UCLA Closes Out Season With Three In The Desert

Cody Decker, who has 20 homers on the year, will play his final games as a Bruin in Tempe via collegebaseballtoday.com

Well, UCLA can't complain that they didn't have their chances. They had chance after chance to play themselves into a regional, but repeatedly shot themselves in the foot or let a glorious opportunity slip away. Their 10 game losing streak early in the season aside, the Bruins have let multiple games get away that will keep them from making the postseason. In the past month alone, the Bruins blew a save in the ninth inning at home to Oregon St., lost a game at last-place Oregon 3-2 because they allowed two unearned runs on errors, lost  to a sinking Cal club on a ninth inning error, fell to Cal St. Fullerton because they couldn't convert with runners on second and third with one out and dropped a game on Tuesday to UC Irvine because of an error on what would have been the game-ending out. Those are all games in the past month they lost because of a crucial mistake late in the ballgame. That doesn't take into account the season's first two months or games where they played awful and/or made early and middle inning mistakes.

Because of all those lost opportunities, the Bruins enter this weekend needing nothing less than a sweep #3 Arizona just to have the slightest of slight chances to make a regional. Even with a sweep, the Bruins will need a lot of other bubble teams to struggle this weekend to get into a regional for the fourth consecutive season. UCLA is 26-27 and 30 wins would likely get them into a regional with 31 making it a done deal. That means each one of those blown opportunities could prove to be the difference between playing in the postseason and sitting home.

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The Bruins have just three games left in their 2009 regular season and they will play those three games in Tempe, Arizona against Arizona St., who is the nation's third-ranked team and atop the Pac-10. UCLA is 26-27 overall and 14-10 in conference play, which has them in third place, two games behind second-place Washington St. and one game ahead of Oregon St. and Washington, who are tied for fourth. Last season, the Sun Devils visited the Bruins at Jackie Robinson Stadium, where they won two of three games en route to the Pac-10 Championship. This season, the Sun Devils have secured their third consecutive Pac-10 title before the final weekend has even begun despite losing 15 players to the pros.

Gerrit Cole will get the nod for the Bruins on Friday night (6:30 pm PDT) at Packard Stadium, one of the nation's premier hitter's parks. Cole got roughed up early on last weekend versus Cal St. Fullerton when he gave up six runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings, but five of those runs came in the first two innings and he showed poise in eating up innings on a night that he clearly didn't have his best stuff. The freshman also made his first relief appearance on Tuesday night and absorbed the loss when he surrendered one unearned run. He enters the weekend 4-7 with a 3.55 ERA and ranks second in the nation amongst freshman in strikeouts per nine innings. While Arizona St. has yet to announce their probables for the weekend, odds are Mike Leake will start for the Sun Devils on Friday night. Leake is one of the nation's top pitchers, with a 13-1 record and 1.35 ERA, while averaging roughly eight innings per start. Cole better be on his game Friday night or the Bruins will go down because Leake does not get hit often.

While UCLA will start Trevor Bauer on Saturday (6:30 pm PDT), it's unclear who will take to the mound for Arizona St. Bauer is 8-3 with a 2.90 ERA this season and has yet to earn a loss in any of his nine starts. The freshman right-hander threw nine innings in the Bruins' 10 inning loss last Saturday to Fullerton and has now gone nine innings in each of his last three starts. Since Arizona St. lost their second ace, Josh Spence, to a season-ending injury, the Sun Devils have been looking for another Saturday starter. Arizona St. had relied on their devastating one-two punch of Leake and Spece, who was 8-1 with a 2.23 ERA, but now must find another arm. One possibility is Jason Franzblau, who is 3-2 with a 2.52 ERA this year, mostly out of the bullpen. Another option is Jordan Swagerty and his 3-1 record, mostly out of the bullpen as well to go along with his 4.18 ERA.

Charles Brewer will make what could be his last appearance as a Bruin on Sunday (1 pm PDT). Brewer, a junior who could leave for the pros, had a rough go of it last weekend when he gave up five runs (four earned) in only 3.1 innings and carries a 3-5 record in the weekend. He has that record despite a solid 4.30 ERA because he's allowed as many unearned runs, 13, as starts he's made this year. Arizona St. is likely to start Seth Blair on Sunday, who is 6-1 with a 2.65 ERA on the year. The sophomore is coming off a fantastic start in which he threw 7.2 shutout innings at home versus Oregon last Sunday. Last season when these two teams met, Brewer gave up three runs in his 5.1 inning start, while Blair surrendered five runs in his 3.1 inning outing.

The Arizona St. offense ranks second in the Pac-10 with a .305 team batting average and tops the Pac-10 with 8.2 runs scored per game. They are led by CF Jason Kipnis, who has smoked just about every pitcher he's seen this season. Kipnis is batting .385 with 14 homers, 65 runs, 65 RBI and leads the Pac-10 with 21 stolen bases. The Sun Devils all like to get out and run, having stolen 90 bases this season, 22 better than the second-place Pac-10 club. C Carlos Ramirez provides the most punch in the Sun Devils' lineup with 17 home runs, but he still maintains a very good .344 batting average.

Cody Decker has been the undisputed leader of the UCLA offense in 2009. The senior, who in all likelihood will be playing his finals games as a Bruin this weekend, has 20 home runs on the season, 11 better than the next closest player. He also leads the team with 52 runs scored, 50 RBI, 130 total bases. Decker is also second on the team and first among the regulars with a .326 batting average and .441 on-base percentage. Gino Aielli, who has been playing more and more of late because of his strong showings, is batting .374 on the year, while Justin Uribe checks in with a .315 average. Blair Dunlap is batting .296 this year with 43 runs, 36 RBI, a team leading 17 doubles and team-leading 14 stolen bags.

UCLA may catch a break this weekend because Arizona St. may rest some of the regulars, pitchers and position players alike, with the conference title sewn up and regionals in a week. That would be huge for a Bruin team that is heading to Tempe thinking sweep or nothing. To do so, they'll need a super-human performance from Cole versus ASU's Leake and they'll need to back-up Cole with exceptional defense, which has been a issue for this team. The Bruins will also have to rack up runs in the hitter-friendly Packard Stadium. Some prayer to whatever or whoever you choose wouldn't hurt to as UCLA will be counting on some losses from teams nation-wide to go along with a sweep. There will be no UCLA audio of the game, but you can follow it 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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