With two more weekends in the Southeastern Conference baseball regular season yet to be played, Auburn is in position to earn a third consecutive trip to an NCAA regional. While that isn’t unexpected, how the Tigers have been able to get to where they are at this stage of the schedule is surprising.
After winning two of three games at Plainsman Park last weekend vs. Alabama, the Tigers moved to No. 15 nationally in RPI, a power index that helps determine seeding for the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Considering that three of Auburn’s top hitters have been in an almost season-long slump and that the three top starting pitchers have been dealing with health issues, Auburn hanging tough in the SEC shows me this year’s team has a chance to do well in postseason play.
Davis Daniel, who bypassed the 2018 pro draft to return for another season with the Tigers, has been a no factor after an early season injury shut him down for his junior year. Not having him available has been an issue for Coach Butch Thompson’s team.
Jack Owen, who got off to a sizzling start, was shut down due to an arm problem. Fortunately for the Tigers the left-handed pitcher returned to the rotation last weekend and is available for the stretch run, but his start against Alabama last Friday night was just his fourth of the season. Not having him for a major portion of the schedule hurt the Tigers.
Ace right-hander Tanner Burns, who was held out of the Alabama series after coming up with a sore arm when pitching in rainy conditions at Vanderbilt, should be ready to throw this weekend when Georgia comes to Plainsman Park for Auburn’s final SEC home series. After that the Tigers will travel to LSU for three games before heading to Hoover for the annual conference tournament.
Auburn probably needs to win just two of its final six regular season conference games to lock up a bid to an NCAA regional. If the Tigers win more than that they might have a shot at being a regional host.
Whatever happens regarding their postseason situation for the Tigers to play to their potential they need to get junior shortstop Will Holland, sophomore third baseman Edouard Julien and sophomore right fielder Steven Williams hitting the baseball like they did last year. All three have struggled to hit for power and average, although Williams and Julien looked like their old selves as the Tigers smacked the ball around pretty well against Alabama’s pitchers. Coach Butch Thompson would love to see that continue this weekend vs. the Georgia Bulldogs.
Auburn can really help its resume while taking on Georgia, one of five SEC teams ranked in the national top 10 for RPI along with Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Tennessee. It should be an interesting weekend at Plainsman Park to see if the Auburn hitters can keep the momentum going after scoring 28 runs in three games against Alabama. Georgia is having a strong season led by its defense and pitching so it will take an impressive weekend of baseball to win the series.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter