UCLA Heads To Unfamiliar Territory For 3 Games In Eugene

via cache.daylife.com

Just when everyone is ready to write them off, the Bruins come on strong and give fans hope that maybe, just maybe, they can squeeze into a regional. Following UCLA's 7-5 win over Long Beach St. on Tuesday, their 10th win in their last 14 games, the Bruins are within one game of .500 at 20-21. Their 11-7 Pac-10 record is good for third in the conference, just a half game behind second place Washington St., but only a half game ahead of fourth place Oregon St. The number most often floated around as the win total the Bruins must get to if they want to play in the postseason is still 30, meaning a 10-5 finish.

With UCLA's final seven games of the year against #1 UC Irvine, #3 Arizona St. and #6 Cal St. Fullerton, it's imperative that the Bruins have a strong next seven games against the Pac-10's last place team (Oregon), the Pac-10's eighth place team (Cal) and a 9-30 Cal St. Bakersfield club. If the Bruins can get a few games over .500 and need only a 4-3 or 3-4 finish to get to 30 wins, they'll have a shot, but it starts with racking up the wins against the soft spot of their schedule. These next four games against Oregon (RPI #227) and Cal St. Bakersfield (RPI #247) will surely hurt UCLA's #67 RPI regardless of how the Bruins play, but their finishing schedule should take care of their RPI so long as they win their share of games.

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No current UCLA player has ever played a NCAA baseball game in Eugene, Oregon. In fairness to the Bruins, until this spring, the city hadn't hosted a NCAA baseball game since the 1981 season, after which, the Oregon baseball program was disbanded. The Ducks are back though and they've done everything right since announcing that the baseball program would be revived this season. They hired a top-notch head coach (George Horton from Fullerton), they fully funded the program from year one, they recruited well and they are building a facility that will be the class of the Pac-10. That facility is only half done right now though. The Ducks built the playing surface, dugouts, scoreboards and temporary bleachers for this season and will finish the $15 million stadium in the offseason with roughly 5,000 seats, a press box, party deck, luxury suites, clubhouses, etc.

With all of that on the way, it looks like it will be sooner rather than later before Oregon is competing at the top of the Pac-10, but they're still a first-year program and as a result, they're struggling. They're 3-12 in Pac 10 play, which has them in last place and they've lost seven in a row and 14 of their last 15. The Ducks have surprisingly solid pitching, but an anemic offense and with the Bruins looking to get back over .500, this series could be one-sided.

The series will open on Friday (3 pm PDT) with Gerrit Cole taking to the hill for UCLA and Erik Stavert doing the same for Oregon. Cole struggled some last weekend versus Oregon St., surrendering five runs in his first three innings, but he was able to put zeros on the board in the fourth and fifth to pick up the win. The freshman will head to Eugene with a winning record, 4-3, for the first time since the season's opening week and he'll take a 3.99 ERA as well. Cole's 78 strikeouts is good for fifth in the Pac-10 and quite an impressive number when you consider everyone ahead of him has thrown at least 15 more innings than the right-hander. Cole will have to bring his A-game on Friday if he wants to beat the Ducks' junior right-hander Erik Stavert. A JC transfer who was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 2008 MLB Draft, Stavert is 4-3 with a 2.63 ERA on the year. Stavert has a strikeout to walk ration of roughly 2:1 and he has a .217 opponent's batting average. Stavert is susceptible to the long ball  though, having given up nine homers already this year. Stavert is coming off a tough luck loss at Washington last weekend where he allowed just two runs in a complete game effort.

The Bruins will send Trevor Bauer, who has been their best pitcher this year, to the bump on Saturday (11 am PDT) in hopes of capturing the middle game of the three game set. Bauer was in line for the win last weekend before a blown save ruined an eight inning, two run start for the freshman and ended a streak of wins in five consecutive starts. Bauer brings a 6-3 record with him to Eugene to go along with the Pac-10's sixth best ERA of 2.60. Opposite Bauer will be another freshman,  Tyler Anderson. Anderson, a tall, lanky left-hander thre four good innings last week versus Washington, bookended by two poor ones. Anderson gave up two runs in the first inning, saw only one batter over the minimum in innings two through five, then allowed three more runs in the sixth. Anderson is 2-5 on the campaign with a 5.11 ERA as he's battled his command to the tune of nearly five walks per nine innings.

Charles Brewer will start for UCLA in Sunday's series finale (1 pm PDT) and he'll actually be coming off of a win. The junior has had some awful luck this season thanks to a less than supportive team. Not only has the UCLA offense gone quiet in a few of Brewer's starts, but about 1/3 of the runs Brewer has allowed this year have been unearned. That changed last weekend when his five innings of two run ball were good enough for the win. Brewer is 2-4 on the year with a 3.83 ERA and is striking out over a batter per inning. Oregon's Sunday starter has yet to be announced as they try to find someone who can keep them in the game in series finales. After Stavert and Anderson, three Ducks have made more than three starts this year and none have an ERA better than 5.24.

The Oregon offense is far and away the worst in the Pac-10 and it's one of the worst in the country. The Ducks average just 3.1 runs per game, which is the second worst in the nation and they have a team batting average of .236. LF Chris Raulinatis is the only Duck batting over .300 at .306 and he also leads the team with eight doubles. CF Caleb Tommasini is undoubtedly the Ducks' top athlete. The senior, who transferred from Oregon St. after the 2006 season, is not only a .283 hitter who has stolen 15 bases in 17 attempts, but he also walked on to the Ducks' football team and appeared in five games. The one thing the Ducks do well is run the bases, having swiped over 2/3 of their stolen base attempts.

The UCLA offense is led by the pair of big bats in the middle of the lineup. Casey Haerther, who missed a week and a half with a broken toe, returned to the UCLA lineup as a DH last weekend is batting .333 with seven homers and 32 RBI in only 34 starts this year. Cody Decker is the Bruins'  other big bat who picked up the slack when Haerther was out of the lineup. Decker is batting .308 on the year with 37 RBI and 15 homers, which is second in the Pac-10.

This is a big series for the Bruins and you can bet that a series loss will end their regional chances. While taking two of three would get the job done, UCLA really should be eying a sweep against the Pac-10's cellar dweller that is playing their worst ball of the year. As always, you can follow along with the Bruins on GameTracker via the official site. You can also get game updates, Bruins in the pros updates, updates on UCLA commits, thoughts on the program, key information and regional updates on my UCLA baseball twitter.

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