Games versus USC are always some of the most heated that UCLA has all year long. Despite the Trojans being in the midst of yet another losing season and planted squarely at the bottom of the Pac-10, this weekend's series will surely have the intensity that accompanies every crosstown showdown. Besides the importance of winning any series versus USC, the Bruins will also have to get things done to improve their postseason standing. For the Bruins to secure a national seed, they will surely have to finish second in the Pac-10, a spot they are currently tied in with Stanford. UCLA will also need to win at least two of the last three series on their schedule and possibly all three. That begins this weekend when they host the Trojans.
While USC may have a history of winning, the program has descended into irrelevancy. Since hiring Chad Kreuter as head coach four years ago, USC has yet to finish above .500 and last year's seventh place finish was the best that they have mustered in conference play. This season hasn't gone much better as the Trojans have amassed a 23-25 record while racking up wins against some of the poorer teams out there. In conference play, USC is just 5-13 with just one series win. SC did get some momentum, winning five of six, but that was against a struggling Arizona team and a poor Utah squad before losing to Long Beach St. on Wednesday. With the Trojans in the tank, the Bruins have taken advantage in recent years, winning 10 of their last 13 versus SC, including a 6-1 win over them earlier this season at Dodger Stadium.
With USC struggling and UCLA in the midst of one of their best seasons in recent memory, the Bruins are in good shape to take down the Trojans. Of course, it doesn't mean UCLA will win the series, especially not in a rivalry series, but the numbers certainly indicate that they have the advantage. The Bruins pitchers give up more than 1.5 runs per game less than the Trojans and have 137 more strikeouts than SC despite playing in two fewer games. UCLA hits .307 to USC's .291 and is averaging 6.6 runs per game to USC's 5.6 runs per game. Throw in USC's Pac-10 worst fielding percentage and the Bruins have a definite advantage.
Things get underway on Friday night (6 pm PDT) when UCLA's Gerrit Cole take on USC's Ben Mount. Cole is coming off a string on sensational starts, including last weekend's eight inning, two run, nine strikeout start at Washington. Cole leads the Pac-10 in strikeouts and enters the weekend 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA. Last season versus the Trojans, Cole surrendered two runs in five innings to pick up the win in a 14-4 contest. Mount was superb for the Trojans a week ago, allowing one run in seven inning in a win over Utah. He will carry a 5-3 record and 3.16 ERA into the weekend, but he doesn't do it with power, striking out only six per nine innings. Mount made a relief appearance versus the Bruins when the two teams squared off earlier this year, allowing three runs in 4.1 innings and absorbing the loss.
The following day (2 pm PDT) will see Trevor Bauer toe the rubber for the Bruins. The sophomore has been a bit up and down of late, allowing six runs (four earned) in seven innings last weekend, the same line as two weeks ago, but vastly different from the complete game in Arizona that preceded it. Bauer is 7-3 with a 3.01 ERA on the year and second in the Pac-10 in strikeouts. He pitched four innings out of the bullpen last year versus USC, allowing two runs (one earned) in four innings. For the Trojans, Chris Mezger will be on the hill. The junior will make just his third start of the season on Saturday, but he has made 14 appearances out of the bullpen. Mezger is 4-0 with a 2.57 ERA on the year after allowing five runs (three earned) in eight innings last weekend versus the Utes. Mezger made one appearance versus UCLA last year, allowing two runs (one earned) in 1.1 innings of relief.
UCLA and USC will conclude their three-game set on Sunday (1 pm PDT) when Rob Rasmussen gets the ball for the home-standing Bruins. Rasmussen bounced back from a pair of rocky starts by dominating Washington a week ago. He went 6.1 innings in Seattle and surrendered just one run, rarely getting into trouble. It lowered his ERA to 3.36 on the year and bumped his record to 7-2. The southpaw also started the Bruins' game versus SC earlier this year, allowing just one run, but walking four and lasting just 4.2 innings. The Trojans have yet to announce their starter for Sunday, but if they follow the rotation they used a week ago, Logan Odom will take his 1-0 record and 4.97 ERA to the hill.
Once the starting pitchers exit the game, things turn to the bullpen, where the Bruins are in good shape versus a Trojan team that has had their issues. Of the six relievers in the USC bullpen that has made double-digit appearances, all of them have ERAs at 4.15 or higher. Of that group, all but one have allowed hitters to hit over .300 against them as well, giving Kreuter very little to go to when he gives his starters the hook. Meanwhile, the Bruins have Dan Klein, Erik Goeddel and Matt Grace at their disposal.. Klein is 3-0 with nine saves at the back end of the bullpen, which Goeddel and Grace join him to create a trio of reliable arms that all have over 20 appearance and sub-3.15 ERAs on the campaign. When you throw in Garett Claypool, who is 7-2 with a 2.11 ERA, and head coach John Savage can feel very confident in the bullpen match-up.
This weekend gives the Bruins a chance to bump their average on the season above 1,000 with bug crowds expected, as is always the case when UCLA and USC play. The series starts on Friday at 6 pm PDT and continues at 2 pm PDT on Saturday before concluding on Sunday at 1 pm PDT. Tickets for the games are $7 with children being admitted for $5 and free admission for Wooden Athletic Club cardholders. The band will also make an appearance this weekend (I believe Saturday) so Jackie Robinson Stadium will be a great place to be. For those of you that can't make it out, you can follow along on GameTracker or listen in with John Ramey on the call. You can also get your game updates, links and everything related to the program on my UCLA baseball twitter.