The 9-0 Auburn Tigers are off to their best start since 2001, but enter this week unranked. A mid-week win over a top 25 team may change all that.The Southeastern Conference is once again stacked. Seven teams reside in the latest D1Baseball.com's Top 25, with undefeated Auburn right on the outside. The Tigers' hot start just adds to the gauntlet of the the SEC and makes it even more difficult to project just who is the best of the best.
The Tigers are scoring runs in bunches, pitching some lights out ball and taking down ranked opponents on the road. Here's a look at why Auburn's rise spells trouble for the rest of the SEC.
Home sweep home
Auburn had the luxury of starting the season with eight straight games at Plainsman Park. The Tigers won all eight, including two monstrous sweeps over Longwood and Bryant. The opening weekend sweep was the first by Auburn since taking a four-game opening series against Maine in 2013.
The Tigers have yet another three-game home set against BYU this weekend. In fact, Auburn doesn’t play an away weekend series until a March 23-25 showdown with No. 7 Kentucky. Not a bad way to start the season at all.
Piling on the runs
Auburn has been a run-scoring machine through nine games, averaging nine a game. The Tigers' 81 total runs rank 11th-best in college baseball.
It all started in that opening weekend series, when the Tigers outscored Longwood 35-1 in three games. Their 25-1 Game 2 victory saw the most runs scored by the Tigers since 2009, and the 24-run margin of victory was the largest in program history. It was the first time Auburn allowed just one run in an entire series since 1988.
The Tigers are scoring runs thanks to some pretty big innings. They have scored four or more in eight different frames so far in 2018. Putting up runs, especially timely runs, in bunches will pay off down the road.
Long time coming
Auburn’s lone road game was an exciting one, traveling to Stanky Field in Mobile, Ala. for a mid-week showdown with No. 15 South Alabama. The Tigers trailed in as late as the eighth inning, before mounting a comeback, scoring four runs in the eighth for the 7-6 victory.
It was the first time the Tigers won at Stanky Field since 2007. They swept the Jaguars that season, winning 20-5 in Mobile and 5-2 in Auburn. The two have since battled, Tuesday’s game being the third one-run game in the mini in-state rivalry since the Tigers last win.
Playing in the SEC, handling ranked teams on the road goes a long way. A comeback victory over a very good Jaguars team is a good way to start.
Auburn has not been winning all of its games by 24 runs. Tuesday’s victory over South Alabama was its third one-run win of the season. The Tigers are showing they can win in plenty of different ways.
Auburn has gone into the eighth inning tied or losing four times this year. The first instance came on Feb. 20 against Georgia State. The Tigers trailed 2-0 in the eighth before beginning to chip away, winning in walk-off fashion the next inning. One day later they entered the eighth tied against Troy and manufactured a run in the bottom of the eighth to seal the deal.
A solid bullpen certainly helps. Cody Greenhill and Calvin Coker have made nine total appearances out of the pen, allowing just one run over 21 combined innings. One of the two has registered the win or the save in each of the come-from-behind victories this season.
Speaking of pitching...
Everyone knew Casey Mize was a name to watch heading into 2018. The junior right-hander is one of the premier pitchers in college baseball. He showed his electric stuff and impeccable command on opening day, tossing six shutout innings, striking out seven and walking none.
But, as Tigers opponents are quickly learning, he’s not alone. Freshman right-hander Tanner Burns has dazzled in the three-spot of the weekend rotation. He tossed five shutout innings in his debut against Longwood and followed it up with seven innings of one-run ball against Bryant. Like Mize, he’s stingy on the free passes, striking out 14 and walking two in his first 12 innings of 2018.
Senior Andrew Mitchell has made two mid-week starts and has yet to allow an earned run in either of them. He’s also struck out 15 in 8.1 innings as a starter. That’s an absurd 16.7 strikeout-per-nine rate. That mark is likely unsustainable, but hasn’t made it any less exciting to watch for now.
A hot pitching staff. A no-fear attitude no matter what the scoreboard says. It may be early, but Auburn has proven it can win in different ways. And that adds one more dangerous team into the SEC mix.