Even since the Bruins turned a 2-0 start into a 2-10 hole with 10 straight losses early in the season, the goal has been to get over .500. The road to a regional went through the .500 mark and now with UCLA's 15-2 win over Cal St. Bakersfield on Tuesday, the Bruins are over that .500 mark. Now with that mark out of the way, they can focus on a regional and the 30 win number that will likely hold the key to their tournament berth,
The Bruins currently sit at 23-22 with 11 games left on the slate. This weekend's series versus Cal and Tuesday's game versus Long Beach St. present UCLA their best opportunity to make up some ground on that 30 win mark. Following Cal and Long Beach St., the Bruins play #6 Cal St. Fullerton over a weekend, #1 UC Irvine once and #5 Arizona St. for three to finish the year. That's a daunting finish to the year so the Bruins better take three of these next four so they don't have to rely on an incredible finish just to get in the regional picture, let alone in the field.
Fresh off three consecutive wins and 13 wins in their past 18 games, UCLA welcomes a struggling Cal team to Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend for a three-game set. With a regional berth still up in the air and in second place in the Pac-10, only a half game ahead of Oregon St. and Washington St., the Bruins have a lot to play for this weekend. Nothing short of a series win would be considered a success for the Bruins, while Cal is just trying to get to the end of a season that has turned very sour, very quickly. After a strong start that had the Bears on the road to their second consecutive regional, Cal fell apart and have won only five of their 21 games since April Fools Day.
Friday night's series opener (6 pm PDT) will pit a pair of freshman against each other. UCLA's Gerrit Cole will start for the Bruins and carry a 4-4 record and 3.64 ERA with him to the mound. Cole allowed only one earned run in eight innings of work last weekend versus Oregon, but suffered the loss thanks to two unearned runs, the last of which proved to be the difference in the ballgame. Cal's right-hander Erik Johnson will be the man charged with matching Cole pitch for pitch, but the freshman is coming off a rough start last weekend in Tucson. Johnson was tagged with the loss after lasting just 4.1 innings and allowing seven runs, while walking four batters to only three strikeouts. Johnson is 3-5 with a 5.19 ERA on the year and opposing hitters are batting .270 against him.
Trevor Bauer will look to continue his excellent run of form on Saturday afternoon (2 pm PDT) after throwing his second complete game of the season last weekend against Oregon. Bauer allowed only six hits and two runs last weekend in Eugene and he hasn't been charged with a loss in any of his seven starts this year. Bauer is 7-3 on the season with a team-best 2.53 ERA and the best ERA in the conference amongst underclassmen. While the Bruins feel very confident with Bauer on the mound for them on Saturday, the Bears have yet to announce a starter for Saturday as they sort through their mess of a pitching staff that has a team ERA of 6.06, nearly a half run higher than the next team.
Just like Saturday, Cal has yet to make a decision on who will pitch on Sunday. On the other hand, UCLA knows that Charles Brewer will toe the rubber for the blue and gold. Brewer has been very strong for UCLA, especially of late. The right-hander gave up only one run in six innings last weekend, the sixth time in his last seven starts that he's given up three runs or less and gone at least five innings. He'll bring a 3-4 record into the weekend and a 3.60 ERA, but he's been burned by bad defense. Exactly 1/3 of the runs Brewer has allowed this year have been unearned. If he can get adequate defense on Sunday, odds are the Bruins will be right in the ballgame.
The Cal offense is something to fear and they will do damage in the blink of an eye. The Bears lead the Pac-10 in home runs with 60 or 1.3 per game and they're also second in the league in doubles. Combine that with a team batting average of .302 and it's clear how the Bears average 6.8 runs per game. That offense is led by 1B Mark Canha, who is batting .380 with a .460 on-base percentage. Canha's batting average, RBI, home runs and total bases all rank in the top five in the Pac-10. Outside of Canha, Cal has five batters hitting above .300, five batters with six home runs or more and five batters with at least 29 RBI. The Bears also have three players with at least nine stolen bags and another who has seven stolen bases in as many attempts.
The return of Casey Haerther from a broken toe provided a big boost to the UCLA lineup. While he's still dealing with that injury and has only appeared as a DH since his return, Haerther is batting .350 with eight RBI, five runs and two homers in his last five games. Cody Decker's batting average has continued to rise, all the way up to .314, while still maintaining the power that has netted him the second most home runs in the Pac-10 (15). The surprise of the UCLA bats has to be Gino Aielli who is leading the team with a .359 batting average as a catcher or third baseman.
This weekend's three game set is the Bruins' last Pac-10 home series of the season and last full three-game home set of the year. With UCLA in the midst of a heated regional race, you can bet the intensity will be high this weekend as the uber-talented Bruin arms face a potent Cal lineup so spend a day at Jackie Robinson Stadium with the Bruins and cheer on the Bruins. 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.