What happens when you lose 10 straight early in the season, then lose a series to a conference foe who had lost 16 of their previous 21? Well, you end up with little to no hope of qualifying for the postseason. Following their series loss to Cal last weekend, UCLA's regional chances hang by a thread. The Bruins kept their slim, slim regional hopes alive with a 15-2 schalacking of Long Beach St. on Tuesday and have seven games left to make a miraculous run to a regional. The Bruins' final seven games will all be against teams ranked in the top five and it will take a near perfect finish (6-1, 5-2 or possibly 4-3 with A LOT of help) to get into a regional. Considering the opposition, that type of finish is highly, highly unlikely.
I think it's safe to say that #5 Cal St. Fullerton has UCLA's number. Since John Savage took over as head coach at UCLA, the Titans have defeated the Bruins in 14 of the 16 contest between the two schools. Fullerton has also eliminated UCLA from the past two postseasons, taking out the Bruins in two games in the 2007 Super Regionals and winning consecutive games after UCLA took the first in last year's Fullerton Regional. With the chances of making a regional getting smaller by the day, Fullerton is not the team the Bruins wanted to play needing wins, but there is a positive to taking on the Titans. UCLA's RPI is currently #76 in the country and in need of a bump so taking on the top RPI team in the country, Fullerton, provides the Bruins with a golden opportunity for a 10-15 spot jump.
The series opener of this three-game set will be played at Cal St. Fullerton's Goodwin Field (7 pm PDT) and will feature UCLA's Gerrit Cole and Fullerton's Daniel Renken. Cole is coming off of a hard-luck loss to Cal last weekend, a game in which he pitched outstanding, only to be beaten by an error and some poor offensive support. Cole went 8.1 innings in the contest, struck out 11, allowed only two hits and one earned run, but a ninth inning error allowed two unearned runs to score. The freshman enters this weekend with a 4-5 record and 3.34 ERA. He also strikes out 11.51 batters per nine innings, a mark that is ninth best in the nation. Opposite Cole will be the sophomore Renken, who pitched twice against the Bruins in 2008. In his first start versus UCLA, Renken went seven innings and allowed only three hits and one run, while striking out 10 on an extremely efficient 77 pitches. Renken's second stint versus the Bruins didn't go nearly as well. In the Fullerton Regional, Renken threw 94 pitches and lasted only 4.1 innings as he gave up four runs on 10 hits. This year, Renken has been phenomenal as he's established himself as the staff ace with a 7-2 record and 2.35 ERA.
Saturday's game (6 pm PDT) will be played north of Goodwin Field at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium. Trevor Bauer will get the nod for the Bruins and will be charged with matching Fullerton's Noe Ramirez. Bauer is sixth in the Pac-10 with a 2.68 ERA and his eight wins (8-3) leads the Bruins. The freshman threw his second consecutive complete game last weekend versus Cal and his third of the season on 128 pitches. Bauer has made eight starts this season since being moved into the rotation from the closer's role and he has yet to absorb a loss in any of those eight starts. Fullerton's Ramirez, a fellow freshman, is capable of matching Bauer pitch for pitch. The sensational right-hander is 6-1 on the season with a 2.91 ERA and has no problems pitching away from home. Ramirez is 6-0 on the year away from Goodwin Field, including last weekend against a powerful Cal Poly offense when he went 6.2 innings and allowed three runs. So let's go over this one more time. Saturday, 6 pm PDT at Jackie Robinson Stadium. A pair of freshmen who have a combined 14-4 record with a 2.68 ERA and 2.91 ERA. Yes, those numbers are real and yes, they really are freshmen. If you want a game to check out this weekend, this is it.
Like Saturday's tilt, Sunday's series finale (1 pm PDT) will be played at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium, where the Bruins are 15-9 this season. UCLA will trot Charles Brewer to the mound for the contest, while Cal St. Fullerton will counter with Tyler Pill. Brewer allowed four runs in only 3.2 innings last weekend versus Cal, ending a run in which he allowed three or less runs in at least five innings in six of seven starts. The junior did not fare well versus Fullerton last year, allowing 12 runs in 10.2 innings versus the Titans. He will carry a 3-5 record and 3.96 ERA into Sunday's game, with nearly a third of the runs he allowed this year being unearned. The Titans' Pill had a rough go of it last weekend, allowing six runs in 6.2 innings as he picked up the loss, but he still has a 8-2 record and 3.61 ERA on the campaign. That's because Pill has been excellent away from home, going 5-1 and his control has been fantastic, walking only 1.2 batters per nine innings.
The Cal St. Fullerton offense relies on small ball and a lot of contact to generate runs. The Titans have been hit by 96 pitches this year, the fourth most in the nation, and have executed 64 sacrifice bunts, also the fourth most in the nation. Combined with a .318 team batting average and it's clear why the Titans average 7.3 runs per game. The Fullerton offense is led by CF Josh Fellhauer, who's batting .397 with 40 RBI and 39 runs scored this year to go along with 16 stolen bases. OF Khris Davis and 1B Jared Clark provide the power in the Fullerton offense. Davis leads the team with 10 homers this year and Clark leads the Titans with 62 RBI. The Titans are 24th in the country with 92 stolen bases and have been thrown out only 34 times.
The Bruins will have to play exceptional ball to take this weekend's series because the Titans don't give anything away. They are extremely patient and discipline, while holding the ninth best fielding percentage in the country. Either make the drive down to Fullerton on Friday or head out to Jackie Robinson Stadium on Saturday or Sunday to support our Bruins. Too often in past seasons, opposing fans have outnumbered Bruins in the stands at Jackie Robinson Stadium and it's become commonplace when the Titans visit so come on out and help us avoid that embarrassment. 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. You can also stay up to date on all things UCLA baseball from game updates to news to analysis to the latest on the Bruins' regional chances on my UCLA baseball twitter.