Two weeks ago, UCLA was the hot team. They were winners of their first four Pac-10 series and right on Oregon St.'s heels for first place in the conference. Now, the Bruins have lost consecutive series, including last week's three-game set at home, and are now back in a tie for third place. Moreover, the Bruins are closer to missing out on making a Regional than they are to hosting one. That brings them to this weekend's series at Oregon, a team similar to them in that they were considered a legitimate contender to make the College World Series before the season only to be well short of expectations at this point in the season.
There is another similarity between UCLA and Oregon in that they have tremendous pitching and hitting that is inconsistent at best. The difference between the two is how much they have underachieved thus far. While UCLA is not the top five team most expected them to be, they are 24-16 overall and 11-7 in the Pac-10, which would certainly get them in a Regional if the season ended today. On the other hand, Oregon is all the way back at 23-20 overall and 5-10 in the Pac-10 with a resume nowhere near what they need if they are to garner a Regional berth.
One thing that the Ducks do have going for them is last season. A year ago, UCLA was the number one team in the country with just two losses to their name when the Ducks went to Jackie Robinson Stadium and took two of three from the Bruins. Oregon put up five runs on Gerrit Cole then eight on Trevor Bauer, stunning the Bruins' two aces. This season the Bruins get their their chance to rebound from that series loss, but they'll have to do it up in Eugene at PK Park.
If UCLA is to take down Oregon they will need their two aces to get it going and it starts with Cole on Friday (5 pm PDT). Cole isn't just looking to get back at the Ducks after they got him last season though. He's looking to bounce back from his roughest stretch since enrolling in Westwood in which he's allowed at least five runs in three consecutive starts. That includes the seven runs he gave up seven runs in 4.1 innings last weekend that saw his ERA shoot up to 3.45. He will have the opportunity to bounce back against a Ducks team really struggling at the plate with just a .242 team batting average.
One person hoping Cole continues to struggle will be Tyler Anderson, the Ducks' starter on Friday evening. Anderson wasn't at his best a year ago against the Bruins, giving up a pair of two-run homers against the Bruins and picking up a no decision. He has been sensational this season though, going 6-1 with a 1.51 ERA, .185 batting average against and 4.2:1 strike out to walk ratio. A week ago, Anderson didn't get the win against Cal, but it wasn't his fault as he surrendered just one run in 7.2 innings so he's entering this weekend coming off of a very strong start.
As good as Bauer has been this season, he couldn't beat a no-hitter, although odds are he won't have to on Saturday (5 pm PDT). Bauer hurled his fourth consecutive complete game a week ago and struck out 15 with just two runs charged to him, but UCLA got no-hit so the junior took the loss. He remains one of, if not the best, pitcher in the country with a 8-2 record, 1.47 ERA and mind-boggling 14 strike outs per nine innings. Oregon did get him for eight runs, six earned, a year ago so the Ducks have proven he's not invincible, although Bauer has been on a whole other level this year.
It may not take a no-hitter to beat Bauer, but it will most likely take a fantastic start and the Duck charged with trying to make that fantastic start is fellow right-hander junior Madison Boer. He comes into the weekend just 3-3 on the year, but with a 2.15 ERA after a strong 7.1 inning start of three runs, two earned a week ago. Boer worked out of the bullpen last year against UCLA and tossed 1.2 scoreless innings so he has had success against the Bruins.
For the first time since early on in the season, Adam Plutko has the chance to get a second consecutive win this Sunday (12 pm PDT). His bad luck chased him around for weeks, but last week he finally got a win deserving of all his great pitching this season. The freshman allowed just two runs in 6.1 innings, but he has been so good this season that it actually bumped his ERA up to 1.79. With a .208 batting average against and just nine extra base hits given up, Plutko has been more than good enough for a freshman and downright tremendous for any pitcher.
As is the case in each game this weekend, Oregon will start a junior on Sunday. Alex Keudell is 5-3 on the year with a 3.10 ERA after taking a no decision in a seven inning, three run start last weekend. He also started last season on Sunday against the Bruins, but he was betrayed by awful defense and took the loss. Two errors led to five runs, only one of which were earned in Keudell's six-inning start.
Oregon has a RPI all the way down at 94 so it is imperative that UCLA grab a series win this weekend. The biggest mark on the Bruins' resume right now is a 9-10 record away from Jackie Robinson Stadium so grabbing a series win to move back up to .500 or even better will be a big plus for the Bruins, while they also need to try to get a leg up on Cal, whom they are tied with for third place in the Pac-10, before playing them in their next conference series.
Lucky for UCLA fans, John Ramey will be up in Eugene calling all three games live online. Even luckier UCLA fans are those who get CSN Northwest since Saturday's and Sunday's games will be broadcast live on that channel. For those willing to shell out, a $12 subscription will allow you to watch an HD stream of all the games live at GoDucks.com. Of course, GameTracker will have the games and as is always the case, my UCLA baseball twitter has all the game updates, news, notes, links and thoughts.