentucky where he won the overall SEC Championship in 2006. At Kentucky, John Cohen's teams were 175-112 overall and 63-85 in SEC play. Last year's MSU team was 25-29. In five seasons at Kentucky and one at Mississippi State, he has taken two of his teams to NCAA post-season play, although neither team advanced to Super Regional play. His teams have an overall NCAA post-season record of 4-4.

Auburn Home/Mississippi State Road Records - Auburn is 21-6 at home while MSU is 2-14 on the road.

Expected Pitching Rotations - Auburn is expected to start sophomore LHP Cory Luckie (5-2, 6.23) Friday and junior LHP Grant Dayton (5-2, 4.86) Sunday. Saturday's starter is yet to be announced.

Luckie has pitched well of late in the SEC, after struggling for a couple of games. In his last three SEC outings he has thrown 18.2 innings, giving up 7 runs (all earned) for a 3.37 earned run average. Although he has completed one game this season, he's normally not going to go that deep into the game. Out of his six SEC appearances he has only gone into the 7th inning twice. In his four other outings he has thrown 1.1, 2.1, 5.2 and 4.0 innings. Suprisingly, he has been much better on the road than at home. His road ERA is 4.03 and his home ERA is 14.73.

Dayton has been Auburn's most consistent starting pitcher in SEC action. Of his seven SEC starts he has thrown 7 or more innings five times. He's normally going to give up between 3 and 5 runs in his starts. Like Luckie, he's much better on the road than at home, as evidenced by his road ERA of 2.17 and his home ERA of 6.87.

Auburn has used three pitchers as their third starter, Cole Nelson, Jon Luke Jacobs and Stephen Kohlscheen. Nelson, who has started six SEC games, was effective early on (3 G, 19.1 IP, 6 ER but has had three bad outings (3 G, 2.1 IP, 16 ER). The other two started one game each and lasted 1 inning each.

Mississippi State is expected to start senior LHP Tyler Whitney (0-2, 4.84 ERA) Friday, freshman RHP Chris Stratton (4-3, 5.64 ERA) and, I'm guessing freshman LHP Luke Bole (2-1, 7.15 ERA) Sunday although the Sunday starter hasn't been announced yet.

This will be Whitney's third start in SEC action this year. In his two starts, he threw 9.1 innings, giving up 9 runs (6 earned). In his last outing, which was last Friday against Ole Miss, he performed very well, throwing 7.0 innings while allowing just 1 earned run (4 runs overall) on 7 hits and 3 walks while striking out 8. Prior to the two starts, in his two most recent middle relief in SEC games he performed well, giving up just two runs (both earned) in 8 innings.

Stratton, who consistently throws his fastball in the low 90s, has been impressive at times and not so impressive at times in SEC action. After pitching well against top-15 ranked teams like Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas (17 IP, ER 5, ERA 2.65), he has struggled of late, giving up 21 earned runs in 17 innings in games against Tennessee, Alabama and Ole Miss.

Bole, who throws his fastball in the upper 80s and touches 90 on occasion, has started three SEC games so far this season. In his first two starts, you notice that he pitched extremely well the first four innings, having given up a combined total of 2 runs in the first four innings of both games. But in his last outing, against Ole Miss last weekend, he failed to get out of the first inning, giving up two runs in 2/3rds of an inning. His problem in that game were the four walks that he gave up.

Relief Pitching - Auburn has primarily used five pitchers in relief in SEC games - senior RHP Austin Hubbard, senior RHP Michael Hurst, junior LHP Sean Ray, sophomore RHP Zach Blatt and freshman RHP Slade Smith.

Hubbard has been Auburn's closer and has done a solid job, appearing in 10 games. While he normally will give up a run in his appearances, he gives them a pitcher that can throw 1 inning or, if necessary, 4 innings. He's also a guy who can strike out a hitter if necessary, averaging a little better than a strikeout an inning.

Hurst, who has been used mostly in middle relief, has appeared in six games and been inconsistent. He's given up 5 runs in two of his outings, zero in three and 1 in the sixth one. Of late, he's been less effective than he was early on, giving up 5 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks with 2 Ks in 2 innings.

Ray has appeared in 6 games, four in middle relief and two as a closer. He's been very good in his appearances, giving up no runs in four of the six and 1 earned run in another one. Even in the one game where he gave up 2 runs he threw 4.2 innings. He's a guy who will give Auburn a reliable 2 to 4 innings if necessary.

Blatt has appeared in five games, the last two in a closer role. Like Hurst, he has been inconsistent. He's much better in the role as a guy who can come in and get an out than he is as a guy who throws a couple of innings. In the two games he has thrown more than an inning he has given up 6 runs (3 earned) on 9 hits and 4 walks in 6.1 innings.

