Monday, March 17, 2008

Not the start Slater needed

Tom Slater came into this season facing a likely make-or-break season as Auburn's baseball coach, and it's breaking the wrong way.

Auburn is 11-8, having suffered a four-game sweep against Florida State earlier this season and a three-game sweep at Florida over the weekend. That covers the seven games Auburn has played against SEC-level competition.

This despite three straight top-20 recruiting classes and a revamping of Slater's staff that brought former New York Yankees farm boss Bill Mosiello to campus.

Slater is in his fourth season as Auburn's head coach. He presided over Auburn's last postseason appearance in the 2005 NCAA Tallahassee Regional, but Auburn has not qualified for the SEC Tournament since 2003.

Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs felt the need to offer Slater a vote of confidence last season. This as Auburn faltered in SEC play after and 18-3 preconference run.

The Tigers started 0-8 in conference play last year, and they're 0-3 this year with undefeated Kentucky coming to Plainsman Park this weekend.

Slater needs something positive to happen, and the sooner the better, but a once-promising team is starting to look flawed.

-- The starting rotation, minus injured Paul Burnside, has gone through an almost total turnover since the start of the season. The starters lasted 10 1/3 total innings in three games at Florida.

-- Auburn starts five freshmen ... talented freshmen, but freshmen.

-- Auburn averaged 3.7 runs in its seven losses to Florida State and Florida, and the Tigers' .300 team batting average ranks next to last in the SEC.

-- Auburn has stranded 153 base runners this season (8.1 a game), more than half of the team's 295 total base runners.

A lot of games remain, and Slater can show progress with an SEC tourney and/or NCAA berth. Middle-of-the-road SEC teams usually get both.

We shall see.

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