First things first, we can’t talk about Auburn baseball without this lovely moment:
That’s the stuff. Anyway, our SEC baseball preview series rolls on and today we’re getting the lowdown on the other Tigers with AUPPL.
1. The West has a pretty clear cut top three in Arkansas, Mississippi State and LSU. What does Auburn need to do to become a true contender in the West?
The key for Auburn is going to be consistency. That’s it. Auburn has had a problem of going into swoons. Last year, they rebounded and got hot at the right time and it propelled them into Omaha. Being a contender won’t be winning all the series against LSU, MSU, and ARK. Being a contender will mean keeping the distance between us and them relatively close. That means winning and sweeping series over Mizzou, Kentucky, Alabama, etc.
How does that happen? Starting pitching depth. Auburn has been blessed with front end talent (Keegan Thompson, Casey Mize, and now Tanner) and some solid Day 2 Guys. But the drop off from Saturday to Sunday has been drastic at times. If Auburn can get a set of guys who can go 1-2-3 on any given weekend? Then we’re ready for the next step.
2. What can Tanner Burns do for an encore after picking up some third-team All American honors last year?
Tanner has all the tools. He has the skills. An encore will be for him to remain healthy the entire season and stay top of mind in the SEC Pitcher of the Year race. Pitch wise, if Tanner can develop his changeup and sharpen his newly defined curve then his draft stock is going to shoot up. The same goes for his slider and keeping it consistent. As fatigue sets in, it tends to look more like a slurve and wobble a bit. Tanner is already established as a leader and his health and reliability will go a long way towards how Auburn finishes this year.
3. If there’s one series that makes or breaks Auburn’s season this year, what is it?
No series will “break” Auburn. That was evident last year. However, for Auburn, the biggest key will be front loading the wins and being able to develop a bit of a cushion for the rest of the season. I’d love, and I mean love, a season where Auburn’s post season fate didn’t rely on showings in Hoover or late wins to make it into the NCAA tournament. For me, the series that will help tilt the favor one way of the other is Alabama. Alabama is going to break through soon. Auburn will face them on the tail end of this first extended road trip of the year. Auburn wins and then they can still keep position and show they are three of four steps ahead as a program. Lose and the chirping begins.
4. Former MLB great Tim Hudson is joining the staff as Auburn’s pitching coach. Will we see an immediate impact on the pitching staff?
I don’t think it will be as big of an impact as Steve Smith or even Gregg Olson will have. Hudson will give insight and will be a good resource. To me, the role Hudson will play will be evident as to what exactly he does during the game. If he is making mound visits and calming pitchers down then he’s taken on a more prominent role and has more trust in his coaching. If it’s Butch making the majority of the walks then Hudson is still learning the ropes. There will be an impact but it’s just adding to an already impressive wealth of pitching knowledge on the Plains.
5. What’s the best case scenario for Auburn? Is this a team that can host a regional?
Going to Omaha was really really ahead of schedule for Auburn. When Butch got here, I don’t think people realize just how bad it actually was. For Auburn, and for the program in general, we are still in the “making it to a regional is a success” level. Personally, I think we need a few more years of just making it to a regional to set the new bar of success. In my heart of hearts, what will thrill me most? Hosting a Regional. It’s been way to long since Auburn has done that. I want to watch a Regional from the Deck. I want to see a dogpile on the Plains. But even if we don’t, if we just make a Regional? Still a successful season.