Texas A&M (13-5; 0-0) at Auburn (11-6; 0-0)
The Texas Aggie Baseball team will open SEC play on the road this weekend at Auburn. A&M comes into the series having won 6 of their last 7 games, but the Tigers are also on a 5-game winning streak of their own. The Aggies were unable to take the Sunday game against Louisiana Tech in a series that they really should have swept, but they did bounce back well against a decent UT-Pan American squad with wins in both midweek games. The Tigers, meanwhile, swept a solid Mercer squad last weekend, and also won a pair of midweek games against Kennesaw State and Alabama State.
This is a big series between 2 teams that are currently relatively evenly matched, at least on paper. Both teams have good starting pitching, and it wouldn't surprise me to see some low scoring games this weekend. Sunday's game was moved up due to rain the forecast, so the teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday starting at noon. In case you missed it, we did a little Q&A session with Auburn's SB Nation site College and Magnolia. Thanks to Kevin Ives for participating in that - you can find his questions and my answers here, and his answers to my questions here.
Friday (6:00pm CDT)
RHP Daniel Mengden (2-2, 2.67, 0.96, 35 K, 9 BB)
RHP Dillon Ortman (3-1, 2.49, 0.54, 21 K, 3 BB)
Mengden won his 2nd game of the season last Friday in the series opener against Louisiana Tech, but he is still having some trouble with his command. Mengden walked 4 batters, hit one, had a wild pitch and a balk. He finished with 7 innings of work, 2 runs allowed - 1 earned - and 8 strikeouts against the Bulldogs. Daniel is tied for the team lead in strikeouts (35) with Tyler Stubblefield. The Aggies need for Mengden to pound the strike zone and continue to be able to go at least 7 innings as conference play begins.
Dillon Ortman bounced back last Friday by picking up a win over Mercer after a rough start against Presbyterian the weekend before. Ortman went 7.2 innings and allowed 3 runs - 2 earned - on 6 hits with 2 walks and 6 strikeouts. Ortman is tied for the team lead in strikeouts (21) with Saturday's starter Keegan Thompson, but also has the most walks (6) among the 3 weekend starters for the Tigers. Ortman is allowing opponents to hit for a .257 average against him, which is down from .306 in 2013.
Saturday, DH Gm1 (12:00pm CDT)
RHP Parker Ray (2-0, 4.15, 1.48, 12 K, 10 BB)
RHP Keegan Thompson (3-0, 0.30, 0.47, 21 K, 5 BB)
Parker Ray picked up his 2nd win of the season last weekend against Louisiana Tech, but it again was another start in which he never really had his best stuff. Ray was unable to make it out of the 6th inning, finishing with 5 innings pitched and allowing 2 earned runs with a strikeout and 3 walks. Parker has done a nice job of really competing on the mound even though his command has been a bit off at times, but the Aggies need for him to round into form as the competition stiffens with SEC play.
Keegan Thompson is a true freshman who has been outstanding for the Tigers so far in 2014. Thompson was excellent last weekend against Mercer, tossing 7 scoreless innings and allowing just 2 hits with 2 strikeouts and 3 walks. The baseball writer for College and Magnolia, Kevin Ives, had the following to say about Thompson:
The biggest change from Keegan's first start to his last two has been his confidence in pitching to contact. His K-Rate is going downwards but his ERA is also doing the same. There's a reason for that. Keegan is utilizing his arsenal better and he's pitching out of his mind. Everything builds off of his fastball. If he's locating then he's going to have a good game. He won't go High 90s but as long as his control is there, he can go to his outpitches with more confidence.
Saturday, DH Gm2
RHP Grayson Long (1-0, 0.35, 0.92, 15 K, 9 BB)
RHP Justin Camp (1-1, 2.10, 0.97, 19 K, 6 BB)
Grayson Long has been the highlight of the Aggies' weekend rotation so far this season, allowing just 1 earned run in 26 innings of work. A&M has been unable to provide him with much run support, though, accounting for Long having just 1 win to show for his outstanding pitching. Long allowed his first run of the season to Louisiana Tech last Sundayand he gave the Aggies everything he had, throwing 122 pitches in 6.2 innings and allowing 4 hits with 3 strikeouts and 4 walks. If Mengden and Ray can round into form, it will be a very nice luxury to have Long as the Sunday starter if he can continue pitching like he is.
Justin Camp is a redshirt sophomore who has had a pretty nice start to the season so far, allowing opponents to hit for an average of just .196 in 5 appearances (3 starts). Camp actually did not start last weekend against Mercer, but he got 3 innings of work on Tuesday against Kennesaw State, allowing no runs and just 1 hit with a strikeout in that appearance. Camp's last start was a midweek game last week against Alabama, in which he threw 6.1 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 9 hits with 4 strikeouts and a walk.
What to Watch
These 2 teams are relatively similar in both hitting and pitching statistics. The Aggies bumped up some of their stats this week in the 2 games against UTPA, but the Tigers are really pretty comparable to A&M as far as hitting is concerned. I was surprised to see the Aggies with such an advantage as far as extra-base hits are concerned, but the Tigers have made up for that with more steals. A&M pitchers will want to be careful with 3B Damek Tomscha who leads the team in a number of offensive categories - HR, RBI, total bases, slugging percentage, on-base percentage - just to name a few. Tigers' 2B Dan Glevenyak is a serious threat on the base paths, leading the team in stolen bases with 7 and coming in 3rd on the team in on-base percentage at .429. LF Jordan Ebert is Auburn's leadoff hitter and he is currently 2nd on the team in batting average (.340) and tied for 2nd in RBI (8). Here's how Auburn and Texas A&M compare in the hitting department.
As far as pitching is concerned, the 2 teams are pretty comparable as far as the starters are concerned, with Auburn maybe even having a slight edge. The Aggies, however, do have a bit of an advantage with depth and bullpen, and that could be a key this weekend if A&M can chase any of the Tigers starters early in a game. As mentioned, Thompson has been the star of the rotation, but the Tigers' 2 main weapons out of the bullpen are RHP Jay Wade and RHP Trey Cochran-Gill. Wade has yet to allow a run or walk a batter and has struck out 7 in 9.2 innings of work, and Cochran-Gill leads the bullpen in innings pitched (10.2) and has allowed 3 earned runs while striking out 8.
Here is my best guess at the lineup that the Tigers will feature this weekend.
This is a tough one for me, and as I mentioned to the guys at College and Magnolia in their Q&A I've been going back and forth on how I think this series will play out. I was pretty down on the Aggies after last weekend's Sunday loss to Louisiana Tech, but they did bounce back well in the pair of midweek games against UTPA. Auburn, however, is not UTPA and the Tigers come into this series with some momentum. Obviously Sunny Golloway and Rob Childress know each other quite well, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Golloway has a few tricks up his sleeve.
I absolutely think that the Friday night game is the key to the series. The Aggies have the advantage with Long in the 3rd game, and the Tigers have to feel confident about the matchup in game 2 with Thompson on the mound. Whoever wins the opening game of the series is who I expect to take the series, and ultimately I do think that will be Auburn. I hope that the Aggies prove me wrong and get a bit of revenge on a Tigers team who came to College Station last season and took 2 of 3.