Posted: 12:55 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, 2013
That was disappointing. Auburn had rolled through the early season non-conference schedule pretty unscathed (disappointments against MTSU, KSU and EIU notwithstanding) and looked primed and ready to take the conference slate head on. Then, Vanderbilt happened. The results over the weekend weren't unexpected. Vandy is the No. 2 team in the nation for a reason. The shocking and more disappointing aspect was just how it happened. Auburn was no-hit until the seventh inning both Friday and Saturday, and the Vandy arms completely dominated the Tiger offense. I use the term offense loosely, because what the Tigers exhibited over the weekend was a far cry from the hot streak they were on previously.
I'm torn about this weekend, really. I said going into the year that Auburn could be easily dominated by a front line pitcher. It happened against Middle Tennessee and happened when Kevin Ziomek and Tyler Beede took the mound for the Commodores. That prediction will probably continue to hold until Auburn makes some bigger shakeups and moves in the lineup.
So, what is the answer? What went wrong? It really is hard to tell and ever harder to develop an answer. Head coach John Pawlowski has tried everything from moving hot hitting Jordan Ebert up to second and keeping Pat Savage's hot bat in the cleanup slot. The problem is easy to identify if you just chalk it up to a lack of clutch hitting -- Auburn had none of that this weekend. However, I think it's more than that. I think some of the scuffle is just by a bit of overplaying. Sometimes, guys just need some time, a game or two, to clear their heads.
One of my personal frustrations with the season so far is that Auburn is not developing depth. Guys aren't getting at-bats and better in-game situations. There have been numerous chances. However, instead of giving guys like J.D. Crowe or Hunter Kelley or Sam Gillikin starts or multiple at-bats, they are thrown into strictly fielding situations or given single at-bats late in games when the game is out of reach (realistically). It rarely works. In fact, Kelley's pinch-hit RBI double in the Sunday finale was the ONLY time I've seen it work this season.
Again, I wasn't completely disappointed in the result of the series. I was disappointed in how it happened. Color me worried more than anything else. Auburn is at a precipice and the stage is set for either a collapse or a healthy bounce back that could give the Tigers some breathing room. Auburn is set to play a lot of baseball in a short span, against Southern Miss (RPI: 78), Alabama State (221) and LSU (3). Those are three opponents who could help Auburn's post season hopes out in a big way. Especially with four of those games coming on the road. However, a sweep in Baton Rouge, a stumble in Mobile, and an upset against Bama State, and Auburn will come dangerously close to closing the book on 2013. I'm not saying Auburn needs to take a series from the (likely) No. 1 team in college baseball. Far from it. I'm saying Auburn just needs to take one.
For now, the Tigers just needs to move on from the weekend and search for answers internally. Leaders need to step up. Changes should be made. Whatever changes that are made will need to be determined by the staff. That's why they are in the positions they are in.
Before moving on, however, I have to make a bit of a personal confession. This weekend was the first weekend that my attitude toward CJP changed. In the past, I've been a big Pawlowski supporter, even a defender. That attitude is just simply waning at this point. It could be frustrations bubbling over from disappointing basketball and football seasons at Auburn. It could be the breaking point and nervousness over what could happen if the season goes wrong. I just don't know at this point. All I know is that for the first time in his tenure, I started wondering about greener grass. Admittedly, part of it was watching Vanderbilt, seeing just how good the Commodores were, seeing how well-coached they were, how they were playing Pawlowski-style baseball better than CJP could have even imagined. I saw the odd things Vandy did in the field, things like the mid-inning calisthenics, the "phantom DH" (where Vandy lists last night's starting pitcher as the DH so that a better in-game choice can be made), how no player took the field until the entire team took the field, the constant chatter in the dugout. Normally, I would see Tim Corbin's and Vandy's "antics" during the game and just laugh at them, make fun of them, roll my eyes.
This weekend was different. I sat perched high in Section 106 and thought, "these guys are doing all these things, all of these stupid things that we would normally look down on, and they are kicking our asses." Why aren't we doing them? Where is the swagger from Auburn baseball that I saw just three years ago. What happened? That's the big question Auburn needs to answer.
If the Tigers can't answer it, then they need a new coach. It's as simple as that. Is now the time to start thinking about a new coach? Absolutely not. But it might not be too far away.
Kennesaw State: FOUR JOBUs
Vandy, Game 1: 1 JOBU
Vandy, Game 2: 2 1/2 JOBUs
Vandy, Game 3: 3 JOBUs