Bruins Look To Make It Four Straight Series Wins In Pullman

With under two months until Selection Monday I'm going to start each weekend preview with a look at the Bruins' regional chances from now on. This week, UCLA looks in pretty good shape for a regional considering where they were after 10 straight losses. Three straight series wins, two of which were on the road and one of which was against a very good East Carolina club has give the club a chance. The number currently hurting the Bruins is 91. That is their RPI at the moment (if you think the RPI is bad for basketball, it's worse for baseball where it's notorious for giving west coast teams the shaft) and it's going to have to improve if the Bruins want to make a regional. The good thing for UCLA is the RPI is heavily dependant on SOS and with weekend series against Arizona St., Fullerton, Oregon St. left on the docket, plus midweek games with Irvine UCLA will begin to move up. If the Bruins can get over .500 and finish the the top three of the conference (preferably top two), they should be able to squeeze into a regional.

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The Bruins will square off against Washington St. this weekend in a three Pac 10 series at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman. UCLA is coming off a 3-2 loss to Loyola Marymount in a midweek game, but they have won their last three weekend series. The Bruins are 10-15 overall on the year, but 4-2 in Pac 10 play, which has them tied for second place and only one game behind conference leaders Arizona St. The Bruins are no stranger to the road, having played four of their six weekends away from Jackie Robinson Stadium and after a rough start have won five of their last seven as the visitors.

Washington St. enters the weekend 10-12 on the year and 2-1 in the Pac 10 after taking two of three from a solid Cal team on the road last weekend. The Cougars have been exceptionally good at home where they are 6-2 including a split of a four game series versus the same Oklahoma team that swept the Bruins in Norman. The Bruins swept three from the Cougars last year in Westwood, but the Cougars were able to win two of three from the Bruins in 2007 when the two teams last played in Pullma. With Arizona St. on the road against a decent Washington team you can bet both the Bruins and Cougars will battle tooth and nail this weekend in hopes of moving into first place of the conference.

UCLA's Gerrit Cole will return to the mound in Friday's series opener (5:30 pm PDT) and he will have to be locked in because Washington St. is sending their fantastic ace Matt Way to the hill. Way, a senior southpaw, is 3-2 on the 2009 season with a sensational 1.58 ERA. Way strikes out over a batter per inning and has been going very deep into games this year, averaging 6.2 innings per start. Way excels in every aspect on the mound, striking out batters, while walking under three batters per nine innings and allowing opposing batters to hit only .199. Last year the Bruins were able to put three runs on the board against Way in his 5.2 innings of work, but Way also walked six in that game. Way is unlikely to walk six on Friday so it will be of the upmost importance that Cole gives the Bruins a good start. The freshman fireballer is 2-2 this year with a 3.52 ERA and has struggled to go deep into games of late. Cole's high strikeout count will always give him a higher pitch count than most, but he's going to need to work more efficiently if he is to excel in the Friday night spot.

Saturday's game (2 pm PDT) will pit UCLA's Charles Brewer against Wazzu's Chad Arnold. Brewer has thrown primarily in the Sunday slot this year, but worked on Saturday's last year so he shouldn't have any issue with the switch. After a streak of starts in which he continually got better, Brewer took a step back last weekend, although it wasn't all his fault. Some poor defense behind him didn't help Brewer as he lasted only 2.2 innings versus Arizona having allowed six runs, three of which were unearned. The junior carries a 1-2 record and 4.55 ERA into this weekend and won't be too thrilled to see the crimson and grey of Washington St. again after giving up five runs in five innings last year versus the Cougars. WSU's Arnold is a redshirt sophomore who threw very well against the Bruins last year. Arnold went six innings at Jackie Robinson Stadium last year and struck out, while allowing only two runs that were both unearned. Arnold hasn't been quite that strong this year though as he'll bring a 2-1 record and 4.34 ERA into Saturday's contest. Arnold is walking batters at an alarming rate (17 free passes in 29 innings) so it will be paramount for the Bruins that they be patient versus the righthander.

You may be asking why Brewer was moved to Saturday and it's so important that Cole go deep into Friday's game. Well, the reason is that Trevor Bauer is making the move to the weekend rotation. After a fantastic start to his freshman season that includes last week's Pac 10 Pitcher of the Week honors, Bauer will be slotted into the Sunday spot (12 pm PDT) in Pullman, moving Brewer up a day and taking away the reliever that has made a habit of backing up Cole once he exits. Bauer will bring a 3-3 record and team best 2.02 ERA into Sunday's tilt and has allowed only three runs in his 14 innings as a midweek starter this year. Opposite Bauer will be Wazzu's two-way threat Jared Prince. Prince, who starts in the outfield when not on the mound, is 1-2 this year with a 3.62 ERA. That ERA is surprisingly low considering some of his other numbers. Prince strikes out only 3.8 batters per nine innings and has allowed opposing batters to hit .312.

The Washington St. bullpen has been very good this year and you can bet that with a deep 'pen at his disposal Washington St. head coach Donnie Marbut will not hesitate to go to it early. The bullpen is led by Jeremy Johnson, who has already thrown over 25 innings this year and has registed two save to go along with a 2.84 ERA. David Stilley has also been a go-to guy for Marbut with his 2.87 ERA in 15 innings. The Cougars' soft tosser who often comes in to get them out of a jam with his ability to induce the ground ball is Adam Conley. Conley brings a 3.38 ERA into the weekend despite striking out batters at a rate similar to Prince.

The UCLA bullpen will be without their best arm now that Bauer has moved to the rotation. While head coach John Savage does lose the option of bringing Bauer in, he now has Rob Rasmussen available in relief. Rasmussen, who has issues recently as a starter before being moved to the bullpen, threw 3.1 innings as a reliever on Wednesday versus LMU and didn't surrender a run. Moving Bauer to the rotation also shows the confidence Savage has in Gavin Brooks. Brooks, who most expected to be the ace of the rotation prior to the year, saw his mechanics fall apart prior to the year and his confidence with it. Brooks was awful early on and at one point had an astronomical ERA, but the southpaw has regained his form in recent weeks and is now the team's closer. Brooks picked up two saves last weekend versus Arizona and opposing batters are hitting only .157 against him.

The Cougar bats are not overly powerful and their individual numbers aren't fantastic, but they are averaging over six runs per game. The offense is led by catcher Greg Lagreid's .370 batting average and he's also chipped in with 18 RBI. LF Patrick Claussen has hitting amazingly for a freshman, recording a .362 batting average and team leading 17 runs, while providing the Cougars with their only stolen base threat, even if it's a small threat with only four stolen bases. Last week's Pac 10 Player of the Week, OF Derek Jones is the Cougars' power threat with seven homers and 21 RBI, but he's hitting only .266 with nearly a strikeout per game.

The Bruins are Cougars are both going to need strong Pac 10 seasons to make a regional and both enter the weekend playing good ball. UCLA has won their past three weekend series and Wazzu has come out on top in five of their last six. It's imperative for Washington St. that they get the W on Friday when they have the clear pitching advantage. After that, the starting pitching will be pretty even and both teams have very good bullpens. UCLA has the clear edge at the plate assuming they hit the way they have in the last month, but the Cougars have been very good with the leather, while the Bruins have been iffy at best. The Cougars will have a distinct home field advantage as Bailey-Brayton Field is comprised entirely of turf with the exception of the mound and home plate area. The two teams are rather even and both teams recognize the importance of this weekend's set so it should be an entertaining series. You can follow along this weeknd on GameTracker via the official site or on the Washington St. official site where you can listen to the action.

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