Series Rewind: Tigers Take Two of Three from Mississippi StateApril 16, 2018
Plainsman Park was a sight for sore eyes for the struggling 21st-ranked Auburn Baseball team, who entered Friday’s series-opener with Mississippi State on a four-game losing streak. With the help of the home supporters, a great pitching performance, and one offensive-charged inning, Auburn (25-12, 6-9) won their first SEC series in nearly a month by taking two of three from Mississippi State.
Since taking two of three games from Texas A&M March 14-16, the Auburn bats have struggled. In three SEC series since Texas A&M came to town, Auburn had scored more than four runs only once, the series-opener against Missouri, a game where Auburn won 5-2. The offense needed two-and-a-half games to finally crank up against the visiting Bulldogs, but Auburn finally found the surge they needed to hopefully take momentum into their next series.
FRIDAY- AUBURN 2 MISSISSIPPI STATE 1
Yes, Auburn’s offensive struggles continued in Friday night’s opener, but Auburn has a weapon in the form of Casey Mize. While Mize cannot carry the team every time he takes the mound, he proved yet again on Friday night that he can take the reigns when called upon and deliver.
Mize tossed all nine innings, striking out nine batters while allowing only five hits.
“To finish this thing on 106 pitches, it was just so efficient,” head coach Butch Thompson said following the win. “(Casey) left the ball up a little in the fifth and sixth but settled down. The seventh, eighth and ninth, those balls were going straight into the ground, and he stepped up when his team needed him most.”
Brett Wright led off the 2nd inning with a double and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Brendan Venter, giving Auburn the 1-0 lead. Will Holland capped scoring in the 3rd inning on a double that scored Jay Estes.
The win snapped a four-game skid.
SATURDAY- MISSISSIPPI STATE 7 AUBURN 2
Auburn pitcher Davis Daniel has had some success since sliding into the Auburn weekend rotation but has struggled with keeping his earned run average at a respectable level. The sophomore entered the weekend with a 4.29 ERA, and after an outing that lasted only three complete innings, it had grown to 5.35. Before his day ended, Daniel struck out five Bulldogs.
Mixing Daniel’s struggle with command and Auburn’s offensive woes, Matthew Stevens of the Montgomery Advertiser was urged to ask Butch Thompson if Davis’ rotation spot is in question. Thompson offered an interesting response:
.@MGMAdvertiser STORY: ‘I don’t think that would be knee-jerk at this point’ – Montgomery native Davis Daniel (@Davis_Daniel13) likely out of Auburn’s weekend rotation following 7-2 loss to Mississippi State – https://t.co/hJOAHV9OU5 pic.twitter.com/cqrCNUzIxt
— Matthew Stevens (@matthewcstevens) April 14, 2018
As Gus Malzahn would say, Auburn baseball needs a “shot in the arm.” If Daniel is pulled from the weekend rotation, who takes his place? Does Tanner Burns move up to the Saturday slot? What about Andrew Mitchell or Ryan Watson get treated to a bigger role? This is definitely a storyline to follow over the next week.
Six of Mississippi State’s seven runs were allowed by Daniel, thanks in-part to a 3rd inning that saw the Bulldogs score five runs. Mississippi State plated two more runs in the 4th inning, with Davis allowing one run, and reliever Andrew Mitchell allowing the other.
After being tagged with a run in the 4th inning, Mitchell went on to have a great outing. The senior worked five innings, allowing four hits and striking out six. Elliot Anderson pitched the final inning, striking out a batter and walking one.
Edouard Julien and Steven Williams each picked up an RBI in the 3rd inning. Williams led all Tigers with two hits.
SUNDAY- AUBURN 7 MISSISSIPPI STATE 5
Auburn fans saw a pitching scenario of the future on Sunday. Tanner Burns to start, and Cody Greenhill to close.
Tanner Burns is still adjusting to life as a starting pitcher in the SEC but has shown the potential to become another legend along with the likes of Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize. Burns tossed four shutout innings in Sunday’s finale, before a Jake Mangum double and a Luke Alexander home run put the Bulldogs up 3-0. He was relieved two outs into the inning, ending his day with four strikeouts.
That made way for Greenhill, who was tasked with keeping the Tigers in the game. He found trouble early after a Marshall Gilbert double scored Justin Foscue, moving Mississippi State ahead 4-0 in the top of the 6th inning.
The pressure on Greenhill was relieved after a huge inning by the Tiger bats. Auburn scored seven runs, on five hits, all with one out.
Josh Anthony struck out to begin the sixth. Will Holland and Steven Williams began the rally by reaching base on a single and hit-by-pitch respectively, setting up a great opportunity for Brett Wright to put Auburn on the board. Wright came through by doubling to left field, scoring Holland. Williams later scored on a wild pitch, cutting the Bulldog lead in-half, 4-2.
The wild pitch proved costly for Mississippi State. Prior to the pitch, Eduoard Julien walked a full-count that left two runners on for Brendan Venter. Venter then bashed a 3-2 pitch over the left-field wall, scoring three runs, and giving Auburn the 6-4 lead. Following the long ball, Luke Jarvis singled up the middle, and Judd Ward sent him home on a triple to right field.
The seven-run 6th inning was Auburn’s second-most productive offensive inning of the season in conference play. Auburn scored 8 runs in the 8th inning of March 17th’s 11-5 win over Texas A&M. Seven runs scored by Auburn is also the second-most runs scored on an SEC opponent.
Greenhill went on to coast through the final three innings, allowing three hits and a run after Auburn grabbed the lead. Greenhill finished with five strikeouts in 4.1 innings of work.
I am hoping… I mean REALLY hoping that Auburn’s offensive slump has ended. After struggling to score more than four runs in three straight SEC series, Auburn scored seven runs in Sunday’s contest. Although all seven runs were scored in one inning, it does seem to bring light to what Auburn can do at the plate. We have all seen the likes of Wright, Venter, Julien, Williams, and Estes have big days this season, the Tigers just need to find the spark that ignited a 15-game winning streak to open the season.
Pitching also needs to find a way to improve. Casey Mize is a gem, but not every pitcher on staff can match what Mize does every outing. Tanner Burns is still growing, and Davis Daniel cannot seem to catch a break. If Matthew Stevens’ article proves true, and Daniel is not in the rotation come next weekend, the next man up needs to take the opportunity and run with it.
Both of the aspects I just mentioned will be needed in order to have a successful series against their next opponent, Alabama. While 5-10 in the SEC does not seem to scare most fans, Auburn has had its’ share of struggles against in-state rivals. From South Alabama to Samford, and even Alabama in venues not named “Riverwalk Stadium,” Auburn needs to find a way to improve against local teams. Even more so now that former assistant coach Brad Bohannon is the leading man in Tuscaloosa. Every series from here-on-out is huge, especially the next one.