One of the hottest teams in baseball, the No. 3 Florida Gators (22-4 overall, 5-1 SEC), looks to continue an impressive start to the season as they host the Auburn Tigers (17-7-1, 2-4 in SEC). The teams will face off three times in a weekend series, with games starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. Sunday.
🐊 Tussle with the Tigers 🐅 #GoGators pic.twitter.com/BWggKuLMda
— Florida Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) March 30, 2023
Last season, Auburn finished 43-22 overall and appeared in the College World Series. Their season ended as they fell to Arkansas, and the offseason was not easy for the Tigers as a multitude of high-level players were drafted to MLB organizations. However, Auburn has been able to piece together a solid early season. After being swept by Arkansas in a three-game series in March, they retaliated with a series win over Georgia and wins over South Alabama and North Alabama. But the Gators, arguably one of the best offenses in the nation, will be a tough test for the unranked squad.
Florida’s on Fire
The Gators look unstoppable right now. Last week, Florida beat Florida State and swept the defending champions Ole Miss on the road. Both the offense and the pitching lineups have been firing on all cylinders. Florida leads the nation in hits (296) while ranking second in runs (260), home runs (61) and slugging (.621). Standout hitters Jac Caglianone (who leads the nation with 17 home runs), Josh Rivera and Cade Kurland continue to produce. On top of that, Gators outfield slugger Wyatt Langford is recovered from injury and back in the lineup. Auburn head coach Butch Thompson had high praise for Florida and sees the series as an “opportunity” for his developing team.
Also, Florida has been dominating weekend series thus far. The Gators are 16-2 in weekend games, with their only losses coming at the hands of No. 22 Miami and No. 24 Alabama. Florida is currently outscoring teams by a +95 margin (5.3 runs per game) and out-hitting opponents by 81 hits (4.5/hits per game). Freshman infielder Cade Kurland also spoke on Sport Scene about Florida’s impressive offense.
Outside of Florida’s nationally recognized offense, their weekend rotation is also one of the best in the country. Brandon Sproat starts Friday, Hurston Waldrep starts Saturday and Jac Caglianone trots out on Sunday. The three-headed monster is a combined 11-1 with a 3.94 ERA, a .188 opponent batting average and 141 strikeouts in 96 innings (13.2 K/9). Sproat has had a notably exceptional season thus far, being named SEC Pitcher of the Week on March 20 after a one-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts against Alabama on March 16.
The Gators bullpen have backed up the starting rotation quite well. Lefty Philip Abner and righty Brandon Neely have accounted for 21 1/3 innings pitched with only two runs allowed, 29 strikeouts and five walks.
Auburn has been a decent hitting team except for the series against Arkansas, where they only combined for five runs in three games. So, if Florida’s pitchers can get Auburn on their heels and the Gators bats are able to continue producing, expect Florida to tack on some more wins.
Don’t Disregard Auburn
While the Tigers are unranked, they still post a solid record, and Thompson believes his team is just now starting to be at their prime. As stated earlier, Auburn had a lot of rebuilding to do this offseason and had to deal with some injuries. But heading into the series against Florida, Thompson and the Tigers feel that they have a solid lineup and are ready to take on the Gators.
The Tigers weekend rotation includes RHP Will Cannon Friday, RHP John Armstrong Saturday and LHP Tommy Vail Sunday. This pitching trifecta is a combined 9-1 with a 3.31 ERA in 65.1 innings pitched. It will be interesting to see how these pitchers, who are relatively inexperienced but undoubtedly skilled, will match up against the big bats of Florida. Thompson also spoke about his confidence in his infield, led by Bryson Ware at third base and Cole Foster at shortstop, which posts a .978 fielding percentage with only 20 errors on the season.
Auburn also has impressive hitters in Ware, Foster and catcher Ike Irish. They combine for a .402 average with 73 runs and 75 RBI. Thompson spoke highly of the senior Ware, calling him the team’s “headliner” and the guy who’s had “the best season to date.” The Tigers are looking to bounce back from that series loss to Arkansas, and facing the No. 3 Gators is their opportunity to do so. Expect Auburn to come out with a lot of firepower and aggression.