Another weekend gone and another three games of sub-par hitting for UCLA. First, UCLA dropped two of three to San Jose St. because they couldn't get the job done at the plate and last weekend they dropped two of three again, this time to Nebraska, but that time it got really ugly. Not only were the Bruins losing games because of a non-existent offense, but they were tossing shoddy defense into the mix too to ruin the fantastic starts of Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Adam Plutko.
In all three games UCLA got truly dominant starting pitching performances and not a single one of those starting pitchers got a win. All three were masterful and had the Nebraska hitters swimming at the plate and none were properly rewarded. This isn't completely new for the Bruins this season. They have allowed more than three runs three times this season and lost all three games. For the most part the bullpen has done their job at the back end of games too, maybe not as good as last year's bullpen, but certainly good enough to hang on to games, but even they were betrayed this weekend by poor defense.
Teams that have a 1.55 ERA should not be 7-4, but UCLA is. Weekend starters who have a combined 1.21 ERA should win more than 66% of their games, but UCLA's are just 4-2. Teams who are striking out almost 11 batters per nine innings should not have more errors than games played, but UCLA does. Of course, no team should be hitting .241, but UCLA is and it's a shame because the pitchers are doing their jobs.
On Friday afternoon in freezing temperatures Cole was throwing heat. The Nebraska radar gun clocked the right-hander at 100 mph during the game and you can bet that the Cornhuskers' batters would agree with the radar gun. It took Nebraska until there were two outs in the seventh inning to get their first base runner and by the time Cole's day came to an end he had pitched nine innings and allowed just two hits. Nebraska hadn't scored all game, but unfortunately for Cole, neither had UCLA so he had to take the no decision. The Bruins went on to win the game in the 11th inning so at least the Bruins got the win on the day they got incredible starting pitching, which wouldn't be true the next two days.
Saturday's game was the Trevor Bauer Show. One strike out, two strike outs, three strike outs. The punch outs kept coming and coming. Bauer kept pitching and pitching. The Pitcher of the Week awards came rolling in. UCLA took the loss. With a chance to wrap up a key road series win Bauer threw 129 pitches and lasted 10 innings. He totaled and astonishing 17 strike outs, but he failed to maintain the shutout and allowed all of one run. That run sent the Bruins into extra innings where Nebraska came away victorious. A pitching performance that netted Bauer National Pitcher of the Week and Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week wasn't even good enough to net Bauer a win though or even net the Bruins a win.
Last season, UCLA turned to an experienced junior on Sundays. If the first two games of the series were split they could always go with experience in the rubber match and it paid off as the Bruins went undefeated in deciding Sunday games last season. This season, UCLA had to turn to a true freshman so things were a little bit dicey. On Sunday, with the series on the line, Plutko was anything but dicey. Six innings, not a single run across and a career-high seven strike outs despite dealing with an error. Plutko handed over a 4-0 lead which was quickly cut to 4-1, but still safe. In the ninth inning though, an error accounted for two unearned runs in a three-run inning and the game went to extra innings where Nebraska won.
Three dominant starts by three tremendous right-handed starters on the road in very cold conditions and not a single one could get a win. The offense couldn't do enough to help them out and they were even worse to the bullpen, adding error to the lack of hitting.
Now, UCLA is 7-4 and while still not in the realm in crisis mode or in danger of being out of the race to host a Regional, the Bruins are starting to cut into their margin for error. The offensive talent is still there and the Bruins are a team that should be good defensively, but right now they aren't, which is only sad because the starting pitching has been just about as good as it can be.