It's a big weekend for the Bruins in Texas (Photo Credit: Art)
The last time UCLA went to Texas for a weekend tournament was in 2009, when they went to Houston for the Houston College Classic to take on three very good teams. Despite showing off some considerable talent that kept them in all three games, the Bruins lost all three games. This year, the Bruins leave Southern California for the first time on the season to go to Texas, but instead of Houston, it's Corpus Christi for the Whataburger Classic. There, #16 UCLA will look to continue their perfect 10-0 start versus Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Mississippi St. and #19 Oklahoma to put a wrap on what is probably the Bruins' most important non-conference week of the season.
Fresh off of a 3-2 win over UC Riverside, the Bruins now have two quality wins on their resume (UCR and Vanderbilt) and have the chance to pick up another this weekend in addition to a win over a decent SEC team, which is always a major RPI booster. The Bruins will be able to rely on their outstanding pitching this weekend, as was expected prior to the season, but the offense has come into question again. After two sub-par games, there are once again questions about the Bruin batters, just as there was prior to the season. In the last 16 innings, the Bruins have mustered just four runs, which is a far cry from the blazing start they got off to. Of course, it's just two games and every team's bats will go cold for two games, but they were also only hot for eight games so it's worth keeping an eye on the UCLA bats this weekend.
UCLA will send Gerrit Cole to the hill on Friday (4 pm PST) to take on Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the opening game of the weekend. Cole was overpowering in his start last weekend versus Nebraska, striking out nine in seven innings. The sophomore allowed just two hits, one of which was a solo home run that resulted in the only run Cole gave up. The right-hander enters the weekend 3-0 (the first UCLA player since 2004 to win his first three starts) with a 2.50 ERA, a .117 opponents batting average and 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
Cole will be opposed by a junior southpaw, Roy Ferdin, who carries a 1-0 record and 3.86 ERA into the contest. With a .271 opponents batting average and under three strikeouts per nine innings, Ferdin should be ripe for the picking. The Islanders are 7-4 this year, but those wins have come against poor competition and when they played the Nebraska team that UCLA swept, they lost 21-9. The Islanders do hit the ball well, holding a .336 team batting average and a power hitter in Trey Hernandez, who has hit five homers this year.
The opponents for Saturday's game (3 pm PST), Mississippi St., got off to a quick start versus poor competition, played a good Southeastern Louisiana team and were swept, then beat up on some more poor competition. Coming off of their first back-to-back losing seasons in over 30 years, the Bulldogs are filled with youth, including Saturday's likely starter, Chris Stratton. While the Bulldogs have not announced a starter for Saturday, Stratton has started the previous Saturday games this season and has fared well, going 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA and nearly nine strikeouts per nine innings. He will be backed by an offense led by Connor Powers, the first baseman who is currently tied for best in the nation with seven home runs on the year and tops the country with 28 RBI.
UCLA head coach John Savage will hope that Trevor Bauer can shut Powers down and based on his performances since stepping on campus, he has as good of a chance as anyone. The sophomore has won both of his starts this season, making him 9-0 for his career as a starter. Bauer has a 2.45 ERA on the year with a .192 batting average against and 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings after giving up just one run one run on six hits in 6.2 innings against Nebraska last week.
It's a bright and early start for the Bruins on Sunday (9 am PST) when they take on a hot Oklahoma team that is 13-1 on the year, winners of eight straight and swept the Bruins in Norman last year. Rob Rasmussen will toe the rubber for the Bruins a week after allowing one run on three hits while striking out 10 in just five innings of work. The southpaw is averaging a mind-blowing 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings this year to go along with a 3.38 ERA, although he is still looking for his first decision of the year. When the junior got the start against Oklahoma last year, he went five innings and limited the Sooners to two runs, but he did walk five and strike out just one.
Rasmussen will be charged with stopping a Sooner offense that is hitting .328 as a team and led by Garrett Buechele. Buechele is hitting .453 on the season, but has supplemented that with some power, driving in 19 runs and hitting five home runs in 14 games this year. Cameron Seitzer also give the Sooners some pop, having hit four home runs this year. On the mound for Oklahoma, it will be the freshman Ryan Gibson looking to put the clamps on the Bruin bats. A Florida Marlins draft pic, Gibson is 2-0 with a 3.07 ERA on the young season and the left-hander has held opponents to a .212 batting average while striking out almost a batter per inning.
With the chance to boost their RPI and pick up some quality wins, this weekend presents the Bruins with a major opportunity to prove their hot start is no fluke. With some of their other non-conference opponents off to unexpectedly poor starts, UCLA's schedule won't present them with a plethora of high-profile games until conference play starts up so this weekend is key. It will be the Bruins' first journey outside of Southern California too so while the team has played extremely well to this point, they will have to do so in unfamiliar territory for the first time this weekend.
As always, you can follow along with the Bruins on GameTracker via the official site. UCLA will not have any audio of the games, but Oklahoma and Mississippi St. will both have radio crews there for you to listen to that I will link the gamethreads that will be up. You can also get game updates, links to all media talking about UCLA, thoughts on the program, key information and everything else on the team on my UCLA baseball twitter.