Smith has been used more of late. And he's become Auburn's long relief guy. In his three games he's thrown 7.0, 3.2 and 5.2 innings, giving up a total of 11 runs (10 earned). He's given up just 5 walks in his three outings, so teams have to earn the runs.

You can expect Mississippi State to use upwards of six pitchers in relief, including sophomore RHP Caleb Reed, senior RHP Greg Houston, junior RHP Corey Collins, freshmen Chad Girodo, a LHP, as well as sophomore RHP Devin Jones and freshman RHP Ben Bracewell.

Reed, who is back in his original role as a long reliever, a role he performed ok in prior to moving to the SEC starting rotation. In three of his first five SEC relief appearances he threw 5.1, 4.1 and 8.0 innings, giving up a combined 11 runs (10 earned) in the 17.2 innings But last weekend, he struggled in relief, pitching in all three games, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) in one inning. In two of the games, he pitched to one batter in each, giving up walks to both.

Houston has pitched in 8 of MSU's 21 SEC games. In those outings, he has given up 11 runs (9 earned) in 5.1 innings.

Collins has appeared in 5 games and had a couple of good outings (IP 2, 0 R) and three bad ones (IP 2.2, 7 R).

Girodo has appeared in relief in 7 SEC games and has been good of late. In his last three SEC appearances he has given up no earned runs (4 unearned) in 7.1 innings. During those innings, he has allowed 5 hits, 3 walks and struck out 6.

Graveman began the season as an SEC starter but wasn't effective in the role (IP 8, R 14) and has been moved to the bullpen in SEC action. He hasn't been quite as effective as the coaches would hope in that role either (IP 2, 4 R).

Jones, who throws in the low to mid 90s, did well early on (IP 4.1, R 0) then struggled (IP 2.2, R 4) before having a decent outing against Ole Miss (2.2 innings, 1 unearned run). Walks have been a nemesis of the SEC outings that he has struggled in.

Bracewell, who possesses a low 90s MPH fastball and a nasty slider, is the main closer for MSU. And he's been more up than down in the role. Although he had a poor outing against Arkansas (IP 1, R 6), in his three outings since then and his previous two, he pitched a combined 5.0 innings, giving up 1 run on two hits and 4 walks while striking out 5.

Who's Hot at the Plate and Who's Not in the Last 5 Games - Auburn has seven players hitting better than .300, including Ryan Jenkins who is hitting .500 (10-for-20,, 8 RBI), Justin Fradejas who is hitting .455 (10-for-22, 1 RBI), Brian Fletcher at .409 (9-for-22, 5 RBI), Trent Mummey at .389 (7-for-18, 6 RBI), Casey McElroy at .316 (6-for-19, 4 RBI), and in limited action Wes Gilmer at .400 (4-for-10, 1 RBI) and Dan Gamache at .375 (3-for-8, 4 RBI).

Other Auburn hitters are Hunter Morris who is hitting .263 (5-for-19, 6 RBI) and Justin Hargett at .056 (1-for-18, 1 RBI). In part-time action Kevin Patterson is hitting .250 (2-for-8, 5 RBI) and Tony Caldwell is hitting .222 (2-for-9, 1 RBI).

Mississippi State has three players hitting better than .300 in the last five games, starting with Sam Frost who comes in at .600 (6-for-10, 2 RBI). He has started the last three games. Nick Vickerson continues to pound the ball, hitting .400 (8-for-20, 3 RBI). Cody Freeman is hitting .308 (4-for-13, 1 RBI).

Jaron Shepherd, who has missed the last two games due to an injury, is hitting .273 (3-for-11, 0 RBI), while four players are hitting .250 - Connor Powers (5-for-20, 1 RBI), Russ Sneed (4-for-16, 6 RBI), Jonathan Ogden (4-for-16, 3 RBI) and Ryan Duffy (3-for-12, 1 RBI).

Others are Jet Butler and Ryan Collins at .091 (Butler 1-for-11, 1 RBI) (Collins 1-for-11, 0 RBI) and in limited action Wes Thigpen at .000 (0-for-6, 0 RBI).

How Auburn and MSU Match Up
Auburn Category Mississippi State
30-15 Record 20-25
.348 Batting Average .295
567 (12.6 pg) Runs 323 (7.2 pg)
81 Home Runs 49
.419 OB % .400
48-68 Stolen Bases-Attempts 51-66
178 (4.0 pg) Walks 212 (4.7 pg)
326 (7.2 pg) Strikeouts 345 (7.7 pg)
364 (8.1 pg) LOB 378 (8.4 pg)
4.84 Team ERA 5.93
10 Saves 5
152 (3.4 pg) Walks 193 (4.3 pg)
342 (7.6 pg) Strikeouts 322 (7.2 pg)
.277 Batting Average Against .302
.958 Fielding % .955

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by emailing

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