Versus a big hitting TCU team, the UCLA outfielders will likely have to chase down a fly ball or two (Photo Credit: Official Site)
On Saturday night, UCLA head coach John Savage took a chance and on Monday night, he will be rewarded. All season, Gerrit Cole has served as the team's number one pitcher, but UCLA changed things up by having Trevor Bauer start on Saturday night. It worked out fantastically as the Bruins picked up an 11-3 win over number three national seed Florida, partly due to Bauer's dominating performance after some early struggles.
A national headliner thanks to his tremendous start, Bauer earned the majority of the praise following UCLA's first ever College World Series win. As a result, the offensive output went largely unnoticed and unfortunately so because it was one of the finer offensive performance the Bruins put on all season. Every position player picked up a hit and the Bruins totaled 18 in the game en route to 11 runs. Most impressively, UCLA managed to put up run after run despite just three of the hits going for extra bases and none clearing the fence for a home run. Versus an excellent pitcher and red hot Florida team, UCLA pounded out base hit after base hit, stole bases and used the middle of the field exactly as their offensive game plan lays out.
Earlier in the day on Saturday, TCU made their very first appearance in the College World Series and were as impressive as the Bruins. After first inning jitters led to a single unearned run, TCU rode a brilliant pitching performance by freshman Matt Purke to a comfortable 8-1 win over Florida St. Just as UCLA's offensive performance went overlooked because of Bauer's terrific start, TCU's offense went unnoticed because of Purke's dominance. The Horned Frogs knocked out 11 hits, including a long ball to take down the Seminoles. Now, they will see if they can replicate it against the Bruins.
With Bauer having gone on Saturday, Cole will get his chance tonight. The sophomore, armed with his blazing fastball, deadly slider and quickly improving change up, carries a 10-3 record and 3.25 ERA into the contest. Opponents are hitting just .195 against Cole and 11.5 strike outs per nine innings. He struggled with his command in the Super Regionals versus Cal St. Fullerton, but still did enough to keep the Bruins in the game. When he is hitting his spots, his incredible stuff makes him nearly unhittable, but those spots can sometimes be a moving target.
Opposite Cole will be a fellow right-handed sophomore, Kyle Winkler. A strong sophomore season in the books, Winkler turned in his best performance when the Horned Frogs needed him most. In the Super Regionals versus number two national seed Texas and in a deciding third game, Winkler shut the Longhorns out on Texas' home field over 7.2 innings to clinch the Horned Frogs' College World Series spot. Now, at 12-1 with a 2.84 ERA, he will face a UCLA offense that is clicking at the right time.
The Bruin offense may be clicking at the right time, but it's the Horned Frogs' offense that has been clicking all season. A .340 team batting average is the first of many impressive numbers for the Horned Frogs, just like 92 home runs, the 15th most in the country and 8.6 runs per game, 18th in the country, make your jaw drop. Jason Coats, who drove in three runs versus Florida St., leads the TCU offense with a .376 average, but it's Matt Curry, with 17 home runs, and Bryan Holaday, with 14 home runs, that bring the pop.
Once again, UCLA will need production from everyone if they are to put up enough runs to take down TCU. Without a Coats or Holaday to put fear in any pitcher they face, UCLA has to rely on the depth of their lineup to generate runs. With each position player picking up a hit on Saturday, they did just that. Niko Gallego, who moved up in the lineup due to the injury to Tyler Rahmatulla, will need to have another fantastic game after going 4-5 on Saturday. Dean Espy will have to do the same after driving in two runs versus the Gators. It's unlikely that the Bruins get a ton of opportunities to score versus TCU so hitting with men on will loom large because even though they put up 11 versus Florida, they still left 13 on.
One certain advantage for UCLA is in the bullpen, although it's not as big as it usually is. While the Bruins can trot Dan Klein (6-0, nine saves, 1.93 ERA), Erik Goeddel (2-0, 3.12 ERA), Matt Grace (3.00 ERA) and Garett Claypool (8-3, 2.05 ERA) out to the mound, TCU has a pair of shut down relievers as well. Kaleb Merck went 2-1 with a 1.08 ERA in 19 appearances this season, while Tyler Lockwood picked up seven saves, a 6-2 record and 1.97 ERA at the back end of the Horned Frogs' bullpen. The problem that the Horned Frogs have is that there aren't many other dependable arms after those two so if the Bruins can knock Winkler out of the game early, they can get to more of the TCU bullpen than their two go-to guys and do some damage.
For the Bruins, there are two overriding keys to the game. One is making Winkler throw pitches so they can attack that Horned Frogs 'pen, minus Merck and Lockwood. The second key is limiting the free passes. TCU has a very patient offense and will take their walks more than most teams. With a pitcher who tends to get wild in Cole, it's imperative that he harness his arm and get the ball over the plate so any big hits by the Horned Frogs result in minimal damage instead of two and three runs thanks to earlier walks.
With the double elimination format, taking games one and two of the tournament is the key. if you win those first two games, you get a nice long rest until Friday and will play your third game versus a team playing their fourth, while also have one more game on Saturday to advance to the Championship Series if it's necessary. While you get two chance to win one, your opponent needs them both. UCLA and TCU each picked up opening game wins so when the two take to the field tonight, control of the bracket will be on the line as they go for the advantageous 2-0 record.