UCLA On The Road Again, This Time To The Altitude For Three With Utah

Kevin Williams and the rest of the Bruins will take to Utah for the weekend (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)

UCLA just keeps chalking up series wins. Their 12-game winning streak may have ended a couple weeks ago, but teams are not judged by winning streaks, they are judged by series wins. When the selection committee gets together on Memorial Day weekend, the first thing that they look at is "who did you beat" and they measure who you beat by who did you takes series from. Considering the Bruins can now count Baylor, Georgia, Arizona St. and Washington St. among those they've taken weekends from, things are looking good.

The Bruins' success is manifesting itself in the RPI, too, where they find themselves sitting sixth and it only figures to get better (as long as they continue to win, of course). Series against Stanford (second in the RPI), Purdue (11th in the RPI), Arizona (14th in the RPI), Oregon St. (24th in the RPi), USC (30th in the RPI), Washington (44th in the RPI) and Oregon (48th in the RPI), giving UCLA an incredible 21 weekend games against RPI top 50 teams left and that doesn't even include midweek contests. If the Bruins continue to win, they will be rewarded.

Beating the top teams only do so much if you can't dispose of the weaker teams too. That's what the Bruins will try to do this week when they take on Utah in Salt Lake City for the first time in program history. The Utes have been pretty poor this season, stumbling to a 7-16 record and three times stringing together losing streaks of at least three games. Neither the offense nor the pitching has quit gotten it together, but they played Oregon tough on the road last weekend and this weekend marks not just their first Pac-12 home series ever, but their first home weekend series of the season. What happens when these Utes get to play at home is anyone's guess.

Getting the ball over the plate again will be the key for Adam Plutko when he starts for UCLA in Friday's series opener (5 pm PT). When Plutko dominated Georgia and is at his best, he's walking nobody and pounding the strike zone, but he got into trouble before that with consecutive four-walk starts and walked three last week. It hasn't gotten him into huge trouble yet, but he's keeping him at good when he can be dominant. Especially with the way he's striking guys out, toss in the walks and not only is he vulnerable to giving up runs, but he is throwing a lot of pitches.

Opposite Plutko will be Joe Pond, who is just 2-3, but has a 3.38 ERA. He isn't keeping guys from picking up hits, with opponents hitting .286 and while he is striking out eight per nine innings, he's also walking 4.5 batters per nine innings. Where he has been effective is in keeping batters to one base at a time. The right-hander has yet to allow a home run and he has surrendered just seven extrabase hits so the Bruins are going to have to string the base knocks together to get to the junior.

The worst thing for Nick Vander Tuig at this point is probably pitching at high altitude, but that's what he will have to do on Saturday (12 pm PT). The sophomore gave up three home runs two starts ago and another one in last last start, pushing his season total to a team-leading five home runs surrendered. Luckily, Vander Tuig has been giving up his home runs with nobody on so he hasn't been burned too badly, but his ERA is up to 4.23 and this weekend he's going to be up at 4,327 feet.

Keeping the ball in the yard is going to be of the upmost importance this weekend because the Utes are countering with their best pitcher, Brock Duke. He gave up two runs in five innings last weekend at Oregon so it wasn't his most impressive start, but he is 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA on the season in 29.3 innings. Opponents are hitting just .234 off of him and like Pond, he has allowed just seven extrabase hits.

Neither team has announced a Sunday starter yet. Zack Weiss continues to deal with shoulder soreness so Grant Watson could get the start for the Bruins, while the Utes haven't really settled on a Sunday starter all year so who knows what they are going to do.

One sure thing on the Utah pitching staff is Mitch Watrous, who has emerged as one of the best relievers in the Pac-12. He's already nearing 20 innings of relief work in 10 appearances and he's allowed just three runs. Josh Chapman and Tyler Wagner are also dependably in relief, giving the Utes some options if the starters falter.

The problem for the Utes is that their offense was been something between between horrendous and abysmal. They are hitting just .233 as a team and outside of James Brooks' four home runs, they don't bring a ton of power. They don't pose a threat on the bases either, stealing just seven bags in 15 attempts. Without an offense, Utah is just going to continue to pile up the losses.

On the flip side is the UCLA offense, which just continues to pound out hits. They have Jeff Gelalich leading the way as he puts together a Pac-12 Player of the Year worthy campaign, but Trevor Brown, Tyler Heineman and Kevin Williams have provided support. Lately, Eric Filia-Snyder has also chipped in now that he is healthy and that's key because Cody Keefer remains day-to-day after spraining his wrist last weekend.

John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will not be on the road this weekend so there is no Bruin radio, but the Utes do offer online radio, which you can listen to for free. Like always, there is GameTracker to follow along with and for all your game updates, thoughts, stats and other goodies, my UCLA baseball Twitter has it all.

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