Behind Enemy Lines: No. 6 Arkansas – Auburn series preview with Auburn Wire’s Taylor Jones

The No. 6 Arkansas Razorbacks are riding a 10-game win streak entering this weekend’s first conference series of the year. Arkansas welcomes the Auburn Tigers (13-3-1) to Fayetteville too kick off SEC play.

In a surprising move, Dave Van Horn has opted to switch up his pitching rotation for this weekend. Instead of starting LHP Hagen Smith on Sunday, he’ll opt to use Smith in whatever situation he’s needed against the Tigers.

“Wild card, closer, long reliever, finisher – however you want to say it,” Van Horn said. “When you have some things happen with arms, sometimes you’ve got to make some changes, and we just felt like that might be something we needed to do this weekend.”

It will be interesting to see how the move plays out against a talented Auburn squad that has only dropped one series all season.

To get more insight on what the Tigers might have in store for the Diamond Hogs this weekend, we caught up with Taylor Jones of Auburn Wire. Who is Auburn’s weekend ace? Which Auburn bats will we need to watch? How does this weekend play out?

Those questions, and more, are answered in this latest edition of Behind Enemy Lines with Auburn Wire’s Taylor Jones.

The Tigers never give up

(Photo by Grayson Belanger – Auburn Athletics)

From your perspective, how has Auburn’s season gone so far?

Despite losing their top two pitchers and four of their five best hitters from last season’s Omaha team, Auburn has had a pretty good season. One reason why is their inability to give up. Auburn has erased 7-0 deficits twice this season, most recently on Tuesday when they defeated Georgia Tech, 12-11 in 12 innings. This team is scrappy and will keep playing until the final out is recorded.

Justin Kirby could be a problem

(Photo by Grayson Belanger – Auburn Athletics)

Justin Kirby was a highly-touted transfer addition this offseason, what has his impact been for Auburn so far?

Kirby has been valuable in the run department with seven HR and 20 RBI. He has found a way to become more consistent at the plate of late, as he has recorded 11 hits in nine games. Before that stretch, he had six hits through the first eight games of the season… all were home runs.

With his power, can you imagine having Justin Kirby and Michael Turner on the same team? Kent State had that luxury before both players transferred to the SEC for their final eligible season.

Striking similarities for Arkansas and Auburn's pitching staff

(Photo by Grayson Belanger – Auburn Athletics)

Who is Auburn’s ace in their pitching rotation and who are the guys that could frustrate Arkansas’ hitters the most this weekend?

Joseph Gonzalez was supposed to take over that role this season, but he has not pitched since Auburn’s opening series against Indiana, where he went 5.0 innings and allowed two hits in Auburn’s 6-1 win over the Hoosiers in the middle game of the series. He has been battling an injured shoulder since then but could see some time on the mound this weekend. If he does pitch, it’ll be during Sunday’s finale.

From what we do know, Tommy Vail will get his first weekend start on Friday night. He has pitched the last three Tuesday night games, and has allowed one hit and zero earned runs in those games, and has struck out 15 batters. It will be interesting to see how well he does in the Friday night role this weekend. Freshman Zach Crotchfelt is making his case to stay in the weekend rotation as well. Last Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana, Crotchfelt allowed three hits and struck out five in his first weekend start.

Auburn's lineup has some talent

(Photo by Grayson Belanger – Auburn Athletics)

Aside from Kirby, who are some players to watch when it comes to getting Auburn’s offense going this weekend?

Freshman Ike Irish and senior Bryson Ware have been incredible at the plate, and have been two reasons why Auburn remains in games all season long. Irish has 13 multiple-hit games this season and leads the NCAA in doubles.

Butch Thompson says that the reason that Irish is so consistent at the plate is that he “doesn’t give an at-bat away.” Ware is tied with Kirby for the team lead in home runs with seven and leads the team in RBI with 21. He is definitely a player that Arkansas pitchers need to find a way to contain.

Auburn's youth could be an issue

(Photo by Grayson Belanger – Auburn Athletics)

What does Auburn need to do to leave Fayetteville with a series win?

This team is young and has not played in many away venues to this point in the season. If the Tigers continue to fight as they have all year, and if pitching doesn’t let the threat of Baum-Walker Stadium get to them, they could walk out with a series win.

Weekend prediciton

(Photo by Grayson Belanger – Auburn Athletics)

How do you think this series plays out?

I think that we will get three close games, but Arkansas’ bats will end up being the deciding factor. I see Arkansas taking two of three.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire