Mar 18, 2018 (Akademos, Inc.)
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Baseball Shows Potential

Auburn head baseball coach Butch Thompsonís first season leading the Tigers came with some early frustrations, but his team is showing improvement as Southeastern Conference play begins.

After Auburnís opening conference series with Texas A&M, the Tigers showed they fight as hard as they hit, and they pelted the nationís third-ranked team with a total of 27 runs in the three-game series, which included two Auburn loses. This offensive swing followed a 14-3 blowout road win against Georgia Tech earlier in the week and a total of 26 runs scored in a series win against Oral Roberts a week prior.

The offensive production certainly got attention, especially after Auburn (10-10, 1-2 SEC) scored a total of five runs during a five-game losing streak that was snapped in the second game against Oral Roberts.

The offensive production runs straight through the top of the lineup with Anfernee Grier, Josh Palacios, Nico Buentello, Jordan Ebert and Cody Nulph.

Grier, whose hitting streak dates back to last year, leads the team with a .417 average with 32 runs and 13 stolen bases. He also has five home runs. Palacios, who bats in the two-hole behind Grier, is batting .412 with seven doubles, three triples and nine stolen bases.

Buentello has been the big bat with a team-leading 33 RBIs and six home runs to go with his .390 average. Ebertís rebound season includes him hitting .367 after the A&M series and Nulph is batting .347 with 12 doubles.

Auburn is undeniably seeing the ball better at the plate, but the Tigersí opponents also seem to do the same. Thompsonís opening season has drawn many red flags, but it is odd the former Mississippi State pitching coachís staff on the Plains has a team ERA of 4.31 through 20 games.

Auburn has thrown only two shutouts this season and held opponents under five runs in 10 of its first 20 games.

Woes begin with starters, where Cole Lipscomb and Justin Camp have two of the highest ERAs, 6.33 and 4.94, respectively, on the staff. Andrew Mitchellís 3-0 record in four starts makes him the only Tiger pitcher with a winning record, and Casey Mize, who has started three games, has a team-low ERA for starters at 3.38.

The Tigers can certainly rebound, and have at least made small strides in the right direction following late Februaryís five-game losing streak, but playing in the SEC is always an uphill battle.

Auburnís next two conference series are against Arkansas and LSU, both ranked, before the Tigers face unranked Missouri and Tennessee then ranked Ole Miss.

Auburn made the NCAA Tournament last year after a four-year stint that didnít include anything more than the SEC Tournament. The 2016 Tigers have shown the potential of making it back to the postseason, but concerns could ease in if pitching doesnít improve and Auburn is forced to win with just hitting. Either way, the season is still young, though conference play will heat up in the next few weeks.

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