UCLA's bid for a national seed looks very good right now. They are fourth in the RPI, are 17-12 against RPI top 50 teams, are 13-3 away from Jackie Robinson Stadium and have five quality weekend series wins. The only thing weighing the Bruins down right now is a fourth place standing in the Pac-12, but even down in fourth, UCLA is just a game out of second place and two and a half games out of first place so moving up is not impossibly. The Bruins just need to get series win, which they can do this weekend when they head to Seattle for three games against Washington.
The Huskies have their own postseason battles to fight, but they are fighting a very different battle than the Bruins. Washington is just trying to get into a Regional and they are making a very strong case of late. With seven wins in their last 10, Washington has shot up into the top 50 of the RPI and currently sit at 26-18 on the year. The Huskies are red hot too, playing their best last weekend when they swept USC in Los Angeles without making an error, walking two and allowing just 13 hits all weekend. The postseason is looming and Washington's young squad is rising to the occasion.
Next up for the young Dawgs is the big leagues, or at last a big league park, because the Bruins and Huskies will open their series at Safeco Field before heading to Husky Ballpark for the final two games of the weekend. Wherever the games are, the objective is clear -- win the series. Series wins are what stand out on resumes, whether you are trying to a national seed or just into a Regional, and thats what both teams need, although a boost up the conference standings would be a nice bonus.
Friday (6 pm PT) will see Adam Plutko try to put together that elusive second consecutive dominant start. He was on top of his game last weekend, carrying a perfect game into the sixth inning. By the time he exited the game in the ninth inning, Purdue had just two hits and only one run had come across. The sophomore picked up the win to improve to 6-3 and knocked his ERA down to 3.38, but now it's a matter of doing it in back-to-back starts, which has been tough for him this season.
Opposite Plutko will be Aaron West, the Huskies' redshirt junior in the midst of his best season yet. West is just 6-4 on the year, but he has a 2.55 ERA and is coming off of a complete game shutout in which he struck out six and allowed just four hits. The right-hander was good against the Bruins last season, too, allowing just two runs on seven hits in 6.1 innings so a lot will be asked of Plutko.
Nick Vander Tuig will take to the hill on Saturday (2 pm PT) for the Bruins and once again, he's trying just to go deep in a game. He hasn't made it through six innings in seven consecutive starts, but he still manages to pick up wins. Despite having a 5.15 ERA, Vander Tuig is 6-3 on the year so if nothing else, he is keeping the Bruins in games.
Unfortunately for UCLA, just keeping the team in the game might not be so easy. Tyler Davis, who is part of Washington's tremendous freshman class, is 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA on the season. Despite being a freshman, Davis has walked just 13 this season, showing unusual poise and command for a young guy, and he's added a .195 opponents batting average to it as well.
Wrapping things up on Sunday (1 pm PT) for UCLA will be Zack Weiss, who really needs to start putting things together. He's had problems fielding his position, and then last week he had trouble getting his mechanics together out of the stretch. He struggled to command pitches and got hit as a result, surrendering five runs on 10 hits in just 4.2 innings. The stuff is still there for Weiss, but at 2-2 with a 4.37 ERA, it's time to bring it together ahead of the Regionals.
Jeff Brigham will get the nod for Washington, and it's tough to figure out what to make of him because he's made just eight appearances this season, four of them in relief. There was nothing to figure out last weekend, though, because he was tremendous in five inning, shutting out the Trojans on just two hits, striking out three and walking none.
Where the focus will really be for UCLA is on the bullpen. Sunday's 10-run ninth inning put doubt in a unit that has been tremendous and Scott Griggs was just as shaky on Tuesday. With the postseason looming, Griggs needs to show the consistency that is expected of a national title contender's closer.
Washington doesn't hit for power and their offense isn't particularly explosive, but it's good enough. It won't win them games, but with good pitching and outstanding defense, it doesn't need to win them games. The Huskies are going to force UCLA to play perfect baseball, a tall task on the road, but one that the Bruins need to get done if they want to secure a national seed. No longer is Washington just a chance to move up the conference standings because as they've picked it up, they've become a quality opponent, meaning a quality road series win is out there for UCLA to grab.
John Ramey will be back on the road for the weekend so he will have the call online from Seattle, but Washington is fantastic and also has streaming video of all the games. GameTracker will be going all weekend and, of course, make sure to check my UCLA baseball twitter for game updates, notes, observations and everything else on the program.