KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Under normal circumstances, I would say what happened to Auburn here Thursday happens in baseball at every level. Sometimes the worst team in the league gets a great pitching and beats even the best team in the league.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
But circumstances were not normal Thursday night at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Tennessee came into the game with an 11-game SEC losing streak. Auburn came in off series wins over Georgia and Alabama and was tied for first in the SEC West.
Tennessee starting pitcher, Steven Gruver, for sure did a terrific job. He didn’t give up a hit until the sixth inning. And to be fair, he’s been good for most of the season.
Auburn’s pitchers gave up 13 hits to a team that will probably prove to be the most inept offensive team ever against SEC competition. And they walked six, four of whom scored.
But that wasn’t the main issue either, at least not from where I sat.
Until the last couple of innings, it was hard to detect much energy in the Auburn dugout. And you could tell, because the crowd was so small that you could every word that was said on the field above a whisper.
Tennessee’s bullpen, which isn’t very good, was in trouble for the last inning and third. But Auburn couldn’t get a hit when it mattered. The Vols are going to finish last in the SEC and they aren’t going to postseason play, but they played hard and deserved to win.
And John Pawlowski's third Auburn team continued to be a puzzle. When these Tigers are at their best, they are very good. When they are not, they are often awful. I wouldn't say they were awful Thursday night, just very flat.
Maybe it was because it was Thursday night. After all, the Tigers have been the worst midweek team in the SEC down the stretch. Maybe they thought Tennessee was going to roll over and die. Who knows? The fact now is that they have themselves in something of a pickle.
Everyone who studies such things tells me, because of its RPI and strength of schedule, Auburn is a lock to get an NCAA regional bid if it has a winning overall record after the SEC Tournament. Mathematically, the Tigers aren’t there yet. They could lose one more to Tennessee and go two-and-out in the SEC Tournament and have a 29-29 record. That wouldn’t get it done.
On the other hand, the SEC West is still up for grabs. Alabama is a game ahead of Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Arkansas. LSU is only a game back of the pack tied for second.
It’s hard to look at this season, which has included two losses to Samford, two to South Alabama, one to Jacksonville State, one to Bethune-Cookman, one to Radford and three sweeps in SEC series, and not see this an Auburn team as an underachiever.
If those things hadn't happened, Thursday night's game would have been no big deal.
Things could look a lot better with wins the next two days and a strong performance in the SEC Tournament. If that’s going to happen, this team needs to summon the kind of energy it had against Georgia and Alabama the previous two weekends.
If it doesn’t happen, a season that might have been better could become one that is entirely forgettable.