The last three weekends have all been unhappy ones for UCLA as the Bruins have lost two out of three in them all and now sit at just 8-6 on the season heading into their last weekend of play before starting their Pac-10 slate against USC next week. Before the Bruins can play their rivals though, they have to head up to San Luis Obispo for three games with Cal Poly, who are in the midst of 17 of 18 games at home. The Mustangs have taken well to being at home too, using the comforts of Baggert Stadium as part of a run that has seen them win six of their last eight games after starting the season 0-6.
As has been the case far too often this season, rain has changed the schedule for this weekend's series. The series was originally scheduled to be played Saturday, Sunday and Monday because some Bruin players had finals on Friday and it will still be played Saturday-Monday, but Sunday has been cut out. In order to avoid forecasted rain, the Bruins and Mustangs will play a Saturday double header beginning at 1 pm PST and then finish off the series at 6 pm PST.
For the Bruins, the eyes are back on the offense, which has taken its fair share of the blame for the slow start and for good reason. Through 14 games, UCLA is hitting just .245 as a team and only two Bruins are hitting over .300. The team has combined for just three home runs and only one player has double digit RBI. UCLA can't even look to the new bats as the reason for their offensive drop either considering they have 111 strike outs this season. This type of offense and more errors than games played has put the Bruins in the spot they are in despite a 1.80 team ERA and the starting pitchers are just 5-4 despite a 1.55 combined ERA.
The Bruin starting pitchers will have to combat a Cal Poly offense that isn't anything to write home about, but have really picked it up in their last eight games. In those last eight games, the Mustangs haven't scored fewer than five runs in a game and that's largely thanks to Mike Miller. The junior has started all 14 games for the Mustangs and is hitting .457, but he hasn't helped much with the power on a team that lacks it. Cal Poly has just three home runs so they rely on stringing hits together, something they've done a better job of than UCLA, but they also haven't faced a pitching staff like UCLA's.
When the series gets underway on Saturday, Gerrit Cole will be on the mound for the Bruins in search of some sort of offensive help. The Bruins have scored a run with the right-hander on the mound in 17.1 innings now, going back three weeks to UCLA's loss against San Jose St. That's knocked the junior down to a 1-2 record on the year despite a 1.78 ERA and almost 11 strike outs per nine innings. Having a third of the runs Cole has given up this season being unearned hasn't helped much either.
Opposite Cole will be a fellow right-handed junior, Mason Radeke. Like Cole, Radeke has done a good job of putting opposing batters away on strikes, striking out over 10 batters per nine innings and unsurprisingly with numbers like that, he has a 3.60 ERA. Radeke is coming off of a strong seven inning, one run start against Loyola Marymount last week, but he did walk four so the Bruins may be able to find a chink in his armor by taking pitches.
Not long after the first game on Saturday ends, the Bruins and Mustangs will get going in game two of the series with Trevor Bauer and Kyle Anderson getting the starts. Bauer was the only one to benefit from offensive support a week ago, picking up the win in a 7.1 inning start in which he struck out 13 and allowed two runs, one earned. The start gave Bauer 30 strike outs in his last two starts and a 1.71 ERA on the year with 13.3 strike outs per nine innings and a .167 batting average against that only trails Cole's .137 on the team .
The strike outs of Bauer is in sharp contrast to his opponent on Saturday, Anderon. The junior left-hander has just 12 strike outs in 19.2 innings of work this season and he's allowed opponents to hit .282 against him on the year. Without the strike outs and with the high batting average, Anderson is just 1-3 with a 4.12 ERA on the year and he's coming off of his worst start of the year. Last weekend, Anderson lasted just four innings and gave up seven runs in the start so he's not exactly rolling.
After a day's break, UCLA and Cal Poly will conclude their series on Monday night with Adam Plutko taking on Steve Fishback. For the freshman Plutko, Monday will be his first time he tries to bounce back from a loss after the Bruins were shut out in his six inning, two run start a week ago at Dodger Stadium. Last weekend was the first time Plutko has surrendered more than one run in any of his starts and sent his ERA all the way up to 1.08, but he did record a career-high eight strike outs in the contest.
While the Bruins are putting Monday in the hands of a freshman, Cal Poly will turn to a senior to wrap up the series. Like Anderson, Fishback does not strike out many with just 10 in 19.1 innings, but he has done a batter job getting batters out with a .262 batters average against. That hasn't led to fewer runs coming across though as he holds a 6.05 ERA in his four starts. Also like Anderson, Fishback gave up seven runs in four innings a week ago against Loyola Marymount, although two of those runs were unearned.
One area the Mustangs have been outstanding is in the bullpen where they have been able to turn to four guys with complete confidence. All four of the Mustangs' top relievers hold a 2.45 ERA or better. The top two of those relievers have also been the guys turned to most often as Jeff Johnson and Frankie Reed each have six appearances and a 1.29 and 1.59 ERA respectively.
Coming into 2011, there were a lot of questions about a very inexperienced UCLA bullpen and with everyone focusing on the lackluster offense, the spectacular pitching of the Bruin relievers. Nick Vander Tuig has stepped into the closer's role without any issues despite being a freshman and has two saves in as many opportunities, a .222 batting average against and 12 strike outs to just three walks in 7.1 innings. Fellow freshman Zack Weiss has worked in middle relief and while not shutting guys down, Weiss has give the Bruins quality innings with a 3.46 ERA and his five walks have been somewhat mitigated by his 14 strike outs. The lone semi-experienced reliever for UCLA has looked the part as well, being the go-to guy in the middle and later innings. In seven innings, Mitchell Beacom has a bullpen-best 1.23 ERA with outstanding command, striking out 12 to just one walk.
Luckily for the Bruin faithful not in San Luis Obispo, John Ramey is making the trek up north to call all three games. The game will also be available on GameTracker and you can get all the game updates, information, thoughts and links on my UCLA baseball twitter. Coming off of three straight losing weekends, UCLA needs to pick up a series win against a hot Cal Poly team so they can head into conference play with momentum.