UCLA And Stanford Set To Square Off In Palo Alto

via www.magazine.ucla.edu

The Bruins' regional hopes took a hit last weekend with a series loss at Washington St., but the rebounded with a win over #5 UC Irvine on Tuesday that bumped the Bruins up from #104 to #87 in the RPI. Stanford and UCLA are both in positions where they're struggling in their efforts to make a regional. The Pac 10 is down this year and odds are only three or four teams will make a regional. Arizona St. and Oregon St. will be two of those teams while UCLA, Washington St., Cal and Stanford will battle it out for the other spot or two so it's key that the Bruins take care of business. The Bruins will play consecutive home series after their trip this weekend to Palo Alto, then head to Eugene for a series at first year program Oregon. The Bruins need to go on a run if they want to make a regional and these next four weeks provide UCLA their best opportunity for that run.

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Fresh off of a key 8-3 win over #5 UC Irvine on Tuesday night, the UCLA Bruins (12-17, 5-4) head north to battle the Stanford Cardinal (11-12, 5-4) in a huge Pac 10 series between a pair of teams tied for fourth place in the Pac 10. The series is so big that CBS College Sports (formerly CSTV) will broadcast the series finale on Saturday live from Sunken Diamond in Palo Alto. The Cardinal won two of three at Jackie Robinson Stadium when these two teams met last season prior to Stanford's run all of the way to the College World Series. This weekend the two teams will look to make up some ground on the conference leaders Arizona St., who are at 9-1 in Pac 10 play, and make a push for a regional both as both teams look to rebound from poor starts. In order to avoid playing on Easter Sunday, this weekend's series will be played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Although, with rain in the forecast for Thursday, we may see a doubleheader on Friday or Saturday.

UCLA will send Gerrit Cole to the mound on Thursday (5:30 pm PDT) in hopes of getting a win in the series opener. Cole got off to a blazing start, but has come back down to earth recently. He's no longer shutting opposing offenses down, but he is pitching well enough to keep the Bruins in the game. Cole enters the game 2-3 on the year with a 4.14 ERA and 12.4 strikouts per nine innings. Opposite Cole will be the Cardinal's junior right-hander Jeffrey Inman. Inman was expected to be a horse at the top of Stanford's staff after a strong sophomore campaign that included a start in the College World Series, but he hasn't been as good as expected this year. Inman is 1-5 on the 2009 season with a 5.09 ERA and he's striking out only 5.6 batters per nine innings. Inman is coming off of a strong 7.1 inning, two run start last weekend at Oregon though so he may be ready to turn a corner.

Friday's game (5:30 pm PDT) will see Trevor Bauer toe the rubber for the Bruins and Jordan Pries do the same for the Cardinal in a battle of freshmen. Bauer moved into the weekend rotation last weekend at Washington St. and despite a shaky 6.2 inning, four run performance, the right-hander was able to pick up the Bruins' only win of the weekend. Bauer's record stands at 4-3, 2-0 as a starter with a team best 2.72 ERA. Stanford's freshman Pries has actually been the club's best weekend starter this year. The right-hander has a 3-0 record in six appearances, four starts, and a 3.86 ERA. Pries is coming off of a 7.2 inning, one run start last weekend in which he allowed only five hits. The two freshmen will have to pitch well for their respective team to win because odds are that neither team will put up a bug number on Friday. If one starter struggles, he might as well call it a game because he won't be able to count on the other starter having similar struggles.

Saturday's series finale (1 pm PDT) will be broadcast live on CBS College Sports (formerly CSTV) and should provide an interesting contrast on the mound as UCLA sends a junior to the hill, while Stanford counters with a freshman. UCLA's junior is Charles Brewer who enters the weekend with a 1-3 record and 4.17 ERA. The right-hander is coming off a seven inning, two earned run performance last weekend in Pullman and will look to continue a strong run of form this weekend at Sunken Diamond. Last year versus Stanford, Brewer was hit hard and couldn't make it out of the fifth, but the Cardinal also had a much better offense in 2008. Stanford's freshman that will get the nod on Saturday is a southpaw, Brett Mooneyham. Mooneyham has been strong of late, earning wins in his past two start and enters the weekend with a 2-1 record and 4.15 ERA. Mooneyham strikes out a lot of batters and holds opposing batters to a .193 batting average, but also walks eight batters per nine innings.

Stanford's bullpen is anchored by their closer, Drew Storen. Storen, a sophomore right-hander who was a Freshman All-American last year, has three saves, a 2-0 record and is averaging nearly 16 strikeouts per nine innings. Outside of Storen though, the Stanford bullpen is thin. With Garett Claypool (2.13 ERA), Brendan Lafferty (22.1 innings pitched) and Gavin Brooks (three saves), you'd have to think UCLA has the edge in relief.

The Cardinal lost a lot of offense from 2008, including four of their top five bats. As a result, they are struggling at the plate in 2009. Stanford is batting only .254 as a team and doesn't hit for extraordinary power. The Cardinal's top hitter is Adam Gaylord at .310 and only one other Stanford player is batting over .300. Kellen Killsgaard provides the most punch in the Cardinal lineup with a team leading six homers and 20 RBI. If you want to keep an eye on a guy you've probably heard before, check out Toby Gerhart, who also is the star running back for the Stanford football team. Gerhart is batting .292 this year and strikes out an alarming rate, but he is perfect on his four stolen base attempts this year and has the third most total bases on the squad.

UCLA's offense has picked up a couple hot bats the past few games. Cody Decker has homered in his past three games and now has team leading 10 on the year to go with 16 RBI, which also leads the team. Gino Aielli's versatility in the field has gotten him on the lineup card more recently and his hot hitting should keep him there. Aielli is hitting .340 this year and has a .459 on-base percentage. Niko Gallego is 9-15 in the last four games and has seen his batting average go up roughly 80 points as a result. Eddie Murray continues to lead the team in on-base percentage with a number that has now reached .496, while Justin Uribe is batting .329 with three homers and Casey Haerther is hitting .325 with five homers and 22 RBI. Meanwhile, Blair Dunlap continues to be a menace on the basepaths with 11 steals on the campaign.

The Bruins and Cardinal will both be playing with a sense of urgency in this weekend's key series and you can bet that both managers won't hesitate to go to the bullpen early. With both teams' regional hopes on the line, neither team can afford to drop this series, especially the Bruins with their schedule setting up for a run over the next four weekends. As always, you can follow along with the Bruins on GameTracker via the official site. You can also get game updates, observations, thoughts and key information during tha game and every day on my UCLA baseball twitter. In addition, remember that Saturday's game at 1 pm PDT will be broadcast on CBS College Sports (formerly CSTV) so check it out and join us here at BN for a UCLA baseball open thread.

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