An SEC pitcher upset Auburn ace Casey Mize earlier this season.
After the No. 22 Tigers downed Samford 7-2 in a midweek tune-up Tuesday, Mize explained he “pitched against a guy a few weeks ago who really made it about two players,” and doesn’t want his Game 1 throwdown with Florida’s Brady Singer to be restricted to the matchup on the mound.
“I feel like throwing on Friday night in the SEC, you get this a lot,” Mize said. “I’m not trying to make it about two players, I’m trying to make it a team thing. I don’t have to hit off him and he doesn’t have to hit off me.”
If you relocate the crosshairs from the likely major-leaguers, Auburn and Florida’s upcoming Thursday-through-Friday series is still must-see baseball.
Auburn is riding a six-game win streak in which it has outscored opponents Mississippi State, UAB, Alabama and Samford 70-19, with the bulk of those runs coming in the Tigers’ first series sweep of their arch-rival Crimson Tide on the road in 42 years.
Over the weekend in Tuscaloosa, Auburn bludgeoned the Tide in three-straight outings, outscoring its arch-rival 44-10, including a 20-5 bloodletting in the sweep-clinching Game 3.
The Tigers arrived in Tuscaloosa batting .199 in conference play and left it at .236.
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Head coach Butch Thompson is perceptibly seeing absurd production out of Mize, but a recent rotation alteration on the mound — Sunday starter Tanner Burns moved to Saturday and Saturday starter Davis Daniel has been sent to the bullpen in favor of sophomore Andrew Mitchell — has made good of the improvements at the plate.
Mize is 8-1, Burns pitched a seven-strikeout shutout in Game 2 and Daniel ultimately earned the win out of the bullpen in Game 3.
The other orange and blue, No. 1 Florida, has been the top-ranked squad in most polls for much of the season. The Gators thrive off Singer’s elite pitching and electric production from their bats, notably the ones belonging to sophomore Will Dalton and junior Jonathan India.
“Starting pitching, frontline is as good as anybody,” Thompson said following the Tigers’ 7-2 win over Samford on Tuesday. “(Florida is) everything they’ve been in the past.”
Dalton leads the conference in home runs (16) and RBIs (47), while India ranks sixth nationally in batting average (.415), 12th in home runs (13), third in slugging percentage (.822) and second in on-base percentage (.544).
But whether Mize likes it or not, all eyes in the college baseball world will be fixated on the pitchers’ duel inside Alfred A. McKethan Stadium on Thursday night in Gainesville, Florida.
Thompson had to go back a few years to recall a matchup that compares to this one.
The 17-year SEC coaching veteran recollected a 2012 game between his Mississippi State Bulldogs and LSU. As pitching coach for State, Thompson sent Chris Stratton to face off with the Tigers’ Kevin Guasman.
Stratton, the 2012 SEC Pitcher of the Year, struck out 17 to Guasman’s 11 in a 3-2 extra-innings victory for LSU. Both were selected in that summer’s draft, with Thompson’s pupil going 20th to San Francisco and Guasman going fourth overall to Baltimore.
"This one coming up this Thursday, that's the night it reminds me of," Thompson said.
On paper, Mize and Singer’s collision course is one of the most talented matchups in the sport’s recent history, as both pitcher’s names are synonymous with top MLB prospect in the league’s upcoming draft. In Perfect Game’s most recent Mock Draft, Mize goes No. 1 overall to Detroit, while Singer lands at No. 11 in Baltimore.
Scouts harp on their favorite attributes — Mize’s screaming splitter or Singer’s wicked fastball — but Thursday’s matchup should be the most effective method to analyze the pair head-to-head.
Singer dishes out Ks at a frightening rate and turns batters silly with the drop on his changeup. Sprinkled on top of those major league reliever abilities are the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2015 draft selection’s 8-1 record and trio of complete games this season.
“I’m very impressed,” Mize said of Singer. “He’s got an electric fastball that runs like no other I’ve ever seen. It starts at a lefty’s hips and ends up back in the strike zone. And his slider is above-average. Those two pitches are elite.”
After a breakout 2017 with a 3.21 ERA and 4.03 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Singer was the heavy favorite to go No. 1 overall. The Eustis, Florida, product hasn’t declined this season, rather a righty from The Plains has simply stolen the show.
A statistical anomaly, Mize has pro-ready written all over. The Springville, Alabama, native’s junior season at Auburn has featured a career-high 13 strikeouts twice, top 10 statuses in walks per nine innings (No. 9), Ks (No. 5), walks plus hits per inning pitched (No. 2) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (No. 1) and Auburn’s first no-hitter in 16 years March 9 against Northeastern.
“We've got Casey Mize coming in, that'll be a heck of a matchup between Brady and Mize,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said following the Gators’ 6-4 loss to Mercer to Tuesday.
With an identical 8-1 record to Singer’s, tied for fourth in the country, Mize’s only loss came on the road at Kentucky to 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year and fellow draft hopeful Sean Hjelle.
There will be only one victor at 6 p.m. CST on ESPNU. But come June 4 at the draft, both Mize and Singer will be all smiles.
“We need to be playing really good ball,” Mize said. “Obviously they’re the No. 1 team in the country. We need to be playing our best ball to compete and win a series. We play against some really good teams and we think they’re going to be the best … we’re feeling really good about where we are right now.”
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