Tennessee Baseball: Keys for Vols in Series vs Auburn Tigers


Tennessee baseball faces the Auburn Tigers this weekend after being swept last week by the South Carolina Gamecocks. Here are the keys for the Volunteers.

The Tennessee Vols just defeated the Appalachian State Mountaineers 7-5 on Tuesday, but all is not well with Big Orange Baseball.

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Dave Serrano’s team is 19-14 and has blown huge opportunities in each of the past two weekends. They had a chance to take two of three against the Top 25 ranked Kentucky Wildcats, and they also had a chance to take just one of their three games on the road against the South Carolina Gamecocks last weekend. But neither happened.

As a result, in a year in which they desperately need to make the NCAA Tournament, the Vols just went 1-5 in games against ranked teams over the past two weeks.

Midweek wins will do nothing to salvage that.

Now, the Vols face the Auburn Tigers on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday this week.

After blowing it the past two weekends, there is no question about this weekend. Tennessee has to sweep the 15-18 Tigers, even if the series is on the road.

Here are the keys for them to do that.

1. Better Relief Pitching

Over the pas two weeks, the Vols have struggled to move past their starting pitching to win games. Heck, they almost blew a 7-2 lead to Appalachian State by allowing three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday, and the week before they blew a 5-2 lead to Morehead State in the eighth inning before taking it back at the bottom of that inning.

Against South Carolina, the Vols lost the last game 4-3 after surrendering runs in the sixth and the eighth innings. They also lost the second game of the series by giving up two runs in the sixth and one run in the eighth after a 4-4-tie. And the week before, they allowed a 3-2 Kentucky lead to break open to 10-2 in the eighth and ninth innings in the final game of the series, while they had a 2-1 lead against the Wildcats the game before up until the seventh inning, when they allowed four runs at the end to lose 5-4.

So the pen has got to stop pitching so poorly. But to be fair, there’s another pitching problem that does not rest solely on the pen.

2. Stop Allowing Big Innings

The biggest rule of baseball is that pitchers cannot allow big innings. But Tennessee pitchers seem to be doing that on the regular.

The most infamous of these was Aaron Soto’s abysmal Saturday outing against the Gamecocks. But in six of the last seven games, they have allowed at least three runs in one inning. That can’t continue to happen.

And the most dangerous part of all of this is that while Auburn is not a good team, their bats are strong. The Tigers currently have the No. 14 ranked batting average in the country, so they can get red hot against the Vols. If that happens, games could be over quickly.

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3. Strike Early

Tennessee has a very good team batting average and is very aggressive on the base paths, so collectively they have to play well consistently for an inning to pick up lots of runs. That has got to happen for them to score in any game, but in this series in particular it has to start early.

With great bats, the Auburn Tigers also have a bullpen that is all of a sudden not allowing runs. So in reality, it is their starting pitching under first-year head coach Butch Thompson keeping them down. That has to be exploited by Jordan Rodgers, Vincent Jackson, and Nick Senzel at the plate along with Chris Hall’s aggression on the bases.

Otherwise, as we have already documented, the Vols will lose if the game gets into the late innings.