The season is coming to a close and with just four road games remaining this season, we take a look and see that UCLA has been stellar away from Jackie Robinson Stadium, compiling a 16-3 record. Three of UCLA's final four road games are this weekend in Berkeley, where the Bruins play their final road Pac-10 series of the season versus a reeling Cal team. Last weekend, Cal went to Washington St. and were swept by the Cougars, only to come home and lose a midweek contest to San Francisco.
The Bears are unbelievably young, with four freshmen and four sophomore position players starting at least 17 games this year and then two sophomores and a freshman making up their weekend rotation. Their youth had led to incredible inconsistencies, having run off win streaks of three games or more six times, but also losing streaks of three games or more four times. Even so, at 27-19 overall and 11-10 in the Pac-10, good for a third place tie, the Bears are in good position to qualify for the postseason. They may be coming into the weekend on a four-game losing streak, but Cal has shown their ability to turn losing streaks into win streaks all season and they'll surely be looking to end their home slate on a high note.
With a ton of talent on display at Evans Diamond this weekend, the match-ups will be tantalizing. One of the more interesting ones to keep an eye on is how the UCLA pitching staff handles a potent Cal offense. The Bruin pitcing staff has a 3.04 team ERA and has held batters to a .221 batting average, but the Bears bring the Pac-10's third-ranked offense to the ballpark. They are hitting .326 on the year and are putting up over 7.5 runs per game on the year. On the flip side, you have a Cal pitching staff that has a 4.63 team ERA, seventh in the Pac-10, versus a UCLA offense hitting .311, fourth in the conference, and averaging 6.8 runs per game. The difference could be the defense, where the Bruins rank third in the Pac-10 and Cal checks in at last.
Friday's series opener (2:30 pm PDT) will feature a pair of hard-throwing sophomore right-handers in UCLA's Gerrit Cole and Cal's Erik Johnson. When Cal and UCLA squared off a year ago on Friday night, these same two pitchers got the starts and both put on shows. Johnson allowed only one unearned run in six innings to get the no decision, while Cole picked up the loss in the 3-2 Cal win after tossing 8.1 innings of two hit, three run (one earned) ball with 11 strikeouts. This season, Cole enters with an 8-2 record, 3.17 ERA and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, tops among Pac-10 starting pitchers. Johnson has done his part to keep the Bears in games as well, compiling a 6-2 record and 3.48 ERA on the year to go along with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
There is no rematch from last season on Saturday (1 pm PDT) because when the Bruins and Bears played a year ago, Cal's starter was still in high school. Cal's Justin Jones leads the team in wins as a freshman with a 9-4 record and he's done it with a 3.76 ERA. The biggest thing that Jones has brought to the ballclub is his ability to pitch deep into games, averaging over seven innings per start. Cal knows how UCLA starter Trevor Bauer can pitch deep into games after the right-hander threw a complete game versus the Bears to pick up the win a year ago. This year, Bauer is 8-3 with a 2.98 ERA and is coming off of a start in which he ran into first inning trouble versus USC before locking down the Trojans the rest of the way.
Things wrap up on Sunday (1 pm PDT) when Rob Rasmussen takes to the mound for UCLA, while Dixon Anderson gets the nod for Cal. After a disasterous sophomore season that saw Rasmussen go from Friday night starter to little-used reliever, Rasmussen has had a strong junior season, going 7-2 with a 3.15 ERA. Rasmussen's ability was on display a week ago when he held USC to one run and struck out eight without walking a batter in seven innings. Anderson didn't have the same success a week ago, allowing eight runs in just 3.1 innings, but he did handle the Bruins last season, limiting them to one run in 6.2 innings of relief. This year hasn't been like last year's start versus UCLA though as he enters the weekend 4-2 with a 4.95 ERA.
This weekend looms large for UCLA. First of all, the Bruins have the chance to clinch second place in the Pac-10 with a strong series and a stumble by Stanford and/or Washington St. Also, Cal is a RPI top 50 team that can help UCLA's resume if they can take care of business in Berkeley. With a team as young as the Bears, you never really know which team will show up, but if they come out ready to play they are no walk in the park, something that Oregon St. and Arizona can attest to.
The series runs Friday through Sunday and because Evans Diamong does not have lights, all three games will be under the sun. Friday's contest is at 2:30 pm PDT with Saturday and Sunday's games getting underway at 1 pm PDT. With tickets just $8 for adults and free for those 12-years-old and younger, the weekend presents a great opportunity for the Bay Area Bruins to check out a ballgame. If you're not going to be out at the ballpark, you can follow along on GameTracker or get all of the updates on the games and program on my UCLA baseball twitter. In a nice special, John Ramey will be making the trip north as well so we have our favorite UCLA baseball radio voice on the call all weekend. It should be a fun one up in Berkeley and with Selection Monday just 11 days away, it's a big one too.