Following a series loss to Stanford last weekend, UCLA is in need of a red hot finish to make a regional. A mere strong finish won't cut it anymore. When I say red hot, I mean realllly hot. The Bruins currently sit at 14-19 after a midweek win at #15 San Diego St. and will likely need a 16-7 finish just to get into the regional picture. A 16-7 finish would leave them with a 30-26 record overall record, which may not be enough to get into a regional, but it would at least have them in the discussion. It would be a mark that probably wouldn't match up with the record of other bubble teams, but it just might be good enough because their schedule was that tough. The Bruins currently have a RPI ranked 87th, but a 16-7 finish would likely put them in the top 50, which may be good enough. Boyd's World estimates that a 17-6 finish would put UCLA in the top 45 of the RPI, which would be comparable to all of the other bubble teams and maybe even better than a few of them. All of this talk will be for not though if the Bruins don't turn around their play of late and improve upon their tendency to give away runs both offensively and defensively.
UCLA returns home this weekend looking for some home cooking after a brutal schedule thus far in the season. Not only did the Bruins play a number of extremely difficult team, difficult enough that their schedule was rated toughest in the nation, but the UCLA schedule also had them on the road for 21 of their first 33 contests. That changes now though as the Bruins return home to play seven of their next eight and 12 of their next 16 games at Jackie Robinson Stadium. That all begins this weekend as they host Washington in a three game Pac 10 set.
Taking to the Jackie Robinson Stadium mound to begin the series on Friday (6 pm PDT) will be the UCLA freshman Gerrit Cole. Cole has gotten off to a strong start in both of his last two starts, but has run into seventh inning trouble. Against both Washington St. and Stanford, Cole was cruising into the seventh inning, but began to tire and by the time head coach John Savage pulled him, a UCLA lead had turned into a deficit. Cole enters this weekend with a 2-3 record and 4.15 ERA, while striking out 12 batters per nine innings. Cole will be going up against another freshman, a right-hander from Snohomish, Washington by the name of Aaron West. West has nine appearances this year, but only two starts. He's 1-0 on the year with a 6.00 ERA and has allowed opposing batters to .279 against him.
The Bruins will send another freshman to the hill on Saturday (2 pm PDT) when right-hander Trevor Bauer gets the nod. Bauer enters the weekend with a 5-3 record and a 3-0 record as a starter. His five wins lead the Bruins and his 3.10 ERA is the best of UCLA's weekend starters. Not only is Bauer pitching well, but he's pitching deep into games, going 26.2 innings in his four starts this year. While Bauer is a young freshman, he will be opposing an experienced senior in Jason Erickson. Erickson's UW career got off to a rocky start with a ERA abover 24 in his freshman year, but he improved in both his sophomore and junior years. His ERA last year was a very strong 3.55, but this year he's taken a step back. The right-hander is 1-3 on the season with a 5.88 ERA, while striking out less than six batters a game.
UCLA will finally get to throw an experienced arm in Sunday's series finale (1 pm PDT), while Washington take their second turn with a freshman starter. UCLA's starter is a junior right-hander, Charles Brewer, whose record doesn't reflect his performance on the mound. Brewer enters Sunday's contest with a 1-4 record and 4.22 ERA, but he's had a quality start (at least six innings and no more than three earned runs) in three of his last four outings. The Huskies' frosh who will oppose Brewer is Andrew Kittredge, who is second on the team with 17 appearances, but has made only one start. Kittredge is 1-2 on the year with a 3.03 ERA and he gave up only one run in 4.2 innings in his only start this year.
Washington was expected to be one of the better hitting teams in the Pac 10 this year, but that hasn't materialized. The Husky pitching was expected to be poor and it has been, but the offense was expected to make up for it. It hasn't though and in fact, it's been just as bad as the pitching as both the hitting and pitching are ranked eighth in the conference. One person who cannot be blamed for the offense's struggles though is RF Kyle Conley who is batting .361 with 13 homers, 37 RBI and 40 runs on the year. Outside of Conley though, the Husky offense is rather tame. They are hitting .269 as a team and haven't shown great power or speed on the bases. Washington also strikes out a great deal, leading the conference in that category with roughly 20% more strikeouts than the next closest team.
The UCLA offense has a major hole in the middle of it without Casey Haerther who may or may not play this weekend as he continues his recovery from a broken toe. Cody Decker has done his best to help fill that hole though. The senior has raised his average to .292 on the year and has hit five home runs in his past seven games to bring his total to a team-leading 12 on the year. Eddie Murray's batting average has dropped some of late to .318, but he still leads the team with 30 runs scored and has an exception .486 on-base percentage. The key for the Bruins will be whether or not Blair Dunlap can start hitting again and whether or not the bottom of the order, which has been very poor this year, can begin to hit consistently.
The Bruins have lost any margin for error. Rarely does any team go into a series looking for a sweep, but that has to be the midset of the UCLA players now when they play weaker teams like Washington. When the Bruins play teams like Arizona St. and Oregon St., a series win will do, but against the Huskies, the Bruins better be looking for a sweep. If you want to see whether or not the Bruins can make an improbable regional run or if you just want to spend a nice, relaxing time at the ballpark come out to Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for children and free for Wooden Club card holders. If you can't make it out to the games, you can listen to it or follow it on GameTracker via the official site.