South Carolina (27-11, 8-7 SEC) travels to Auburn, AL to begin a three-game series with the Auburn Tigers (21-16, 7-8 SEC) tomorrow night. For Carolina, this game offers an opportunity to continue to move forward in the conference after last weekend's sweep of Mississippi St., as well as an opportunity to wipe the bad taste of another regrettable mid-week showing, this time against College of Charleston. For Auburn, the game offers a chance to get back on the right track after recent struggles. South Carolina has been very successful in this series, with a 13-4 record over the past five years.
The probable pitching schedule is as follows:
South Carolina Michael Roth (Sr. LHP) 3-0, 2.55 ERA, 60.0 IP, 14 BB, 49 SO
Auburn Derek Varnadore (Sr. RHP) 1-5, 5.20 ERA, 55.1 IP, 17 BB, 39 SO
South Carolina Jordan Montgomery (Fr. LHP) 3-0, 2.48 ERA, 36.1 IP, 4 BB, 31 SO
Auburn Jon Luke Jacobs (Sr. RHP) 5-0, 2.37 ERA, 38.0 IP, 15 BB, 40 SO
South Carolina Colby Holmes (Jr. RHP) 5-0, 2.87 ERA, 47.0 IP, 10 BB, 37 SO
Auburn Daniel Koger (Fr. LHP) 2-3, 2.66 ERA, 50.2 IP, 17 BB, 28 SO
There are a few things to note here. First of all, while there's been a great deal of hand-wringing over Michael Roth's recent performances, including by Roth himself, the numbers suggest that he's not pitching all that poorly. A 2.55 ERA is only a slump in comparison to the lofty standard that Roth set for himself with his magical 2011 season, when he threw for a 1.06 ERA, was a consensus All-American, and was chosen as national player of the year by some publications. It's difficult for any player to rise to that level on a consistent basis. Roth does need to pitch better than he did last week, but the fact of the matter is that it's fair to expect our batters to bail him out a bit more often. And don't forget that Roth has 60 IP and an opponent's BA of .181, both good for second in the league. The guy may not be playing as well as last year, but he's still having an All-SEC-type season. If you want to see a guy who's struggling, take a look at Auburn's Derek Varnadore, another senior with a long career behind him. He's sitting at 1-5 / 5.2. Not good, and you have to like Roth's chances in that matchup.
The rest of the weekend should feature pretty good pitching matchups. The place where I think we have an advantage will be in the bullpen. Not that ours is top of the line right now past Tyler Webb and Matt Price, but Auburn's has struggled mightily lately, particularly on Sundays. Last week, it gave up seven runs on Sunday against Vanderbilt. The sooner we can get Jon Luke Jacobs (there's an Alabama name for you) and Daniel Koger out of the game, the better.
Bats-wise, the key is to continue to get good production from a wide range of players. Auburn's starting pitchers aren't bad, so this won't be an easy series. That said, they're certainly not better than some of what we saw last weekend, so there's no reason to believe that we won't see continued improvement. I'd certainly love to see us ravage Auburn's bullpen late in the games Saturday and Sunday.
Auburn has shown flashes of being a decent baseball team this year, and the series is on the Plains. However, the Tigers are struggling right now, and I'd be lying if said that I don't expect to come out of this with at least a series win. A sweep may be too much to ask, but we should get at least two here.
If you're interested in learning more about AU baseball, you should definitely check out Plainsman Parking Lot. This site does a better job of covering college baseball than I could ever imagine doing.