Analysis: Can Gamecocks Sweep Auburn?
The South Carolina baseball team is primed and ready for its first SEC sweep of the year when the Auburn Tigers come into town. The Tigers are in last place in the SEC this season, and with the home field advantage and a rested pitching staff, there's no reason the 4th ranked Gamecocks shouldn't come away with all three this weekend.
SCOUTING AUBURN: PITCHING
USC is better across the board, but that doesn't mean Auburn doesn't have any talent. Sophomore pitcher Paul Burnside (6'4', 215 lbs.) has the undesirable task of going head-to-head against Harris Honeycutt Friday night. Burnside (5-1) is a strikeout pitcher who uses his fastball to get ahead in the count. Look for the Gamecocks to attack early in the count and play "Tanner Baseball" aka always be aggressive.
Freshman Taylor Thompson will start on Saturday for the Tigers, but no one in the stands will be paying him much attention. It's not that Thompson's 4-0 record isn't impressive, but Arik Hempy returns to the weekend rotation. Hempy will be on a 90 pitch count, but look for the adrenaline to be flowing that day.
Thompson throws a lot of pitches to get hitters out and will try to capitalize on USC's aggressive approach. Thompson did earn a win last weekend against LSU, going six innings while striking out five.
After the first two starters for Auburn, it gets interesting. The Tigers have struggled to find a third starter this year, but this Sunday Justin Bristow gets the nod. Bristow is 1-3 on the season. He will be making only his third start on the year, and like previous opposing Sunday pitchers, Bristow may be asked to go a long ways due to a used up bullpen.
Auburn's pen has been pretty decent this year, as freshman Scott Shuman has been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers. Shuman has a team low 1.59 ERA while appearing 13 times. Evan Crawford is the lefty Auburn generally turns to first, but Crawford recently was bumped out of the weekend rotation. He started Wednesday and could be available on Saturday or Sunday.
Brett Butts is really the go-to guy when the game is on the line. Butts has a 2.00 ERA and is another guy who likes to challenge hitters at the plate with his fastball.
SCOUTING AUBURN: HITTING
Auburn is coming off a 22 run performance Wednesday against Mercer, but consistency has been an issue for the Tigers at the plate all year. Auburn has a team average of .300, but with only 25 HRs through 36 games, power has been hard to come by.
Third Baseman Josh Donaldson leads the team with eight HRs and 40 RBIs and is second with a .356 battin average. Center fielder Bruce Edwards does a really good job of setting the tone in the leadoff spot. Edwards, a switch hitter, has an on-base-percentage of .470. The Gamecock pitchers will have a difficult time keeping this speedster off the base paths. They'll need to do whatever it takes, however, because Edwards is 20-22 stealing bases.
First baseman Joseph Sanders leads the team with a .367 batting average. The freshman is very aggressive at the plate, but can get off balance at times when pitchers have command off their off-speed pitches.
Auburn will need to hit extremely well this weekend if they are to have any shot at taking the series.
This is the type of SEC series that the Gamecocks need to come away with a sweep if they hope to win the SEC-East. Auburn has struggled, and USC plays them in the friendly confines of Sarge Frye Field. A 10-5 SEC record would be nice heading into back-to-back road SEC series against Ole Miss and Alabama the next two weekends.
USC will be aggressive at the plate and on the mound this weekend and will look to put Auburn on its heels early. The Gamecock bats are too consistent 1-9, and Auburn's pitching won't be good enough. I expect a sweep... and it's a must.
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