Photo creidt: mark6mauno's photostream (flickr)
The tradition continues with yet another five part season preview that will take us right up to the very beginning of the 2010 UCLA baseball season on February 19th. We've got the basics of college baseball out of the way and took a look at the all-time UCLA team. This is part 1 of our five part preview in which we take a quick look at last year, a peak at the schedule and some of the opinions from analysts around the country for 2010. Part 2 will look into the pitchers. Part 3 will feature the Bruins' position players and Part 4 will be a look at the Pac 10. Part 5 will complete the preview as we take a look around the nation and where the Bruins stand in the national sense.
The 2009 Bruins were a disappointment. Make no bones about it, the team underachieved and that much has been admitted by head coach John Savage. Not qualifying for the postseason is something that doesn't fly at UCLA and the Bruins' 27-29 record didn't even have them postseason eligible. UCLA did finish in third place in the Pac-10 for the fourth consecutive year, but that was with a 15-12 record and a result of a very down year for the conference.
There were a variety of reasons for UCLA's failures last year. The team did battle the injury bug and any team will struggle some with so many players on their team in the infirmary. Even so, the reasons UCLA fell short of the postseason are nearly all self-inflicted. It wasn't unheard of for the number of baserunning mistakes to require a second hand to count in a single game. Errors came up at the worst of time, batters struggled to move runners over and the back end of the bullpen was less than dependable. That all resulted in a damning 2-14 record in one-run ballgames and that combined with a 10 game losing streak makes it pretty amazing that the Bruins even got to 27-29.
Last season's offense was truly putrid. In just about every major offensive category, UCLA finished in the bottom third in the nation. The injury to Casey Haerther certainly hurt the team as he went from All-Pac-10 worthy before the injury to a .200 hitter after, but the team has little speed, was too righthanded and lacked much power, all while striking out at a fairly high rate. The team became very pitching dependent and when the veterans in your bullpen are struggling and freshmen are starting on Fridays and Saturdays, you're going to be in for a battle.
In 2009, UCLA had two new assistant coaches, both of whom had a tougher time than expected adjusting to UCLA and the Pac-10, while the players also struggled to adjust to these two new coaches. Now that Rick Vanderhook and Steve Pearse have been in the program for a year though, that excuse has to be thrown out the window.
Last season's schedule also made things extremely difficult on the Bruins. UCLA played four straight weekends away from home with four of the 12 games versus teams that went on to get a national seed, an additional four against teams that went on to host a Regional and one more against a team that qualified for a Regional. All of that was on top of conference play and a weekend series against #2 national seed Cal St. Fullerton.
In 2010, the schedule is much more manageable. While once again difficult (ranked second toughest by supreme college baseball numbers cruncher Boyd), the schedule is very home friendly. UCLA does not play a single true road series in non-conference play and only leave Los Angeles for a weekend when they go to Corpus Christi, Texas for a tournament on a neutral field. The teams will certainly challenge the Bruins though as weekend series versus Nebraska, Oral Roberts and Cal Poly are on the docket in addition to tournaments including Vanderbilt, Oklahoma St., Oklahoma, Mississippi St. and perennially underrated Bethune-Cookman. All of that is just on top of the Pac-10 schedule and midweek games that include Cal St. Fullerton, UC Irvine, Long Beach St. and Pepperdine, among others.
At least early in the season, the highlight of the schedule will be the Dodgertown Classic with UCLA squaring off against USC at Dodger Stadium. The February 28th even will be televised live on FS Prime Ticket and Coach Savage has stated that his goal is to see 10,000 fans in attendance. The Dodgertown Classic will provide the sport of college baseball an excellent platform from which to market the sport and UCLA aims to be atop that platform, growing the program in front of thousands of Bruins.
Expectations are lower for the Bruins than they have been in recent years. Only two years ago the program was ranked preseason #1 by Baseball America and last season, some rankings had UCLA as high as #12. The highest the Bruins have gotten in any preseason polls this year is #20, where Collegiate Baseball has them. The Bruins are ranked #3 in the Pac-10 preseason coaches' poll, a fitting spot for a program that has made third place its home. Even with tempered expectations though, analysts have speculated how well the Bruins could do if some of their bats overachieve. Kyle Peterson and Dr. Kenny Cook both picked UCLA to be their "big conference team that will come from nowhere," while Eric Sorenson picked the Bruins to go to Omaha for his bold prediction.
Omaha is a long ways a way right now, but with a home-heavy schedule, the Bruins just might be able to fight off those non-conference demons that have gotten them the last few years. A solid non-conference record versus the quality opponents they have on tap would do wonders for their RPI and put them in position to secure a Regional berth early, allowing them to battle for the right to host. First pitch is still nine days away so aim high!